Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and thank you for the opportunity to provide some insight into Canada's engagement with Colombia. I'm very pleased to join you today to add to the standing committee's consideration of Canada's first “Annual Report Pursuant to the Agreement concerning Annual Reports on Human Rights and Free Trade between Canada and the Republic of Columbia
As the noted in his visit last year to Colombia, diversifying trade is central to Canada's outreach to its hemispheric neighbours. Since 2006, Canadian ministers have paid 175 visits to Latin American countries. Canada has signed, or is now negotiating, free trade agreements with more than 20 countries in the Americas. Colombia is an important partner in our engagement in the Americas.
Canada and Colombia enjoy a longstanding, robust, and multifaceted relationship. Our two countries are celebrating the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties this coming year. I really would like to emphasize to the committee the breadth, maturity, and closeness of the Canada-Colombia relationship. Our political relations are very strong. We've had numerous high-level exchanges: with the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of International Trade, the Minister of Labour, and Minister of State Ablonczy. They've all met with their Colombian counterparts on numerous occasions. We hold regular officials-level consultations to share views and exchange information on political relations, trade and investment, human rights, security, and defence policy. Colombia is an important like-minded partner in the Americas, and we cooperate in multilateral organizations to promote shared goals. Our two countries share strong and growing person-to-person ties through expanding commercial ventures, academic and cultural links, and migration.
Of course, a major milestone in our bilateral relationship was the signing of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Canada's prosperity is linked to reaching beyond our borders for economic opportunities that serve to grow Canada's trade and investment. Concluding trade agreements is one of the key actions the government can take to maintain and open new market opportunities for Canadian business. Canada believes that open markets create jobs and economic growth.
Canada therefore continues to actively pursue a broad and ambitious protrade plan to create new trade and investment opportunities, particularly with large, dynamic and fast-growing economies such as Colombia.
Colombia is a dynamic emerging market with a population of 48 million and an economy with high growth potential. It is a strategic destination for Canadian direct investment. Canada is of the firm belief that our free trade agreement will bring dividends to both Canada and Colombia. Canadian companies now account for some 60% of Colombia's extractive industry output, and Canadian financial institutions have become key players in the Colombian market.
At the same time as we signed our free trade agreement, we signed side agreements on labour and the environment in order to ensure that trade liberalization, labour standards and environmental protection are mutually supportive. It is important to highlight the tremendous opportunities this agreement creates for Canadian businesses in Colombia.
The elimination of tariffs on Canadian exports helps make Canadian goods more competitive in a range of sectors including mining, agriculture and agri-food products. It creates a level playing field for Canadian business vis-a-vis their competitors who are benefiting from preferential market access terms. It also provides enhanced market access for Canadian service providers in areas such as finance, engineering, the environment, mining, oil and gas, and construction services.
At the same time, Canadian investments are creating opportunities for Colombians. More than 70 Canadian companies are creating jobs and wealth in Colombia in oil, gas, mining, the financial sector, education, footwear, food processing, satellite technology, legal services, and more.
Due to our unique and multifaceted relationship with Colombia, the Agreement concerning Annual Reports on Human Rights and Free Trade between Canada and the Republic of Colombia was signed in May 2010. It entered into force on August 15, 2011, at the same time as the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, or CCOFTA. As you know, under the agreement, Canada and Colombia are required to each draft separate annual reports for deposit in our respective legislatures on the effects of CCOFTA on human rights in both countries. Canada's obligations under the agreement are incorporated into domestic law through the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act.
Under the implementation act, Canada is required to report based on information from the previous calendar year. CCOFTA came into force on August 15, 2011, and therefore only entered into force for the last four and a half months of 2011. As such, the calendar-year threshold wasn't met, but there was insufficient data available to undertake a comprehensive analysis of this short timeframe. This year's report therefore focuses on outlining the methodological steps to be used in future years.
Then the full period from August 15, 2011 to December 31 , 2012 will be analysed in the next report, to be tabled in 2013.
Allow me to turn to human rights, an important facet of the Canada-Colombia relationship. Challenges remain, but the Colombian government has made important progress on human rights and is working closely with the international community to advance the domestic human rights situation.
Canada is among many partners committed to the advancement of human rights in Colombia. We believe that engagement, rather than isolation, is the best way to support continued positive change. Through our interactions, including commercial ties, Canada is sharing its values of respect for democracy and human rights.
Canada has a high-level, open and frank dialogue on human rights with our Colombian friends, between our heads of government and ministers, as well as at the officials level. We also work closely with the Colombian government, as well as with communities, trade unions, civil society, partner donor countries, multilateral organizations and other stakeholders to advance respect for human rights.
For example, of the $130 million in programming that Canada has provided to Colombia since 2006 through CIDA and through DFAIT's global peace and security fund, over $41 million has focused on human rights and justice-related projects. We're also currently the largest donor to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights' office in Colombia, with a contribution of $8 million over 4 years.
