Canadian mining projects have led to severe human rights violations and environmental damage in indigenous Colombian communities; now Amnesty International (AI), along with First Nations activists, are calling on the Canadian government to include these facts in their upcoming human rights report for the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.
On Tuesday, April 29, AI and Assembly of First Nations leaders held a press conference in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Ontario to urge the Canadian government to address the human rights emergencies facing indigenous Colombians and others who live in areas affected by Canadian mining operations.
The leaders pointed out that many indigenous Colombian peoples are facing extinction and that “the imposition of mining projects without human rights guarantees is a key factor in this emergency.”
“One significant consequence of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is greater access to Colombia for Canadian extractives companies. To date annual human rights reports prepared by the Canadian government, as required by the trade deal, have failed to say anything about the human rights situation for Indigenous Peoples or to examine the record of Canadian resource extraction companies in Colombia,” stated AI in its press release.
“The Assembly of First Nations stands with the Indigenous Peoples of Colombia. Indigenous Peoples around the world are increasingly being pressured to develop the natural resources that their lands have been blessed with. We see this happening here in Canada as well. We stand in support of our Indigenous brothers and sisters from Colombia who are fighting for their lives and for the survival of their cultures,” said AFN International Portfolio holder, Quebec/Labrador Regional Chief Ghislain Picard.
Regional Chief Picard shared testimony sent by Embera leader Flaminio Onongama of Colombia who was in hiding due to death threats, the assassination of two family members and the displacement of other members of the community. The violence and threats came after Onogama lead opposition to use of Embera territory by paramilitary groups and mining companies.
This public effort from AI and First Nations on behalf of indigenous Colombians comes in the wake of a publication of a report titled “The impact of Canadian mining in Latin America and Canada’s responsibility,” put together by the Mining and Human Rights in Latin America Working Group (MHRLAG) “…, with the intention of reflecting on and planning common strategies to deal with the effects of the transnational businesses in the region and the consequent human rights violations of the communities where the businesses operate.”
In 2010, a group of seven Latin American non-governmental organizations (NGOs) came together to form the MHRLAG in order to study the effects of mining in Latin America. Soon after their formation the group–which includes lawyers, human rights advocates and environmentalists—discovered that between 50 to 70 percent of all mining activity in Latin America is done by Canadian companies.
Their report also noted that there are 198 active conflicts in Latin America that are caused by mining operations in the region. Among the factors contributing to the diseases, forced displacements and murders occurring in these areas are the laws of the host countries that do not provide sufficient protections for communities. One of the main points of the report however, is the problem with Canadian laws.
“The Canadian Government provides ample support to the mining sector without requiring sufficient guarantees from the companies to not damage the environment and to not cause human rights violations,” the report states.
One of the report’s authors, attorney Daniel Cerqueira of the Due Process of Law Foundation, noted that there are other problems with Canadian laws, too.
“It is increasingly notable the absence of legislation in Canada to enable communities to raise at least a civil action against mining companies on Canadian justice. Equally worrying is the conduct of the Embassy officials, who pressure the Government to support Canadian mining projects,” Cerqueira asserted.
Regional Chief Picard echoed those concerns in his public statement at the Ottawa gathering.
“I urge Canada to take an active stance to ensure that Indigenous Peoples’ rights in Colombia are being respected, to proactively ensure that genocide does not take place and to hold Canadian extractive companies accountable for their actions in Colombia,” he continued.
“Our thoughts are first and foremost for the well-being of the Indigenous Peoples of Columbia and for the respect and protection of their human rights and Indigenous rights. The Assembly of First Nations stands with the Indigenous Peoples of Colombia.”