Human rights concerns and the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Colombian human rights defenders from CCALCP and CREDHOS met with Global Affairs Canada officials on November 4-5 in Ottawa and posed questions about the Annual Report produced in relation to the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

The Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (CCOFTA) entered into force in August 2011 under Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

CoDevelopment Canada has explained that in the lead up to the signing of the agreement protests against the deal highlighting the severity of human rights violations in Colombia resulted in a clause requiring both the Canadian and Colombian governments to produce annual reports on the human rights impacts of the deal.

Limited scope, private sector activities excluded

The Government of Canada tabled its eighth report (for the year 2018) in May 2019.

This year’s report highlights tariff reductions, rather than investment, and states, “Private sector activities are not within the scope of the report.”

Notably, there is no apparent reference in the annual report to issues relating to Canadian investment in Colombia in the mining and oil and gas sectors.

That’s unfortunate given Global Affairs Canada has highlighted elsewhere that there are more than 100 Canadian companies currently operating in Colombia with “infrastructure, extractives and financial services assets in excess of $5 billion.”

Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS)

Significantly, the agreement includes an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism that allows foreign investors (i.e., Canadian corporations) to sue governments (i.e., the Colombian government) in private tribunals over public policy measures that affect their investments and future profits.

Given this, it’s surprising that there is also no apparent reference in the reports subsequent to Vancouver-based Eco Oro Minerals Corporation filing an investor-state challenge through the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) citing the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

Eco Oro is suing Colombia for lost future profits over the blocking of a proposed gold and silver mine in the Santurbán Páramo wetland ecosystem that provides drinking water to approximately 2 million people.

Indigenous rights, Canadian extractivism

Furthermore, Amnesty International has highlighted the reports have failed to assess “the rapidly increasing presence of extractive companies in and around the territories of Indigenous peoples amidst armed conflict, grave human rights violations and forced displacement that, according to Colombia’s Constitutional Court, threaten more than one-third of Indigenous nations in Colombia with physical or cultural extermination.”

An article in Petroleum Economist this past July titled Colombian fracking edges closer to reality concludes with the sentence, “Unconventional assets are also often near indigenous lands, which could pose further headaches.”

This is particularly notable given hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is expected to start in Colombia in mid-2020 with Calgary-based Parex Resources Inc. having already expressed interest in this form of extractivism there.

Human rights defenders

The report does highlight, “In the case of human rights defenders, although the peace agreement includes mechanisms intended to guarantee their physical protection and their ability to conduct their work, statistics continue to illustrate a worrying trend.”

And yet the social genocide – the killing of 738 social leaders since January 2016 – does not raise questions in the report about the advisability of Canadian extractivist industries contributing to environmental conflicts in Colombia.

Amnesty International has cautioned, “Experience has proven that promoting trade and investment in conflict zones carries significant risks of exacerbating or benefiting from human rights violations.”

Submissions to the report

There is an annual opportunity for the public to submit their comments on the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement to Global Affairs Canada. That said, the report states that those serve “to inform the analysis of the report” rather than being meaningfully reflected or substantially shaping the content of the report.

In fact, Amnesty International sees the scope and methodology of the report as so problematic that it now refuses to make submissions for the report unless there are significant changes made in the formulation of the reports.

Peace Brigades International continues to listen to the frontline human rights defenders it accompanies in Colombia, including the Regional Corporation for the Defence of Human Rights (CREDHOS) and the Luis Carlos Perez Lawyers’ Collective (CCALCP).

We also share the call that has been made by Amnesty International for the Government of Canada to commission a comprehensive, independent and impartial human rights assessment of the impact of the trade and investment agreement with Colombia and to take the steps needed to address the concerns raised.

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