Canada remains committed to supporting the improvement of the human rights situation in Colombia. We will continue to engage Colombia at the highest levels on human rights, monitor developments on the ground, work with civil society and the international community to promote human rights, and provide concrete cooperation and advocacy in this regard.
Mr. Chair, I would like to close by saying that Canada believes that increased interaction with Colombia, including through our bilateral free trade agreement, allows Canada to better share its values of respect for human rights and democracy while also increasing mutual prosperity.
I would be pleased to take any questions. My colleagues Sylvain Fabi, acting Director General of the Latin America and Caribbean Bureau at DFAIT; Jean-Benoît Leblanc, Director of Trade Policy and Negotiations at DFAIT; James Junke, Director of Human Rights and Governance Policy at DFAIT; and Pierre Bouchard, Director of Bilateral and Regional Labour Affairs at HRSDC, are also present to assist in answering questions in their areas of expertise.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, for the opportunity to speak with you today.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and welcome to our witnesses.
I'll probably take a little different tack in my questioning than my predecessor.
I participated in the debate on Colombia after we formed the government in 2006. I had the opportunity to visit Colombia. I supported the agreement, along with other members of my party, when the NDP, who are now the official opposition, didn't. It was in the sincere belief that dialogue and trade are better than isolationism at any time. If countries get to the point where you have to have isolationism—there are a number of examples of that in the world today, Syria being one of the foremost that would come to mind—then you have no other choice. But Colombia was a long way away from that.
My question, Ms. Buck, will go to the institutions in Colombia itself. Colombia went through some very dark days in the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s. No one is debating that. No one is saying that it didn't occur. But when you look at the history moving forward, it was a gradual improvement, especially from the eighties and nineties and into the first decade of 2000. I think part of that, and we've never had the discussion, was due to the fact that their institutions were very strong. The institution of Parliament, with its flaws, was there and was very strong. The institution of an independent judiciary was there in Colombia for many years, even with its flaws in the police force, which had a long history.
I would just like to ask you how much that influenced the ability of Colombia to move forward through some very difficult times to the country it is today. You can travel from one side of Colombia to the other by car, when only a few years ago, it was unsafe.
There has been some very important progress made in Colombia in recent years. Progress on human rights is always attributable to a number of factors; it's never linear. Part of the evolution in Colombia was a political evolution, with stronger commitment by the current Colombian government to push forward on respect for human rights. So a number of very important initiatives have been taken recently—restitution for loss of land, for instance.
Part of the capacity to move forward, yes, can be linked to strong institutions, but Colombia recognizes two things, as does Canada. The institutions need further strengthening on human rights, and they have taken some very important steps in that regard, and there is more work to do. The second part is that Colombia also recognizes that beyond the institutions it has to deal with communities with a multitude of indigenous groups and civil society actors, private sector, to move forward on human rights as well. So it's institutions and beyond institutions, as well, where it needs to do the work.
It recognizes it, and the Government of Canada has been working hard with Colombia for a number of years to help it build the human rights capacity of some of its key institutions, so on policing, on the judiciary, but also providing funding and support to human rights lawyers who can help victims in the renewed courts.
We have been working in terms of engagement, consultation, and funding of a number of human rights-related projects at all different levels—at the community level, with the Government of Colombia, and with multilateral organizations that help parts of the Colombian society deal with human rights—and some very important progress has been made.
Thank you, folks, for your presentation.
I do agree with Mr. Davies' line of questioning on this issue.
I will admit that I come from the point of view that an economic relationship can be utilized to improve human rights; I don't think the right way to go is to just close the door and say that we're not going to deal with them.
But I can certainly tell you that on this particular clause in the legislation, Scott Brison did travel to Colombia, and the clause was one of the conditions of our agreeing to pass the legislation.
We don't want to take it out on you folks, because it's ultimately the minister and the ministry who are responsible, but I find this is basically an excuse. I have to ask you, does the ministry, the department, not take seriously the clauses that were inserted into the legislation so that there would be a significant report? That was conditional on our passing that legislation. Does the department not take the legislation seriously?
I think the departments are basically in violation of a law that was passed by the Parliament of Canada. This is serious stuff. People can laugh if they like, but this is serious. Parliament passed a law. We expected a report; we're not getting it, so why the insufficient data?
There are two questions embedded in that.
Do we have any way to assess whether we're getting value for money from our contribution to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia, specifically? This particular project flows through CIDA, but I'm also responsible for a lot of human rights and security programming as well, so we have very rigorous results frameworks for our programming that flows to Colombia, to the UN Office of the High Commissioner, to ensure that the results that we and other donors are paying for are being achieved. We have a system of evaluation and audit. So in terms of value for money, yes, we are reassured, absolutely. We've got the frameworks in place to track this.
