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Council of Canadians

March 10, 2010

Ignatieff, Liberals must stand up for human rights in Colombia, block reintroduction of free trade agreement, says Council of Canadians

Ottawa – The Council of Canadians is urging Michael Ignatieff to direct Liberal MPs to vote against any effort by the Harper government to reintroduce and fast-track the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement into the House of Commons until an independent assessment of the impact it could have on human and Indigenous rights in Colombia is carried out as recommended by an all-party trade committee in June 2008.

“Ignatieff has only one choice if he truly cares about human rights and democracy, and that’s to keep the Colombia free trade agreement off the parliamentary agenda until a human rights impact assessment can be carried out,” says Stuart Trew, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians. “Recently, Ignatieff and his trade critic, Scott Brison, have been working side by side with Harper to try and get this terrible trade deal passed. They have a perfect chance now to slow down, especially in light of new accounts of human and Indigenous rights violations that a commercial agreement cannot help and in fact would likely worsen.”

Implementation legislation for the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement fell off the order paper when Harper prorogued parliament earlier this year. The government will reintroduce legislation today and announce they would like to fast-track it through Parliament. The Bloc and NDP will likely vote against any attempt to do this and there is considerable pressure from Canadians for the Liberals to do the same. A rally outside of Brison’s constituency office in Wolfville in rural Nova Scotia late last year drew nearly 100 people and the Liberal MP continues to receive emails urging him to reverse his misplaced support for the agreement.

Recent reports by the United Nations and Amnesty International have raised serious concerns about the escalating violence against Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, including murder and forcible displacement from communal lands. The National Labour School (ENS) of Colombia has also accounted for the murders of 45 trade unionists in 2009. It is part of a campaign of fear being perpetrated by illegal armed groups, primarily demobilized paramilitary successor groups and non-demobilized paramilitaries, as part of their economic strategy of territorial domination in order to control drug trafficking and arms smuggling corridors as well as open these territories to natural resource extraction and agro-industrial activities by transnational corporations.

“Far from creating a legitimate economy, as Liberal MPs have been suggesting in defence of the Colombia free trade agreement, the deal before Parliament would increase the chances that Canadian companies invested in agriculture, mining and resource extraction in sensitive areas will be doing business with murderers, drug traffickers and arms smugglers,” says Trew. “The overall South American experience with free trade has been of de-industrialization and increased inequality – exactly the opposite of sustainable development and the protection of core human and labour rights.”

In June 2009, over 60 prominent Canadians sent Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff a letter urging him to vote against the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement and pursue an independent human rights impact assessment (HRIA) – a widely-adopted tool for evaluating the effect of policies, programmes and regulatory interventions across a wide range of different fields, according to a report of the Canadian Council for International Cooperation. In the case of a free trade agreement, an HRIA would assess “how the legal obligations of that agreement will affect the human rights of people in Canada and Colombia and the legal human rights obligations of the States involved.”

In November, a number of prominent faith based leaders in Colombia, including Bishop Juan Cardona, Pastors Peter Stucky and Reverand Jorge D. Zijlistra, wrote a letter to the Government of Canada calling for suspension of the agreement’s ratification because the necessary conditions in which a trade agreement would best serve the interests and needs of the Colombian population are just not there. A similar letter demanding an impact assessment was sent by 10 Afro-Colombia community councils stating that Colombia’s national government routinely grants mining companies and hydroelectric plants titles in Afro-Colombian, Indigenous and cooperative territories without holding prior consultation as established by ILO Convention 169.

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Background documents:

Making a Bad Situation Worse (An analysis of the text of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement)

The Struggle for Survival and Dignity – Human Rights Abuses Against Indigenous Peoples in Colombia (Amnesty International report)

UN human rights expert spotlights enduring plight of Afro-Colombians – February 2010 UN report

Council of Canadians