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May 17, 2012
Media Backgrounder

The Federal Government’s “report” on Canada-Colombia human rights and Free Trade Agreement (backgrounder)

The so called “report” loses credibility from the get go with its clear lack of impartiality. It’s presented in a very neo- liberal trade friendly manner that serves the ideological vision of those writing it and those expected to carry it out namely DFAIT. One need not read past the first paragraph to be reminded that “Economic growth through liberalized rule-based trade and investment” is good to “solidify efforts by governments to create a more prosperous democracy and to reduce poverty”.

The Harper government “report” does a great job of decontextualizing the situation in Colombia by providing no information whatsoever on the human rights crisis in Colombia today or prior to the agreement. Not even bothering to acknowledge why a human rights impact assessment was mandated in the first place. Instead it’s content with stating the obvious, that the “human rights situation in Canada and Colombia are different” and re-iterating Canada’s America’s strategy.

Lack of methodology:

The lack of effort put into the report and methodology underscores the lack of commitment by the federal government to the process and human rights in general. The Government has had two years to prepare and produce a substantive “report” with clear and defined methodology. Instead they are satisfied with providing a lackadaisical 8 step guide focusing on “clustering” and “pairing of economic sectors with relevant human rights and analysis” leaving out key details about how and when this process will take place.

Lack of neutrality and consultation:

The “report” mentions the need to “consult with stakeholders about the report and its methodology” however, in Canada to date not even this basic obligation has been complied with. From the beginning the process has lacked transparency and participation with no involvement from civil society who have mostly been kept in the dark. One is left to wonder if the governments proposed consultation process will be like the rest of the “report” a mere whitewashing.

The criticality of a transparent and impartial process is underscored by Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food when he explains that “Issues of independence, oversight and strict methodological frameworks are going to be particularly relevant where the HRIA is undertaken by a government”. The De Schutter principles have a well-documented methodology of how HRIA should be carried out using some basic criteria lacking in the government’s proposal. Without a clear and well thought out methodology and a neutral third party undertaking the process can we really expect a balanced and fair report in 2013?

The Federal Government is counting on our collective amnesia to forget that back in 2008 The Standing Committee on International Trade conducted a study and concluded that the FTA with Colombia should not proceed until improvements in the human rights situation take place. It’s banking on the fact that Canadians will have forgotten that in Colombia, inequality, land concentration, displacement, impunity and violence against human rights defenders and trade unionists are endemic and permeates all levels of government and society.

Inequality and land concentration:

A large portion of the Colombian population continues to live in poverty. The economic policies of FTA carry huge social costs and the federal government’s assumption that by simply engaging in trade it will “lift Colombians out of poverty” is rather naive. Colombia is the third most unequal country in the world in 2011 with land concentration at the heart of that inequality. In Colombia 0.4% of landowners now own 61% per cent of rural land. To put that in context that’s the equivalent of 5.5 million hectares of land – twice the size of Belgium - have been illegally appropriated.


According to Amnesty International more than 259,000 people were driven from their homes and lands in 2011 due to violence associated with political and economic interests. “Failure to carry out a full impact assessment violates Canada's responsibility of due diligence under international law and denies Canadian corporations working in Colombia the information they need to avoid implicating themselves in grave human rights violations,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General Amnesty International Canada.


Extrajudicial execution has been described as a “more or less systematic practice” by the United Nations Rapporteur on Extrajudicial and Summary Executions, Philip Alston. The Public Prosecution Service only investigates 25.5% of murders and less than 3% of cases of other forms of anti-union violence. The number of people sentenced remains so low that the level of impunity for crimes against trade unionists remains at 98%. Impunity for violence against trade unionists remains high. Less than 10% of the cases of murdered unionists have resulted in convictions, despite pledges by the Colombian government to tackle impunity in 2007.

Violence against human rights defenders and Trade Unionists:

A survey by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), found that 49 of the 90 trade unionists murdered worldwide in 2010 were killed in Colombia. Just since the CCOFTA came into effect in August 2011 17 trade unionists have been killed. Colombian human rights defenders speaking out against Canadian transnationals have also been targeted. Shortly after the CCOFTA was ratified, Canadian civil society organizations called for stronger protection of human rights defenders after the murder of Father José Reinel Restrepo an outspoken opponent of Canadian mining company Gran Colombia Gold in his home town of Marmato, Colombia.

For more information:
Raul Burbano
Common Frontiers
416 522 8615

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