MAC: Mines and Communities

Canada's mining human rights impact on Colombia

Published by MAC on 2014-05-23
Source: Statement, The Star

A recent Canadian Government report on Human Rights and the Canada Colombia Free Trade Agreement seems to play down human rights abuses, especially those linked to mining. However, they are there. 

As quoted below, "last month, a UN envoy in Colombia warned that the survival of 40 of 102 Indigenous nations in Colombia is at risk and pointed to the imposition of mining projects as a key factor".

The story of the threats to Jakeline Romero Epiayu's family are especially concerning. Her courage, that of the other Wayúu women, working to raise their concerns internationally is breath-taking.

Canada must live up to obligations on human rights in Colombia

By Alex Neve and Ghislain Picard

The Star (Canada)

21 May 2014

The federal government's new report on Human Rights and the Canada Colombia Free Trade Agreement, quietly submitted as Parliament recessed last week, would have us believe there are no trade and investment-related human rights concerns in Colombia - and no reason to look at what is happening in areas of resource extraction. But deadly realities confronting indigenous peoples in the South American country tell another story.

Fifteen-year-old Génesis Gisselle had just got out of school two weeks ago when the phone rang. An unknown voice delivered a terrifying message: "Tell your family to take care of themselves and of you -because we are going to kill you."

Not coincidentally, the death threat came as the teenager's mother Jakeline Romero Epiayu, a well-known Wayúu indigenous leader, was in Europe to speak out about the dire human rights situation facing her people in the resource-rich region of La Guajira.

It's a crisis fuelled by, among other factors, large-scale, multi-national coal mining that the Wayúu link to environmental and health concerns, militarization of their lands, displacement and intensified violence. Courageously denouncing these impacts and asserting their right to decision-making over the territory essential to their survival has made Wayúu women leaders - and their daughters - targets for paramilitaries often operating with the support of Colombian state security forces.

Across the country in Valle del Cauca, Embera Chamí indigenous leader Flaminio Onogama Gutiérrez and his family has also become a target. On Jan. 1, the bodies of his nephews Berlain Saigama Gutiérrez and Jhon Braulio Saigama were found. The two community leaders had been tortured and stabbed to death. Death threats against Flaminio by the so-called Black Eagles paramilitary group followed.

Today, he is in hiding and many others from the community of La Esperanza (Spanish for "hope") have also had to flee in fear for their lives. All of them had opposed paramilitaries using tactics of terror to assert control over the area, along with the arrival of mining companies eager to exploit coal, copper and gold deposits.

As horrendous as they are, threats, killing and forced displacement in La Guajira and Valle del Cauca are only the tip of the iceberg. They are just the latest symptoms of a human rights emergency "as serious as it is invisible," to quote the Constitutional Court of Colombia. In January 2009, the court ruled that 34 of 102 indigenous nations in Colombia were "threatened with physical and cultural extermination" amidst armed conflict, forced displacement and the imposition of resource extraction projects without concern for their rights.

The court gave the Colombian government six months to develop comprehensive ethnic protection plans in coordination with threatened indigenous peoples. Five years later, none had been implemented. Meanwhile, resource extraction has become the mantra of Colombia's government, the so-called locomotive of economic growth that threatens to steamroll any who stand in its way.

In this context, the United Nations envoy in Colombia warned last month that 40 indigenous nations are now at risk of extinction and pointed a finger at mining development without human rights guarantees as a key factor in this emergency.

There are obvious imperatives why Canada must acknowledge what is happening and be part of the solution, before it's too late.

Canadian companies figure prominently among the foreign investors that have joined the resource boom in Colombia. Indeed, our government boasts of "rapid and extensive growth in Canadian investment in the Colombian extractive sector. This rapid and extensive growth has been aided by the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, in force since August 2011 and advertised by the federal government as a tool that "promotes greater investment in Colombia through a more predictable, transparent and rules-based environment for Canadian investors."

Tragically, however, these rules don't require compliance with international human rights standards and enforceable accountability mechanisms for corporations investing in Colombia. And mandatory annual reporting of the human rights impact of the trade deal has become an empty, meaningless process.

Indigenous peoples in Canada have a long history of both engagement and conflict with resource projects in their territories. Part of the common ground between struggles in Canada and Colombia is the insistence that any such development must ensure respect for and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples as well as free, prior and informed consent and consultation processes with these peoples.

This call for justice should unite not only indigenous peoples but everyone concerned for human rights. Canada has endorsed international human rights instruments like the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that set out clear, minimum standards for the "survival, dignity and well-being" of indigenous peoples around the world.

As the emergency facing indigenous peoples in Colombia illustrates so starkly, holding governments and corporations accountable to these standards at home and abroad is a vitally urgent priority.

Alex Neve is Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada.

Ghislain Picard is Regional Chief for Quebec/Labrador and leads the international work of the Assembly of First Nations.

Misleading free trade report ignores emergency facing Indigenous peoples and other grave human rights concerns in Colombia

20 May 2014

Amnesty International Canada and the Assembly of First Nations are expressing serious concern that the federal government has once again issued a "human rights impact assessment" about commerce with Colombia that fails to acknowledge the deadly repression faced by Indigenous peoples, Afro-descendent communities, trade unionists and others in that country. This wilful omission is particularly concerning given testimony by Indigenous leaders from Colombia about dire threats to their very survival in the context of the kind of resource development projects that the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement has served to promote.

