This week’s guest blog is by Rebekah Sears, advocacy coordinator for MCC in Colombia. This blog originally appeared in the MCC Latin America Advocacy Blog.
Last year’s non-report and this year’s bypass
For the second year in a row, the Canadian Government has shrunk away from promises to provide an annual analysis on the situation of human rights in Colombia every spring in relation to the Free Trade Agreement, ratified in August 2011.
In May 2012 a “non-report” was issued, basically stating that not enough time had passed to justify a full report. Several NGOs responded by releasing a shadow report, looking at Canada’s influence in the mining sector as well as other industries.
This year, on June 14, 2013, just before Parliament rose for the summer, a brief report was released stating that there basically is no way to monitor the connections between human rights and free trade.
This is disappointing to say the least, noting the promise of an annual assessment was one of the main reasons the Free Trade agreement was accepted by Parliament in the first place. Ratified under a majority government, the core points of the agreement were engineered under a minority government, including an annual human rights report requirement- a non-negotiable requirement proposed by the opposition.[i]
Canada’s economic involvement in Colombia is significant, notably in the extractive industries, such as oil, gas and mining. Over 50% of extractive companies operating in Colombia are based in Canada.
These industries have all expanded exponentially in Colombia in recent years, giving Canadian companies plenty of influence. These economic activities have not only grown in size, scope and capacity, across the country, but have become very contentious and controversial.
The roots of the continuing armed conflict run deep within Colombian society, covering a wide combination of factors, including acute economic inequality, control of territory and natural resources, power and politics and more. Combined with the significant supply and variety of natural resources, many industries arguably have possible strong ties with some of these ifactors.
According to a 2013 report from the Colombian Government’s Comptroller General, and cited again by the Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC), an overwhelming amount of the forced displacements (87%), human rights violations in general (80%), crimes against labour unionists (78%) and actions against Indigenous and Afro-Colombian populations (89%) that are an ongoing part of the armed conflict and general violence are happening in regions rich in oil and mining industries.[ii]
The same report expresses concerns that the mining and extractive industries will and have been slowing down and preventing promised land-restitution processes all over the country, particularly in regions of valuable natural resources.[iii]
The expansion of these industries and the growing influence of large multinational companies is not the entire cause of the ongoing conflict and violence. There are multiple deep-rooted factors at play.
International trade, and more specifically free trade agreements, are not, in themselves, completely negative things. It’s early on, and still too early to tell.
But that does not mean that the Canadian Government shouldn’t monitor and explore possible impacts of Canadian business in Colombia, especially these rampant accounts of violence in mineral and oil rich regions- areas where Canadian companies are very active. It is clearly not impossible to have some sense of the impacts of Canada’s involvement.
In fact, it should be a top priority to find some way to monitor the impacts on human rights of this agreement, according to Prime Minister Harper’s statement in announcing the ratification of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement:
“Colombia is a key regional partner with Canada in important objectives – spreading democracy, promoting human rights and improving hemispheric security.”[iv]
[i] Campbell Clark, “Conservatives reneged on agreement to study impact of free trade on human rights in Colombia,” Globe and Mail, June 25, 2013: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/try-it-now/try-it-now-politics-insider/?contentRedirect=true&articleId=12798078#dashboard/follows/.
[ii] Luis Jorge Garay Salamanca, “Minería en Colombia: Fundamentos para superar el modelo extractivista,” Contraloría General, gobierno de Colombia, mayo 2013: http://18.104.22.168/c/document_library/get_file?folderId=78918891&name=DLFE-66401.pdf; Rachel Warden and Barbara Wood (CCIC),“Another non-report on human rights and trade with Colombia,” Embassy Magazine, June 26, 2013: http://www.codev.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Colombia-Op-ed-June-2013_Embassy-Magazine.pdf.
[iii] Colombia Reports, “Colombia’s comptroller warns mining could impede land restitution, Colombia Reports, May 11, 2013: http://colombiareports.com/comptroller-warns-that-mining-could-impede-land-restitution-in-colombia/.
[iv] The Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, “Statement by the Prime Minister of Canada in Bogotá, Colombia,” News Release, Prime Minister’s Office (August 10, 2011): http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media.asp?category=3&featureId=6&pageId=49&id=4258.