Despite calls from human rights defenders to freeze arms exports, Canada will sell 50 LAVs to the Colombian military
Photo: General Dynamics Land Systems exhibits its 8×8 LAV III at Expodefensa 2017 arms show in Bogota, Colombia.
On May 20, Infodefensa.com reported: “Yesterday, May 19, the Colombian Government, through the Ministry of Defense, approved the purchase of 50 General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS) 8×8 LAV III DVH armored vehicles.”
The article adds: “The LAV III DVH is manufactured by the Canadian subsidiary of General Dynamics Land Systems.”
The deal appears to have been several years in the making.
In 2019, Infodefensa.com had also reported that the Colombian Army had shown interest in acquiring the LAV-III vehicles.
LAVs sold to Colombia in 2013-15
It’s not the first time Canada has sold light armoured vehicles (LAVs) to Colombia.
In January 2013, GDLS-Canada announced: “The Colombian Ministry of National Defence has awarded a USD $65.3 million contract to General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada for 24 Light Armoured Vehicles for the Colombian Army.”
Their media release adds: “The contract was signed through the Canadian Commercial Corporation, a Crown Agency of the Government of Canada.”
It was later reported that 32 LAVs were exported to Colombia.
In January 2015, ArmyRecognition.com noted: “The LAV III will go to the Colombian Army Combined Medium Arms Task Force, an army unit based in the town of Distracción, Guajira department, on the border with Venezuela.”
Distracción is located about 45 kilometres south of Cerrejon (where an open pit mine that exports coal to Canada is being challenged by the PBI-Colombia accompanied José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective/CCAJAR).
The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) has also noted: “Most of the population of La Guajira department are Indigenous people who have survived for centuries in a hostile environment. …The Indigenous people blame more than 30 years of coal mining for contaminating their reservoirs. As if that were not enough, the mining companies have obtained licences to divert rivers and exploit the riverbeds.”
InfoDefensa.com now suggests the new LAVs that the Colombian Ministry of Defense wants to buy would also be stationed in La Guajira.
Canadian arms exports and the false positives scandal
This is also not the first time that human rights implications have been expressed about the sale of light armoured vehicles to the Colombian military.
In July 2015, Lee Berthiaume reported in the Ottawa Citizen: “Questions are being raised over the Conservative government’s push to sell arms to developing countries following explosive allegations linking Colombian military officers to the killing of hundreds of civilians during the country’s bloody civil war.”
This refers to false positives/falsos positivos.
“False positives” refers to innocent people extrajudicially killed by members of the Colombian army, and then falsely labelled as enemy combatants. It is now believed that 6,402 people were murdered by the army in this way between 2002 and 2008.
Colombian HRDs call on Canada to stop arms exports
This new sale comes after Colombian human rights defenders called on the Canadian government not to supply the Public Force/Fuerza Publica (the military and police) following the violence seen during the national strike/paro nacional in 2021.
Last year, the PBI-Colombia accompanied Regional Corporation for the Defence of Human Rights (CREDHOS) stated: “The military and the police are interfering with peaceful social protest. The army is patrolling different urban areas of the cities. We are calling on the international community to ensure that logistical or financial support to the police and national army is stopped because right now they are attacking the people and we don’t want that to continue.”
CREDHOS added: “If there is any sort of military support or technical assistance, please abstain from providing that military aid because they are attacking the civilian population.”
And on December 1, 2021, and May 16 of this year, just three days before the deal to sell the LAVs was announced, the PBI-Colombia accompanied Association for Research and Social Action (NOMADESC) met with Canadian Ambassador to Colombia Marianick Tremblay and called on her to ensure Canada did not support the Public Force.
Civil society, MPs and international community
Civil society, Members of Parliament in Canada and the international community have supported this demand.
In May 2021, the Americas Policy Group noted: “In 2014, Canadian-made light-armoured vehicles (LAVs) were sold by INKAS Armoured Vehicles Manufacturing to the Colombian government.” It then asked: “Could these same vehicles be the ones now being used to attack peaceful protests?”
That same month, the United Church of Canada stated: “Canada’s sale of light armoured vehicles and armoured personnel vehicles to Colombia regardless of their intended use is deeply concerning.”
And the New Democratic Party (NDP) highlighted with respect to Colombia: “The Liberal government needs to do a lot more to show that they are applying the arms export risk assessment criteria rigorously, to ensure that Canadian arms are not being sold to countries where there are concerns about human rights violations.”
NDP MP Heather McPherson further commented: “The violence and repressive tactics used by the Colombian police and military is shocking and unprecedented. The right to peaceful protest is important for any society.”
In June 2021, Bloc Québécois Member of Parliament Simon-Pierre Savard-Tremblay stated: “We want the Minister for Foreign Affairs to seriously reassess the export licences for military equipment to Colombia.”
Savard-Tremblay also noted: “As long as there is reasonable doubt that military equipment exported to Colombia is being used against the civilian population in human rights violations, licences should be suspended.”
Amnesty International Canada also stated: “Amidst profound concern about the deepening human rights crisis in Colombia and militarized repression of ongoing demonstrations across the country, Amnesty International Canada is calling on the Canadian government to suspend weapons exports to the South American country.”
That same month, more than 228 academics from across Canada wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that stated:
“Canada must also review any current or projected cooperation with the Colombian police or military and prohibit any future sale of weapons or light-armoured vehicles by Canadian companies until Colombia has reformed its National Police, among others to abolish the ESMAD and to foreclose the application of military justice to police officers.”
In October 2021, the International Observation Mission for the Guarantees of Social Protest and Against Impunity in Colombia included the recommendation:
“The European Union is required to suspend the sale of military weapons and riot control equipment under criterion 2 of the EU Code of Conduct on arms export. To the United States, and to any country that provides military weapons or riot gear, you are required to suspend sales commercial or donations of such weapons to ESMAD.”
At this point, it’s not clear if the sale has been finalized.
Nor is it clear if the Canadian Commercial Corporation has approved/signed the contract for the export of the vehicles to Colombia.
These are questions to be asked of Mary Ng, the Minister responsible for Canadian Commercial Corporation.
We will be trying to find out the answers to these questions.
Webinar, May 31
This issue will also be discussed on an upcoming PBI-Canada organized webinar on Canadian arms exports and militarization of territory that will include Berenice Celeita from NOMADESC and Rachel Small from World Beyond War.
To register for this webinar, click here.
So far, 115 people have registered for this webinar that will take place the afternoon before GDLS-Canada will be at the CANSEC arms show in Ottawa.
Image from CANSEC arms show in Ottawa, 2019.