As to what they do, it is very important that they have a standing presence in Colombia, as does the ILO. It's an important part of Colombia's progress. As I said, when we engage on human rights we engage with communities, we engage with the Government of Colombia and its state institutions, and with the multilateral organizations. That's an important range of tools that we use. So the OHCHR program in Colombia does human rights awareness training for the Government of Colombia, but it also goes out to stakeholders. It helps build the capacity of the Colombian institutions to respect and respond to human rights. It also increases the use of human rights protection and prosecution mechanisms by victims, civil society organizations, and the public.
So it's a really important part of the work we do, but I'll give you a wider sense of this because this is one small part of pretty hefty human rights programming that we do with other donors in Colombia. For instance, CIDA is financing a number of projects with civil society and Canadian NGOs, etc., to protect the rights of conflict-affected children in Colombia. Through the programs I'm accountable for we go to victims; train justice officials; protect threatened witnesses, etc.; and provide justice for displaced women who are victims of sexual violence in Colombia, because there's a situation of armed conflict.
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.
Thank you very much. I want to thank the committee for the opportunity to appear before you here today to discuss the annual report on human rights and free trade between Canada and the Republic of Columbia. We think this is an important issue that we are discussing here. We care about workers in Colombia and we work very closely with our counterparts in Colombia.
Colombia was rewarded with a free trade agreement with Canada in 2011. The situation was grave before, and we need to know whether or not the situation has improved.
The report that has been tabled to Parliament, unfortunately, is inadequate for a meaningful discussion of whether or not Colombia is enforcing its own labour laws and, of course, whether or not it is protecting human rights within its country.
Is Colombia refusing to enforce its labour laws to encourage trade or investment, or not? How do we know?
Since it has signed this agreement, has Colombia upheld its international obligations on freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, forced labour, child labour, discrimination, conditions of work, and migrant workers? This report is unable to tell us any of this.
Here is a specific example. What is deeply troubling about this report is it that contains absolutely no data on the human rights violations in either country. Yesterday, the International Confederation of Trade Unions issued a report. Colombia is still the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists. There were twenty-nine murders of trade unionists in 2011, and most remain unsolved. There have been 17 murders of trade unionists in Colombia since the free trade agreement with Canada came into force. There have been 254 human rights violations against trade unionists since that date. In 2011, the ILO sent a mission to Colombia to make specific recommendations, many of which are still to be implemented.
Our colleagues tell us that in spite of some of the new legislation requiring some labour inspections, most companies that hire their workers through temporary services companies still violate labour rights.
A labour ministry has been created, and I will say that's a positive thing, but there are serious problems with the administration and legal protection system for workers, including an unbelievable backlog facing labour inspectors.
The ITUC report shows that there is severe anti-union discrimination and criminalization of strikes. One example is the Campo Rubiales oil fields' case, where there was a strike by subcontracted workers facing terrible conditions. There workers are employed by the Canadian multinational company Pacific Rubiales. We know these workers face appalling working conditions. Workers faced brutal police repression during the strike in July. Even before the Canada-Columbia Free Trade Agreement went into force, their labour rights were not being respected. They continued to face serious health and safety issues. On September 18, 2011, their second strike was joined by 11,000 workers from 16 companies.
My point is that labour rights are human rights. It is impossible to separate labour rights from human rights, and the labour cooperation agreement is an integral part of the FTA. How does the government intend to measure human rights in an effective and meaningful way?
In conclusion, the government must incorporate a role for civil society in the evaluation process, especially representatives of Colombian workers. We need accountability and evidence-based discussion of these serious issues. To date I think we have had none of this in the report that's been filed before Parliament.
Thank you so much.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I know that I am always short of time. I won't waste time.
Thank you to the witnesses. By the way, we always like to hear the different views and visions. That helps us as we put our report together.
We all know that Canadians have no appetite whatsoever for human rights violations. We stand, and our federal government definitely stands, for human rights.
Before I ask a question, I want to share a story, a personal story. In 1991 or 1992, when I was in B.C., our family got in touch somehow with a very nice family. We're still friends—or more like brothers. The head of that family, my friend, had some alcohol abuse problems, which were bringing his business and everything else down. Somehow I took on that challenge, at the family level, and I got closer and closer to him. I was meeting with him more and more and working with him. Ultimately, we became so engaged that we were meeting virtually every evening, and slowly, slowly....
In short, the gentleman now, he drinks, he enjoys, he parties, and everything, but he is running the business now with 27 employees. What that tells me in my life is that isolation does not work; engagement is very important, whether it is on an individual and personal level or on a country level, a business level, or whatever.
Mr. Yussuff, in answer to Mr. Davies' question, you said that in the last 20 years, there were 2,000 murders or so. This last year, there were 29, basically. Some years, you said, there were more, and some years, there were less. We all hope that this trend continues, that there will be fewer and fewer murders and that all these issues are resolved to our satisfaction. That's what I would say.
First, is there any collaboration between the Colombian government and the trade unions that are basically under attack, according to the commentary hear today?