Is the role of an Embassy to be a corporate advocate or to uphold human rights?

Published by Brent Patterson on

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This coming November 27th will mark the 10th anniversary of the death of Mexican human rights defender Mariano Abarca Roblero.

Abarca opposed Calgary-based Blackfire Exploration’s open-pit La Revancha barite mine in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas.

The Toronto Star has reported, “Opposition to the mine was led by two groups, one of which, the Mexican Network of People Affected by Mining [REMA], was led by Abarca, speaking out against the environmental impacts of the mine and the failure to acknowledge the rights of Indigenous groups.”

“Protests against the mine included a months-long blockade of its operations. Abarca, along with two members of his family, was beaten at his home in the summer of 2008.”

“The following summer he led a protest delegation to the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City. He was later detained by police following a complaint by Blackfire.”

“In November 2009, he lodged his own complaint against the mining company, alleging that death threats had been made against him by Blackfire employees. Days later he was murdered — a drive-by shooting outside his home.”

The background in this MiningWatch Canada post highlights, “Access-to-information requests showed that the embassy intervened with Mexican government officials to support the company even when it knew about conflict over Blackfire’s project in Chiapas, Mexico, including the risks that Mr. Abarca was facing.”

It adds, “Mr. Abarca had personally alerted the embassy about community concerns over the mine’s impacts and related threats. Shortly after, Mr. Abarca was detained without charge on accusations filed by the company, and just weeks before his murder, the embassy asked Mexican authorities to quell protests over Blackfire’s operations.”

The further notes, “When Abarca was detained for eight days without charge, the Embassy received 1,400 letters from across Canada and across Latin America expressing dire concern for his safety. But its communications with Mexican state officials, as revealed in the Access to Information release, were instead oriented toward protecting the company’s interests.”

That website also notes, “Even after Abarca’s murder, and after the mine was shut down on environmental grounds, the documentation shows that the Embassy still provided support to the company, advising it about how it could sue the Mexican state under the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).”

The Toronto Star article continues, “In February 2018, [Shin Imai, law professor at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University in Toronto] requested that [Canada’s public sector] integrity commissioner investigate the events around Abarca’s murder.”

Among Imai’s stated concerns: “The Canadian Embassy ignored warnings that Mr. Abarca’s life and safety were in danger, while actively advocating on the company’s behalf with the government of the State of Chiapas.”

On July 29, this MiningWatch Canada media release stated, “In a decision published on July 18th, Federal Justice Keith Boswell conceded that ‘perhaps Mariano Abarca would not have been murdered’ if the embassy ‘[had] acted in a certain way’.”

“Despite Judge Boswell’s admission of the significance of the embassy’s influence, he refused to order the Commissioner to investigate the embassy’s conduct.”

Following that ruling, Mariano Abarca’s son, José Luis Abarca Montejo, commented, “We are very disappointed by this decision. …It is baffling to us that the judge could recognize that the embassy could have made a difference in the life of my father by acting otherwise, and yet refused to order an investigation.”

The media release further notes, “the Abarca family together with Otros Mundos Chiapas, the Human Rights Centre of the Autonomous University of Chiapas, the Mexican Network of Mining Affected People (REMA by its initials in Spanish), and MiningWatch Canada … are preparing to exercise their right of appeal to the Federal Court of Appeal.”

Last March, the Toronto Star Business Columnist Jennifer Wells commented, “The case could boil down to this: is it the role of an embassy to be a corporate advocate or is it to uphold fundamental human rights and facilitate dialogue?”

This past June, Global Affairs released its “Voices at Risk” guidelines for Canadian diplomats to support human rights defenders. More on that “practical advice” and the response to it from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and several Canadian civil society groups in this PBI-Canada overview.

Photo by MiningWatch Canada of a February 2018 rally at the Human Rights Monument in Ottawa with Mariano Abarca’s son and Canadian civil society groups calling for justice for the slain human rights defender.

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