Proposed Amendment to Canada- Colombia Free Trade Agreement no replacement for Independent Human Rights Assessment

KAIROS analysis, 30 March 2010

Since Prime Minister Harper announced the Canada-Colombia Free trade Agreement in July 2007, KAIROS and our partners have repeatedly expressed grave concern about signing such an agreement with a country which continues to have the worst human rights record in the hemisphere.

We have issued several urgent actions asking you to contact your MPs, asking that the agreement not go ahead until an independent human rights impact assessment is done and any issues it raises are fully addressed. The most recent action was sent out after the implementation bill for the Canada Colombia FTA (Bill C-2) was re-introduced to parliament on March 10. It calls on MPs “to halt the bill until an independent human rights impact assessment of the trade deal is conducted and any problems identified are adequately resolved.”

On March 24 in Parliament, Liberal MP Scott Brison proposed an amendment to the deal that would require the Colombian and Canadian governments to produce annual human rights reports after the deal is signed. The Harper government quickly accepted this proposal, and in some mainstream media it has been hailed as an important bi-partisan agreement that addresses the human rights concerns related to this trade deal.

KAIROS and our Colombian partners are very concerned about this amendment and its implications for human rights in Colombia. Although the amendment appears to recognize the centrality of human rights in the debate over trade and investment, it falls far short of the independent, impartial and comprehensive human rights impact assessment that many groups in Colombia and Canada –including KAIROS and our partners– have been calling for since the deal was announced. In fact, such an independent assessment was the recommendation of the all- party Standing Committee on International Trade, after an extensive study and visit to Colombia.

The key is that the assessment must be independent and impartial. We are concerned that in the proposed amendment, the same regime that continues to be implicated in many human rights violations, and has allowed ongoing and systemic impunity, is being asked to write its own human rights reports. In any country, this lacks credibility. In Colombia, this proposal is extremely dangerous. Colombian partner concerns

KAIROS partners have expressed their concern. “ These reports will not be a tool to pressure the Colombia government. They will be written by the same government that is recognized to be linked with human rights violators, a government whose human rights reporting has been questioned by the UN, “ said Fr. Omar Fernandez, co- founder and director of the Inter-Franciscan Commission of Justice, Peace and Reverence with the Creation. “Canada’s reputation as a human rights defender is at stake.”

Jorge Rojas, director of CODHES (Consultancy on Human Rights and Displacement) who was quoted in Parliament by Hon. Scott Brison as a Colombia civil society leader who supports the bi-partisan proposal, has written to clarify his position.

“The intention of adding a human rights clause is a good one, but it should not be used by the Colombian government or the Canadian parliament to hurriedly ratify the Free Trade Agreement. Beyond the commercial interests, one must take into account the lives of thousands of people whose rights are violated on a daily basis, both directly by the State or by officially-supported paramilitary organizations and drug traffickers that threaten and harm the civilian population. All of this occurs in a context where justice operates slowly, and almost always ensures impunity.”

This amendment has not changed our common call for an independent, impartial human rights impact assessment BEFORE the deal is ratified. KAIROS takes the position of Colombian partners who state that the proposed government-led human rights reports, to be conducted only after the deal is implemented, do not allay concerns about signing a free trade agreement in the context of massive and ongoing human rights abuses.

For more information:
Letter to the editor by John Kirk, professor of Latin American studies, Dalhousie University

Council of Canadians statement

CAW statement

Canadian Council for International Cooperation:
Background on key bench marks in a human rights impact assessment (HRIA) 1
Background on key bench marks in a human rights impact assessment (HRIA) 2

CODHES communiqué (in Spanish)

OPSEU statement

KAIROS urgent action

Filed in: Latin America

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