Canadian prime minister does not mention report on the killings of human rights defenders in call with Colombian president

Published by Brent Patterson on

On July 31, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Colombian President Ivan Duque spoke about issues of shared concern.

This follows a conversation both leaders had on May 11 of this year.

Both calls included expressions of condolences on the loss of military personnel in helicopter accidents (9 members of Colombia’s National Army died in a crash on July 20, while 6 members of the Canadian Armed Forces died in a crash on April 29).

Regrettably, the readout from the call this week does not include a reference to the 64 land and environmental defenders killed in Colombia in 2019 (documented in this Global Witness report widely reported on two day prior to their call) nor this Front Line Defenders report released in January that documents the killings of 106 defenders.

On January 15 of this year, CNN reported: “Human rights activists and community leaders in Colombia are being killed at an alarming rate, the United Nations human rights agency warned Tuesday as it urged the government to ‘make a strenuous effort’ to prevent attacks on those who are defending fundamental rights.”

The UN stated: “We call on the authorities to redouble their efforts to ensure a free and secure environment for civic engagement and to increase the presence of civil State authorities in rural areas to provide basic services, such as health and education.”

At that time, UN Geneva also highlighted: “The single most targeted group was human rights defenders advocating on behalf of community-based and indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombians. The killings of female human rights defenders increased by almost 50% in 2019 compared to 2018.”

Given the high number of killings of defenders, the Defendamos la Paz (We Defend Peace) movement also sent this letter earlier this year to Adama Dieng, the special adviser to the United Nations Secretary General on the Prevention of Genocide, asking him to visit Colombia to investigate the situation.

On July 6 of this year, 94 members of the United States Congress, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, also warned in this letter of the serious security situation for human rights defenders in Colombia and called on the US Secretary of State to put pressure on Duque to implement the 2016 Peace Accords and address the deteriorating security situation experienced by social, Indigenous, and Afro-Colombian leaders.

The readouts on the meetings between Trudeau and Duque on July 31, 2020, May 11, 2020, January 26, 2019, and September 25, 2018 all make reference to “the crisis in Venezuela”, but not the crisis in Colombia.

Last year, Global Affairs Canada released its latest edition of Voices at Risk: Canada’s Guidelines on Supporting Human Rights Defenders.

That document states: “All sections of Canadian missions abroad can advocate in support of human rights defenders working on land and environmental issues.”

We encourage Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to echo the UN’s concerns about the alarming level of violence against defenders in Colombia with President Ivan Duque in their next conversation. We further encourage Members of Parliament from all political parties to highlight to the Prime Minister the urgency of doing so.

PBI has supported defenders in Colombia since 1994. For a 6-minute 25th anniversary video on this unarmed accompaniment, please click here.

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