Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. Good afternoon, and good afternoon, committee members. Thank you for the opportunity to be here.
Let me begin by succinctly capturing what Amnesty International's overarching message will be. It is a message about the crucial importance of due diligence and accountability with regard to Canada's human rights obligations, particularly with regard to the duty to ensure that Canada's economic and investment activities do not in any way contribute to human rights violations.
Amnesty International testified before this very committee, on numerous occasions, in fact, before the signing and implementation of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. We argued then that given the particular context of widespread human rights violations in Colombia, many of them linked to the appropriation of areas of economic interest, it was imperative that the free trade agreement not go through without first having an independent, impartial human rights impact assessment conducted to identify any negative impacts and to provide an opportunity to address them before proceeding.
This recommendation was, of course, echoed by a report from this very committee in 2008. But the government did not follow that recommendation. Instead, implementing legislation for the agreement was passed by Parliament, which included an amendment calling for an annual report on human rights impacts to be prepared by both governments, the Government of Canada and the Government of Colombia. As you all know, the first such report by the Government of Canada was tabled on May 15, as required by law.
Amnesty International is deeply disappointed by the nature of the report that was tabled, as well as by the lack of transparency with respect to the process leading up to the preparation of the report. On repeated occasions, Amnesty International and many other civil society groups that have an interest in following and contributing to this requested information from government officials about the process by which the report was being prepared, the standards and framework being used for the report, and what opportunities there would be to provide input. We never received any information. Thus, regrettably, we were unable to make any contribution or participate in the process of preparing that report.
The report that has been submitted does not provide any analysis of the human rights impacts of the Canadian promotion of trade and investment in this war-torn country. It indicates that it is the government's view that sufficient trade data is not available. Instead, the document provides only a cursory outline of steps the government plans to follow to prepare future reports, with a promise that the first substantive report will be completed a year from now, in 2013.
Minister Fast has stated that since the agreement has only been in force as of August 2011, there is not enough available data to do a comprehensive analysis.
Committee members, what I want to share with you is that in our view, that position is not in keeping with emerging international norms. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights recommended back in a 2004 report to the UN Commission on Human Rights that “States...should undertake human rights impact assessments of trade and development rules, policies and projects, both during the process of policy and project formulation as well as after a period of implementation”.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food issued the “Guiding Principles on Human Rights Impact Assessments of Trade and Investment Agreements” in December 2011. And those guidelines provide that, “[a]ll States should prepare human rights impact assessments prior to the conclusion of trade and investment agreements”.
You see that UN experts call for human rights impact assessments of trade agreements not only after they've come into effect but also before they've come into force. As such, in our view, the assertion that a few months into an agreement is too early, simply cannot be sustained.
The failure to carry out a full impact assessment at this early initial stage contravenes Canada's responsibilities for due diligence under international law and, importantly, denies Canadian corporations working in Colombia the information they need to avoid implicating themselves in the possibility of grave human rights violations.
There is no shortage of information about the human rights situation in Colombia, as relevant to the promotion of increased Canadian trade and investment. Certainly the situation remains dire. More than 259,000 people were driven from their homes and lands in 2011 alone because of violence associated with political and economic interests. In fact, Colombia has now surpassed Sudan as the country with the highest rate of internal displacement in the world, with the total number of internally displaced people now estimated at between 3.9 million and 5.3 million.
Afro-descendant and peasant farmer communities, as well as trade unionists and those who question economic megaprojects, continue to face deadly attacks. The crisis facing indigenous peoples, many of whom live in areas of economic interest, is particularly alarming. Colombia's Constitutional Court has identified 34 indigenous nations that are in grave danger of extinction, amidst armed conflict that has often been used as a cover for appropriation of their resource-rich lands.
In Colombia, human rights abuses have long been committed as a means of forcibly removing civilian communities from areas of economic interest. Much of the land targeted for intensive development, such as plantations, mines, and oil and gas development, is land that is inhabited by indigenous and Afro-descendant communities. Forced displacement has particularly tragic consequences for these communities, since their close relationship to the land is not only the foundation of their cultures and way of life but is also essential to fulfilling their rights to subsistence.
Killings and threats have often taken place as part of efforts to weaken the resolve and capacity of indigenous communities to oppose economic projects. In this context consultation exercises have been conducted that fall short of the rights of indigenous peoples to free, prior, and informed consent as enshrined in international law. In many cases, mining licences have been issued before the initiation or completion of any genuine consultation with indigenous or Afro-descendant communities, and without their consent.
What do we want to see now? What are Amnesty International's recommendations, given where things stand?
I'd like to make a few comments with respect to two particular dimensions. The first is the preparation of the 2013 report, but the second is some recommendations on action that needs to be taken now.
With respect to the 2013 report, Amnesty International believes it is imperative that Canada evaluates not only the direct impact of the agreement, but also the human rights climate in which the two governments are promoting trade and in which Canadian companies are making investment decisions. What is needed for the Canadian public, but certainly for Canadian companies and others contemplating trade and investment in Colombia, is an accurate analysis of that climate such that decisions can be made to avoid contributing to abuses.
There will be other witnesses who appear before you who will have much to say about the methodology for impact assessment reports. I'd simply return to some of the important work done by the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, in the guidelines that have been submitted to the UN Human Rights Council. Those guidelines recommend that in order to be credible and effective, the assessment should be guided by a human rights-based approach that observes the following conditions: independence, transparency, inclusive participation—including by the poorest and most vulnerable segments of the population and women—as well as expertise and funding.
Therefore, it's crucial that indigenous and Afro-descendant organizations, as well as organizations involved in attempts to regain stolen land, trade union organizations, and women's organizations, all have the opportunity for meaningful participation.
Obviously May 2013 is a year away. Canada needs to be cognizant that there are pressing human rights concerns that need attention now and cannot wait a full year for action and an opportunity to address them.
Finally, we'd very much highlight that even now it is crucial that Canada demand, forcefully and consistently, that the Colombian government take decisive action to devise and implement a plan to guarantee the protection and rights of indigenous peoples at risk, in compliance with rulings of Colombian's own Constitutional Court and UN recommendations.
Canada must also ensure that the conditions for true, free, prior, and informed consent exist for indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples, and should ensure that our policies towards Columbia are in line with such crucial international standards as the International Labour Organization Convention 169, and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Lastly, it's very important to flag that millions of hectares of lands have been appropriated, stolen mostly by paramilitaries over many years but also by insurgents and armed opposition groups, as a result of grave human rights abuses in Columbia. It is imperative that Canada ensure that its policies, Canadian funding assistance, and investments do not contribute in any way to the process of de facto legalization of stolen lands, and that Canada builds safeguards to guarantee that Canadian companies are not benefiting from this situation, deriving profits from lands that were misappropriated through human rights abuses.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.