PBI-Canada calls for Canada-Colombia free trade agreement review of investment, trade in oil field technologies

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To: Global Affairs Canada

Re: Public call for submissions regarding Canada’s Annual Report on Human Rights and Free Trade between Canada and the Republic of Colombia.

We welcome the opportunity to speak to the need to include Canadian investment in the fossil fuel industry in Colombia in this annual review, as well as to provide greater transparency on the trade in services and technology that supports this sector.

The need to review the human rights implications of investment

For the upcoming annual human rights review associated with the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, we encourage you to reconsider the exclusion of investment provisions, especially with respect to fossil fuel and mining investment.

When the agreement came into force in August 2011, the Government of Canada stated: “[Colombia] is a strategic destination for Canadian direct investment, especially in the mining and oil and gas sectors.” That media release added: “The free trade agreement with Colombia will benefit Canadian workers and businesses across the country and many sectors of the Canadian economy, including … mining, oil exploration.”

Canadian investment in oil exploration is not insignificant. Natural Resources Canada has reported that at $8 billion in 2018, Colombia was second largest location for Canadian Energy Assets Abroad (CEAA).

We have also noted that of the 69 oil and gas exploration blocks awarded between 2019 and 2021 in Colombia, 39 of those blocks went to Canadian companies (and 26 of those 39 blocks went to Calgary-based Parex Resources Inc.). In the 2021 round, Parex secured the most area allocations with an investment of more than USD $85 million.

Parex Resources in Santander

Parex Resources securing 26 new blocks in Colombia is a concern given the unresolved issues related to its Aguas Blancas oil field in Bajo Simacota, Santander.

We have outlined concerns about the lack of the needed environmental documents, the lack of an archaeological management plan, and the contamination of water by oil spills in this overview following a visit to the community in July 2021.

This situation in Bajo Simacota, Santander is of particular concern to the Regional Corporation for the Defence of Human Rights (CREDHOS) that Peace Brigades International has been accompanying since 1994.

Gran Tierra in Putumayo

The absence of investment as a consideration also means the annual report may not respond to the killing of a campesino and the wounding of an Indigenous Nasa leader on May 31, 2021, during a protest against Gran Tierra in Villagarzon, Putumayo.

The Justice and Peace Commission (also accompanied  by Peace Brigades International) stated on that day: “Protesters tried to enter the Costayaco field owned by the oil company Gran Tierra Energy, in order to block its operation.”

Giving context for the protest, the Sub-regional Strike Committee of the Villagarzón Resistance Point has explained: “Since May 16, the social protest moved to the Costayaco Field of GTE, demanding the immediate suspension of oil operations due to the historical environmental liabilities generated by this multinational.”

It has also been noted that: “Community blockades in 2019 and 2020 impacted Gran Tierra’s operations in the Putumayo Basin.”

And Las2orillas has previously reported on Inga opposition to the Gran Tierra APE – La Cabaña project near Villagarzón.

That article highlights that the San Miguel reservation, 500 metres from the project, opposed the exploration phase in 2015 because the proposed project “directly affected its territory and the resources of subsistence.” It also notes that the Association of Indigenous Councils of the Municipality of Villagarzón (Acimvip) asserted their rights to prior consultation had been violated by Gran Tierra.

El Espectador has also reported on the Inga’s concerns related to water and medicinal plants in relation to oil extractivism in the area.

Extractivism in the Magdalena Medio

Last month, CREDHOS stated: “The violation of human rights deepens with the interest of the National Government and certain economic sectors to expand and approve mining-energy activities in territories with significant ecological and sociocultural wealth.”

It further explains these violations include “the accusation, stigmatization, threat and forced displacement of environmental leaders who have opposed the implementation of pilot fracking projects in the municipality of Puerto Wilches, and with the persecution and murder of peasant leaders who have resisted the dispossession of their lands in the face of paramilitarism and the extractivist economy.”

One of those fracking pilot projects, the Platero project near Puerto Wilches, is on an exploration block co-owned by Toronto-based Sintana Energy.

Carolina Agón and Ramón Abril, CREDHOS

Threats against Carolina Agón and Ramón Abril have been made due to their opposition to fracking in the Puerto Wilches area. Carolina is a member of CREDHOS. Ramón is a Board member of CREDHOS. Amnesty International Canada has highlighted the threats against these environmental defenders in this Urgent Action.

Yuvelis Morales, Aguawil

Twenty-one-year-old Afro-Colombian activist Yuvelis Natalia Morales of the Committee for the Defence of Water, Life and Territory in the community of Puerto Wilches (Aguawil), a youth group accompanied by CREDHOS.

The death threats against her have forced her to flee to France.

When she met with French president Emmanuel Macron earlier this month, she asked him “to influence the international community so that the Colombian State provides the guarantees to defend the land, without that costing us our lives and so that the companies involved in these projects respect human rights.”

The French government welcomed Morales through an initiative they said is consistent with “France’s feminist diplomacy.”

We ask that the review of the implications of the Canada-Colombia trade agreement similarly reflect Canada’s stated commitment to a feminist foreign policy.

Trade in services and technology

We also ask that you provide details and analysis on the trade in products and services related to service the oil and gas industry in Colombia, including in mature fields and hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

In recent years, Global Affairs Canada has supported a trade mission to Colombia “showcasing Canada’s mature fields technology and expertise” as well as promoting the “technologies related to oil recovery and mature fields are much sought after, as well as in the development of unconventional resources, like fracking and deep-water exploration.”

Greater specificity and transparency on this trade in technologies, expertise and services would provide the means to better assess its human rights implications.

Ongoing concerns in Buenaventura

Last year’s Annual Report on Human Rights and Free Trade between Canada and the Republic of Colombia, noted:

“One written submission was received in response to the public call for submissions. This submission highlighted the increased violence and forced displacements in the city of Buenaventura, as well as the negative impact of the city’s port activities and infrastructure development on human rights and the living conditions of the local community.”

In that submission, we raised concerns that have been expressed by the Association for Research and Social Action (NOMADESC), the Inter-Church Commission on Justice and Peace, and the Nydia Erika Bautista Foundation for Human Rights (FNEB).

The annual report noted: “The information shared has been taken into consideration in the elaboration of the relevant section of this report.” It’s not clear to us how our submission was “taken into consideration”.

This situation continues to be of urgent concern.

Last month, the mayors of the Special Districts of Buenaventura and Cali and the municipalities of Jamundí and Palmira highlighted their continuing concerns about the situation in Buenaventura and invited the international community to “accompany the development of a peace agenda in the region and the coast, consistent with the geostrategic reality of the territory and with the social needs of communities and inhabitants.”

Closing words from CCAJAR lawyer Yessika Hoyos Morales

We close with words from Colombian lawyer Yessika Hoyos Morales. She made these comments in January of this year on a webinar organized by Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, the Law Society of Ontario’s Human Rights Committee and Human Rights Watch Canada marking the international Day of the Endangered Lawyer:

“Colombia and Canada have signed a free trade agreement and before that free trade agreement was signed Colombia established concrete commitments which included the respect of human rights, and a reduction in impunity, a responding to previous violations that have taken place. These commitments have not been fulfilled and so I think it’s very important to note that this lack of action, this non-fulfillment, is sending a very clear message. This clear message is that business and money are more important than human lives. And so, it’s extremely important for you all to remind your government that they do have obligations, that commitments have been made that have not been fulfilled and that in the end people’s lives are more important than money.”

We look forward to your response.

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