Media release of Québec-Canada human rights verification mission to Colombia

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Text of December 7, 2021 media release:

The Québec-Canada-Colombia human rights verification mission was present in Colombia from November 25 to December 7, 2021, at the invitation of Colombian civil society.

The objective of the mission was to collect testimonies and verify the allegations of serious human rights violations reported in the wake of the national strike which shook the country from the end of April to the beginning of September 2021.

The mission also investigated allegations of rights violations in the context of Canadian trade and investment in Colombia. These contain international and national commitments to the protection of human rights, including important environmental issues.

Once back in Quebec, the mission undertakes to write a report which, on the one hand, will detail the field observations of the mission, and on the other hand, will present all of its conclusions and recommendations. The mission also undertakes to make its report public within the Canadian or international bodies concerned.

The Canadian-Quebec mission toured the country with the theme “Vivos se los llevaron, Vivos los Queremos” (Alive they were taken, alive we want them).

It heard disturbing testimonies during the meetings she held with numerous organizations and associations in the following departments: Cundinamarca, Antioquia, Valle del Cauca, Cauca y Huila.

Citizen collectives, educational institutions, social associations, direct victims and people close to them have submitted cases to the mission. These cases highlighted the importance and extent of the consequences caused by the repression carried out during and after the national strike throughout Colombian territory.

Citizen participation in this mission exceeded our expectations, both in terms of the number of participants and the diversity of testimonies that will allow us to analyze the situation more closely and follow up on the process of organizations from Canada and Colombia in course of the next few months.

Already, we note some serious violations of fundamental rights in certain regions of Colombia. During our visits and hearings, we were able to observe a pattern of systematic intervention that is repressive and very worrying for the future.

We noted, in particular, a systematic profiling of social and trade union leaders, with serious consequences for the victims, their families and the communities.

Many of the people who criticize the policies and actions of the state are stigmatized, harassed, displaced, abducted, criminalized and even killed.

Even people who have not participated in the various social events are affected, young people in particular and several victims of sexual and gender diversity.

In addition, leaders and members of indigenous communities pointed out that they were attacked by armed civilians during the strike, sometimes even supported by the police. These actors reported witnessing similar violence perpetrated against Afro-Colombian communities in the context of defending their territory.

Most of the people consulted mentioned having participated in consultation tables with different levels and institutions of government, all without success. These consultations do not succeed or, worse, these consultation tables are ways of identifying social leaders and then attacking them.

We have noted cases of false criminalization of these leaders. In addition, we have seen a discourse that seeks to trivialize the violence mentioned above.

We visited several communities directly affected by the numerous activities of mining and hydroelectric companies registered in Canada and supported, in many cases, by Canadian investments. Forced displacements, attacks on health, mobility, fracture of the social fabric, militarization of the territory, criminalization and assassinations of social and environmental defenders are among the impacts reported to the Commission.

Enforced disappearances are obviously important. However, they are little affected by official reports in Colombia so far. We have found that there is an underestimation of cases of disappearances, particularly during the general strike. Several organizations establish the number of 300 disappearances, or even more, rather than the hundred recognized by the State.

Everything we have heard and observed concerns us deeply about the general human rights situation in Colombia, a situation that continues to deteriorate. We will therefore make urgent recommendations in our forthcoming report.

We take this opportunity to thank all the associations and organizations that we have met.

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