Canadian resource exploitation companies who have been moving into Colombia are contributing to what Amnesty International has called “a stunning human rights crisis” for the Latin American country’s vulnerable indigenous population.
Kathy Price of Amnesty International’s Canada branch this month attended the eighth Congress of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia. “We heard it all in the discussions, there was great concern about the Canadian companies moving on to indigenous territory, and the impact of resource extraction projects. Concessions have been granted to these companies with no consultation and no prior consent given by the indigenous people of the land. We heard the indigenous people expressing grave concerns,” said Price.
According to the human rights worker, the armed conflict is “used as a cover” to gain access to areas of economic interest, where “severe human rights violations take place.” An article published by Amnesty reported that indigenous people told of “displacement, killings, rape and other human rights violations carried out with the seeming intent to clear lands for mines and other economic projects.”
“We need to see if Canadian companies are benefitting from human rights violations. Are they profiting from land appropriated from vulnerable indigenous people. Are these things happening?” asks Price. “We need to ask what is Canadian policy in regard to this?”
A free trade agreement between Colombia and Canada came into force in August of last year, which the Canadian government is required under law to report on every year. “But the report came back empty this year as they said they hadn’t had enough time to research the impacts,” Price told Colombia Reports.
The report is expected to be ready for May 2013, but no information has been given on how it will be drawn up. “It is absolutely crucial that the indigenous people and the indigenous organizations have an opportunity to contribute to this report,” said the Amnesty worker.
Price said that Colombia’s own Constitutional Court has described the situation as “an emergency as serious as it is invisible.” All the human rights reports are focusing on the armed conflict and seem not to see the steady advancement and “voracious exploration and exploitation” of indigenous lands by these resource extraction companies.
“One of the indigenous men at the conference told us ‘we are facing a monster,'” said the human rights worker, who said that at least 35 distinct indigenous races face physical and cultural extermination. “What we heard about were ongoing, very serious human rights abuses, and a failure to protect the indigenous people. We heard over and over again how we are facing a crisis.”
Price said that the economic actors have responsibilities and obligations to do no harm and to protect human rights. “These economic actors include the companies and the governments of Canada and Colombia.There are severe human rights violations in areas of economic interest. It is important for Canada to see this,” she said.
This is not the first time concerns have been expressed, in May a report commissioned by the Canadian union of Postal Workers, alleged that at least six Canadian-owned companies were “linked with military and paramilitary repression,” and accuses two companies of being “linked to at least eight murders of trade unionists and human rights activists.”