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Liberals sell-out on human rights with amendment to Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement

COUNCIL OF CANADIANS MEDIA RELEASE, MARCH 25, 2010
A Liberal proposal that would fast-track the passage of a free trade agreement with Colombia would put Canada at odds with international allies and betrays a parliamentary commitment to perform an independent human rights impact assessment first, says the Council of Canadians.

“The Belgian government today rejected a new investment treaty with Colombia because of ongoing and often unchecked human rights violations, and spying on NGOs by the Colombian intelligence agency. Incredibly, the Liberals are ready to ignore all this by letting the Colombian government monitor its own human rights violations,” says Stuart Trew, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians.

In the House of Commons yesterday, Liberal trade critic Scott Brison proposed an amendment to the Canada-Colombia FTA to include post-ratification annual rights assessments performed by each government. Brison reportedly developed this idea in a private meeting with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe during the World Economic Forum in Davos this January. The proposal was supported by Liberal Bob Rae and accepted by Trade Minister Peter Van Loan.

The Liberal proposal flip-flops on a previous commitment in June 2008 of the all-party Commons Committee on International Trade, that the free trade agreement should not be ratified until an independent human rights impact assessment can be carried out first.

Recent UN and Amnesty International reports show escalating violence against Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, including murder and forcible displacement from communal lands. The National Labour School (ENS) of Colombia has also accounted for the murders of 45 trade unionists in 2009. These accounts, and unacceptably high impunity rates, have been enough to stall and even stop similar free trade agreements in allied countries, including Belgium and the United States.

During recent legislative elections in Colombia, in which President Uribe’s allies were the big winners, polling stations in one-third of the country’s municipalities were at risk of violence, corruption or fraud, according to the ombudsman’s office and election observers, who reported vote-buying and pressure on voters. This situation was predicted by an international pre-election observation mission to Colombia, which issued a report earlier this month.

“Canada entering into a free trade agreement with Colombia now not only sends the wrong message to Canadians and the Colombian regime, it also may make Canada and Canadian companies complicit or passive supporters of continued violence in Colombia,” says Carleen Pickard, director of organizing with the Council of Canadians and one of several Canadian members of the pre-election monitoring group. The pre-election report is available at www.canadians.org/trade.

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For more information:

Stuart Trew, Trade Campaigner, Council of Canadians: (647) 222-9782; strew@canadians.org.


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