United Nations reports that 78 human rights defenders were killed in Colombia in 2021
Video: Climate activists from Colombia name some of the environmental defenders killed in Colombia outside the UN COP26 climate summit, November 2021.
On January 13, Reuters reported: “At least 78 human rights defenders were killed in Colombia in 2021, the United Nations human rights agency said on Thursday, adding that more cases were still being verified.”
“The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said it received 202 accusations of killings of human rights leaders in Colombia last year. Of these 78 were confirmed as killed, 39 cases were still being verified, and 85 were inconclusive.”
That article also notes: “Local human rights group Indepaz found that 171 social leaders were killed last year, while international advocacy organization Human Rights Watch reported in a separate report on Thursday [January 13] that 500 human rights defenders had been assassinated since 2016.”
Front Line Defenders and Global Witness
In February 2021, Front Line Defenders released its Global Analysis 2020 that reported 177 human rights defenders had been killed in Colombia that year.
Then in September 2021, Global Witness released their annual report LAST LINE OF DEFENCE: The industries causing the climate crisis and attacks against land and environmental defenders. That report documented the murders of 65 land and environmental defenders in Colombia in 2020.
Canada and Colombia
It is in this context that many Canadian resource extraction companies operate in Colombia.
In 2018, Natural Resources Canada noted that $8 billion of Canadian energy assets abroad (CEAA) are in Colombia. In 2019, according to Natural Resources Canada, 23 Canadian mining companies held assets in Colombia totalling $1.38 billion.
IPS has reported: “The drafting of Colombia’s laws governing oil and mining has come under scrutiny from trade unionists and human rights activists, who allege that CIDA, the Canadian International Development Agency, helped write the legislation to advance the interests of Canadian companies operating in the country.”
Speaking about the energy and mining legislation, Francisco Ramirez, president of SINTRAMINERCOL, stated: “The new code flexibilized environmental regulations, diminished labour guarantees for workers and opened the property of afro-Colombian and indigenous people to exploitation.”
Canadian oil companies also pushed for the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.
In May 2008, nine members of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce called on the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper to move forward with the deal. Three of them were representatives of oil companies, all of them based in Calgary. The agreement was signed by November 2008 and came into effect on August 15, 2011.
The concept of corporate due diligence includes the idea that companies must publicly report on the steps they have taken to prevent human rights and environmental harms.
Given the relationship between extractivism and violence against defenders, the absence of due diligence legislation in Canada, the role Canada has played in writing mining and energy laws, and the high level of Canadian investment in resource extraction sectors in Colombia, we continue to follow this situation with deep concern.