Stand Up for Human Rights in Colombia!


KAIROS Media Release

Friends,

On Wednesday, March 10, the Honourable Peter Van Loan, Minister of International Trade put forth Bill C-2, the Colombia-Canada Free Trade Agreement, as Parliament’s first order of business. This bill is considered a top priority by the government. Previous proposed legislation, which had been the subject of much contention among MPs, died when the government prorogued Parliament.

KAIROS is asking Canadians to write immediately to their MP and two ministers, calling on the government to halt the bill until an independent human rights impact assessment of the trade deal is conducted and any problems identified are adequately resolved. (See the sample letter and contact information below.)

We realize many of you have already participated in similar actions over the past year. It is regrettable that once again we must call on Canadians to halt a deal that will do nothing to promote human rights and greater economic equality in Colombia. We thank you for any action you can offer.

Call to Action

Please send a letter to your Member of Parliament with copies to Minister of International Trade Peter Van Loan and Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon. Be sure to ask for a response and to include your mailing address. See a sample letter below.

If you have limited time, a three sentence message by phone or email is still effective; you can include the following points:

* Your name and address (i.e, you live and vote in the riding)

* You are concerned about the ongoing, grave human rights crisis in Colombia

and new information from respected, independent sources about the intensification of violence against Indigenous communities living in areas valued for their natural resources

* You want an independent human rights impact assessment of the Canada Colombia Free Trade Agreement before any move towards implementation of the Agreement.

We are grateful for copies of your correspondence and any responses you receive! Please send them to John Lewis, KAIROS Human Rights Program Coordinator, jlewis@kairoscanada.org or KAIROS: 310 Dupont St, Toronto ON M5R 1V9.

Find out who your Member of Parliament is:

http://www2.parl.gc.ca/Parlinfo/Compilations/HouseOfCommons/MemberByPostalCode.aspx?Menu=HOC

Hon. Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs. House of Commons, Ottawa, ON

K1A 0A6. Tel: (613) 992-5516 Fax: (613) 992-6802 Email: Cannon.L@parl.gc.ca

Hon. Peter Van Loan, Minister of International Trade, Room 157, East Block

Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6. Ph: 613-996-7752 Fax: 613-992-8351 Email: VanLoan.P@parl.gc.ca

More information:

KAIROS’ Colombia page: http://www.kairoscanada.org/en/rights-and-trade/focus-countries/colombia/

An open letter from Colombian Churches to the Canadian Government: http://ottawa.mcc.org/system/files/Open%20Letter%20Re%20FTA.pdf

The Struggle for Survival and Dignity – Human Rights Abuses Against Indigenous Peoples in Colombia. Amnesty International report: http://www.amnesty.ca/amnestynews/upload/AMR230012010.pdf

World Council of Churches statement:

http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/executive-committee/bossey-february-2010/minute-on-violence-on-colombia.html

Land and Conflict: Resource Extraction, Human Rights, and Corporate Social Responsibility– Canadian Companies in Colombia: http://www.interpares.ca/en/publications/pdf/Land_and_Conflict.pdf

Stories from Colombian partners impacted by the CIDA cuts to KAIROS: http://www.kairoscanada.org/fileadmin/fe/files/PDF/cidacuts/CIDA-PartnerStories.pdf

Background

Colombian partner organizations and many Canadian groups have voiced their deep concern about this potential trade deal, which would go into effect immediately. They have stated that the “closed-door” policy on debates and information related to the deal have created a cloud of uncertainty around the possible effects that this pact will have on the Colombian economy, the dire human rights situation, and the humanitarian crisis that is currently facing the country.

Colombians have also voiced their concern that basic processes of prior consultation with marginalized groups in society – such as the Indigenous and the Afro-Colombian communities- will not be respected. They are deeply concerned that greater foreign direct investment without proper impact assessments – particularly in the extractive industries like oil and mining – will contribute to a worsening of the violence around land rights and to the massive displacement of populations from resource rich territories.

Despite Colombian government affirmations that paramilitary structures have been dismantled and that the country is “safer” thanks to democratic security policies, partners have documented grave human rights abuses in many territories throughout the country where paramilitary groups continue to operate with more or less impunity.

In September of 2009, the Special Rapporteur to the United Nations on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, visited Colombia and declared that “patterns of harassment and persecution against human rights defenders, and often their families, continue to exist in Colombia.

Some of these violations are allegedly to be attributed to guerillas, new illegal armed groups and paramilitary groups which human rights defenders say have not been dismantled…according to several sources, law enforcement authorities have committed violations against human rights defenders too, or have shown complacence with violations committed by private actors against defenders… I am in particular deeply concerned about the widespread phenomenon of threats from unknown authors against human rights defenders and their families.”

Last month, Amnesty International released a new report that documents an intensification of violence against Indigenous leaders and communities, many of whom live in areas valued for their minerals, oil and other natural resources. According to the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), the survival of 32 Indigenous groups is at grave risk as a result of the armed conflict, large-scale economic projects and a lack of state support.

According to the Colombian Commission for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES), Colombia is now home to almost five million internally displaced persons. This is the world’s largest registered number of IDPs, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, and now surpasses Sudan. This is the best- hidden and most violently silenced humanitarian crisis in the Western Hemisphere.

Yet in promoting the new legislation, the Canadian government says Colombia is “a strategic destination” for Canadian direct investment in mining and oil exploration, amongst other sectors.

This is NOT an environment conducive to healthy foreign investment, nor is it an environment in which Colombians will benefit from greater Canadian exports competing in local markets in unfair economic conditions.

Sample letter:

(Your name and address)

Dear….

I write you to express my concern regarding the potential free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia currently being passed through Parliament.

The Colombian government has not been able to quell the violence that is still very present in Colombia; nor has it been able to guarantee that human rights and victims’ rights will be respected. Stories from groups working on the ground in Colombia offer testimony to this reality, and as a Canadian and global citizen, I feel our government should heed their voices.

They have shared that the current political context in Colombia is one of the most serious and volatile of the recent past. According to the Consultancy for Human rights and Displacement (CODHES), there are almost five million internally displaced people in Colombia. This is the highest number in the world, now surpassing Sudan. Colombia is home to the best-hidden and most -silenced humanitarian crisis in the Western Hemisphere.

Much of Canadian investment will be in the extractive industry; it is in regions of the country where the extractive industry operates that 75% of human rights violations and displacements occur. There are no guarantees that Canadian companies will not indirectly affect the well-being of local communities in such an environment.

It is also concerning to me that the paramilitary continue to threaten church leaders, union leaders, human rights advocates and members of the political opposition parties. Contrary to assertions that only delinquent organizations remain, the over 60 newly emergent paramilitary groups are continuing to target those who criticize the government.

This is not the kind of political environment in which Canadians want to see their government establish a free trade agreement, regardless of its impact on our own economy, either positive or negative.

For these grave reasons, we respectfully call on the Canadian government to conduct an independent human rights impact assessment of the Canada Colombia Free Trade Agreement before any move towards implementation of the agreement.

Thank you for your time and consideration of these requests, and I look forward to hearing your response at your earliest possible convenience.


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