Thanks very much, Mr. Chair.
Good morning, committee members. It's a pleasure to be back in front of you.
It is a time of peace in Colombia, which was lauded by the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 for bringing decades of devastating civil war to an end. However, serious, widespread human rights violations continue. Last week we published an urgent news release highlighting the forced displacements of over 1,000 civilians over the course of just four days of renewed fighting. We've drawn particular attention to the concern that peace continues to be elusive for indigenous and Afro-descended communities, which have frequently been forced from their mineral and agricultural-rich lands during years of war, and are now facing obstacles and threats as they seek to assert their rights to restitution.
Mexico continues to face a devastating human rights crisis marked by years of enforced disappearances, now numbering an estimated 34,000 people, and extensive torture and threats and attacks against journalists and human rights defenders. Numerous encouraging laws have been passed to strengthen human rights protection, but have consistently fallen short when it comes to implementation. Ildefonso Zamorahas, an indigenous Tlahuica leader, has spoken up about logging in his people's lands in central Mexico for over 25 years. He has been relentlessly threatened and attacked. Ten years ago loggers killed his son Aldo. In 2015 and 2016 he was arrested and jailed for nine months, at which time Amnesty International recognized him to be a prisoner of conscience, targeted simply because he seeks to protect the environment and defends Tlahuica territory.
In Peru, an Amnesty International report issued last September documented callous and deliberate failure by the authorities to protect indigenous communities in the country's Amazonian and Andean regions from toxic contamination of their water supplies arising from metals such as mercury, cadmium, aluminum, arsenic, and lead, all linked to oil drilling and mining in the area. Meanwhile, human rights defenders who stand up against such concerns are regularly threatened, attacked, and subject to harassment through unfounded court cases.
In 2016 and 2017, Amnesty International activists around the world, including in Canada, stood in solidarity with Máxima Acuña, a Peruvian farmer and environmentalist who defied endless pressure from multinational and local mining companies determined to push her off her family's land.
In Chile, activists with the Defence Movement of Earth, Environmental Protection and the Access to Water, MODATIMA, have campaigned to expose illegal extraction of water in water-scarce regions of central Chile. Human rights defender Rodrigo Mundaca Cabrera and other members of MODATIMA are regularly threatened for this important work, including numerous death threats, which have intensified so much over the course of the last year that many MODATIMA activists are now fearful to leave their homes.
Amnesty International is not a trade policy organization. We do not answer the question before you on whether Canada should pursue a free trade agreement with the four countries of the Pacific Alliance with a “yes” or a “no”, but we are a human rights organization.
As these opening examples illustrate, there are serious human rights concerns in each of the four countries of the Pacific Alliance, and those violations very often occur in contexts related to economic and commercial activity associated with the business opportunities that stand to grow and expand with freer trade. There is danger for human rights defenders speaking out about the impact of business operations on the environment, and peril for indigenous leaders seeking to defend their land in the face of powerful economic interests. Labour leaders are threatened and killed. Contamination and pollution from mining and other activity are posing serious, even lethal, health risks, and there are acts of violence by company or government security forces when disputes and protests arise about a corporation's operations. That is why trade agreements and trade policy attracts Amnesty International's attention.
Ideally we encourage governments to pursue trade, business, and investment in ways that will advance human rights protection at home and abroad, but at an absolute minimum we insist that governments take measures and adopt safeguards that ensure that trade policy and business activity do not cause or contribute to human rights violations.
Amnesty International welcomes the government's efforts to advance a progressive trade agenda generally described as including strength and provisions in trade deals with respect to environmental protection, labour rights, gender equality, and the rights of indigenous peoples, all of which is important and very welcome. But, the key question remains, how do we ensure that these and other serious human rights concerns will be adequately safeguarded as trade deals are negotiated and implemented—in other words, that there will be more than just words on paper?
Amnesty International has therefore repeatedly called on the Canadian government, over many years now, to commit to carrying out independent expert, transparent, and comprehensive human rights impact assessments of all bilateral and multilateral trade deals, both before a deal is finalized and at regular intervals thereafter, with any potential harms identified by such assessments addressed to ensure compliance with international human rights obligations. Our recommendation with respect to any potential deal with the Pacific Alliance is that it be subject to robust human rights impact assessments.
Thank you very much.