"This report would have parliamentarians believe there are no trade and investment-related human rights concerns in Colombia. This flies in the face of abundant, well-documented evidence to the contrary from a growing chorus of respected Colombian and international organizations," said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada.

Last month, a UN envoy in Colombia warned that the survival of 40 of 102 Indigenous nations in Colombia is at risk and pointed to the imposition of mining projects as a key factor. Colombian institutions and non-governmental organizations have echoed concerns about the overlap between areas of resource extraction and grave human rights abuses. A representative of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) travelled to Ottawa in February to testify before Parliament's Genocide Prevention Working Group (GPG) about attacks on Indigenous communities living in areas earmarked for resource extraction, and deadly violence against Indigenous peoples seeking to exercise their right to participate in decision-making about projects they fear will negatively impact on their lands and livelihoods.

"Our Indigenous brothers and sisters in Colombia are literally fighting for their lives and the survival of their cultures amidst threats, killings and forced displacement from their lands," said Assembly of First Nations Spokesperson Quebec/Labrador Regional Chief Ghislain Picard, who leads international work for the AFN. "It is unacceptable and unconscionable that a human rights emergency of these dimensions is not even mentioned in the government's human rights report, particularly given the pivotal role that promotion of resource extraction is playing in this tragedy."

The Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement was approved by Parliament only after the addition of a requirement on both countries to place before their respective legislatures an annual report detailing the effects of the agreement on human rights. The goal was to create an assessment mechanism to monitor and ensure Canadian trade and investment in Colombia does not directly or indirectly contribute to, aggravate or benefit from human rights violations. Since then the Canadian government has narrowly interpreted its reporting obligation so as to explicitly exclude assessment of contentious issues like human rights violations in areas of resource extraction. Canada's 2014 report, issued on May 15, declares that Canadian resource extraction investment in Colombia is "outside the scope", even as it reports that that "this FTA provides greater stability and predictability" for Canadian investors and "expanded opportunities in a broad range of sectors, particularly oil and gas, mining, agriculture and agrifood, and manufacturing."

Tellingly, Colombia's National Indigenous Organization, which represents regional Indigenous organizations from across the country, reports it was not invited to provide input to the 2014 federal government report. Amnesty International and other Canadian NGOs have expressed serious misgivings about an online "consultation" that was quietly posted on a Canadian government webpage in March which lasted just six working days.

"A methodology lacking in credibility and the narrow report it has produced have turned a blind eye to the dire crisis experienced by Indigenous peoples in Colombia and concerns that are all too real in areas where Canadian companies are moving in," said Alex Neve. "At the very least, Canadian companies need to be properly informed so they can avoid becoming embroiled in, exacerbating or benefiting from human rights violations."

"We are calling on the Government of Canada to ensure that the human rights and Indigenous rights of Indigenous peoples in Colombia are respected and upheld," concluded Regional Chief Picard.


The Assembly of First Nations and Amnesty International publicly called on the Canadian government to ensure its 2014 human rights report on the free trade deal pay particular attention to the human rights emergency for Indigenous peoples in Colombia and the footprint of Canadian resource extraction companies. Last month, the two organizations delivered thousands of petitions from concerned Canadians to Foreign Minister John Baird. To date, Amnesty has counted more than 65,000 appeals for action on behalf of threatened Indigenous peoples in Colombia.

In 2009, Colombia's highest court ruled that 34 of 102 Indigenous nations in Colombia were "threatened with physical and cultural extermination" amidst armed conflict, forced displacement and the imposition of resource extraction and other economic projects. The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) reports that dozens of other Indigenous nations are at grave risk, and has expressed concern about assaults on Indigenous lands and lives in areas where resource extraction licences are being granted in violation of the right of Indigenous peoples to free, prior and informed consent. "We are concerned about the imposition of resource extraction projects that violate the rights of Indigenous communities and aggravate a situation in which the very survival of dozens of Indigenous nations is at risk," said ONIC Chief Luis Fernando Arias in a letter dated April 26, 2014.

In February, Parliament's Working Group for the Prevention of Genocide and Other Crimes against Humanity, chaired by Senator Romeo Dallaire, held a Round Table to hear the testimony of witnesses from Colombia about the grave human rights crisis experienced by Indigenous peoples and to discuss the role of Canada. The following day, Senator Dallaire addressed the Senate to call for a "proactive" response by the federal government since Canadian companies that have moved in to Colombia are "caught up in this maelstrom."

Last year, the Canadian government's report on the free trade agreement said nothing about the human rights situation of Indigenous peoples in Colombia and also failed to include any information about Canadian investment in Colombia in the mining and oil and gas sectors.

In March, Amnesty International and other Canadian organizations expressed concern about a flawed process on the part of the Canadian government for gathering input from people and organizations that have firsthand information about the scope of human rights violations on the ground in Colombia, essential input for any reliable human rights impact assessment.

For more information, please contact:
Beth Berton-Hunter, Amnesty International Media Officer, 416 363 9933 ext 332, bberton-hunter[at]
Alain Garon, Assembly of First Nations Bilingual Communications Officer: 613 292 0857 agaron[at]

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