Human rights groups active in Colombia are criticizing an annual free trade report released earlier this week by the Canadian government, saying that the report ignores grave human rights concerns throughout the South American country.
The report, which purports to examine how trade policies have affected human rights issues in Colombia, is mandated under the terms of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (CCOFTA) that went into effect starting in 2011.
Annual human rights report
|“At this time, it is not possible to establish a direct link between the CCOFTA and the human rights situation in Colombia”|
“Canada and Colombia each produce a report every year on the effect of measures taken under the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Colombia (Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, “CCOFTA”) on human rights in both countries,” explains the report.
The most recent report, published Monday and delivered to the Canadian Parliament, covers the period starting January 1, 2013 and running through December 31, 2013. It has received widespread criticism from human rights groups that have accused it of whitewashing free trade and covering up numerous widely reported human rights abuses and concerns, including the grave situation faced by a number of indigenous groups throughout the country.
“No evidence of a causal link”
“With regard to the impact on human rights in Colombia, outcalls with business, local authorities, labour unions, civil society and local and departmental governments in the textiles and cosmetics and personal hygiene sectors in Colombia indicated that none could demonstrate that any of the factors impacting upon human rights and worker satisfaction are directly related to the implementation of the CCOFTA,” reads the report
“At this time, it is not possible to establish a direct link between the CCOFTA and the human rights situation in Colombia. There is no evidence of a causal link between reductions in tariffs by Canada in accordance with the CCOFTA and changes in human rights in Colombia.”
The report concludes that “based on an examination of the actions taken under the CCOFTA, it is not possible to reach any conclusion on whether any changes in human rights in either country have occurred.”
False impressions on trade and investment-related activities
In a response released on Tuesday, Amnesty International Canada expressed concern at the report and argued that it failed to acknowledge “the deadly repression faced by Indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant communities, trade unionists and others” in Colombia.
The report gives the impression that there are no trade and investment-related human rights concerns in Colombia.
Free trade report ignores emergency facing Indigenous peoples human rights in Colombia| Amnesty International Canada: http://t.co/FsUgOxJRJm
— AI Canada Media (@AICanadaMedia) May 20, 2014
There are, however, several documented cases by Colombian and international organizations that shed light on human rights related abuses that stem, in part, from CCOFTA policies and from free trade policies in general.
In one 2012 example, Pacific Rubiales, the largest foreign oil company in Colombia, created its own in-house labor union in attempts to cut the legs out from under the USO, Colombia’s national oil workers union.
Pacific Rubiales is just one of the Canadian multinationals involved in Colombia’s mineral extraction sector, the focal point of numerous far-reaching human rights issues, including forced displacement and environmental degradation. Human rights reports show that Eco Oro, a Canadian gold mining firm formerly known as Greystar Ltd., actively financed military abuses in the region where its mine was located.
Threat to indigenous population
In September 2013, statistics provided by the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia showed that 62.7% of Colombia’s indigenous population is at risk of extinction.
Of the 102 indigenous communities in Colombia, 66 were documented as being under grave threat from forces such as large-scale mining, development. and Colombia’s ongoing armed conflict.
It is not the first time that the annual Canadian report has failed to properly assess the human rights situation in Colombia.
The 2012 report completely disregarded the human rights situation in Colombia which drew the ire of many government critics, who felt the current administration was only seeking profit from Colombia, while ignoring its long history of human rights violations.
The Canadian government defended its position arguing that “as the agreement has only been in force for the last four and a half months in 2011, there’s not enough available data to do a comprehensive analysis.”
It is unknown yet whether the Canadian government will respond to the concerns of Amnesty International and other human rights organizations who have expressed concern at the report.
- Annual Report Pursuant to the Agreement concerning Annual Reports on Human Rights and Free Trade between Canada and the Republic of Colombia (Government of Canada)
- Misleading free trade report ignores emergency facing Indigenous peoples and other grave human rights concerns in Colombia (Amnesty International Canada, News Release)