Mr. Chair and members of the committee, thank you for giving us the opportunity to appear before you today.
It is a pleasure to address the committee on behalf of Global Affairs Canada. I am joined by Sylvia Cesaratto, Director-South America and Mylène Paradis, Deputy Director-Central America. Sylvia looks after Colombia and Mylène looks after Guatemala.
My objective today is to provide you with an overview of the situation and of our development co-operation in Guatemala and Colombia, two countries that you will visit in August and in September, and where Canada has been providing assistance for about 40 years.
I will start with Guatemala, a country that went through a peace process about 20 years ago to end a 36-year armed conflict, and then talk about Colombia, which appears set to conclude, hopefully, its own peace process to end the last armed conflict in the Americas.
Guatemala is Central America's largest country in terms of population and economy, and an important partner for Canada in the promotion of security and stability in the region. The trauma of Guatemala's internal armed conflict has had, and continues to have, a significant impact on all spheres of Guatemalan society, which must deal with a legacy of a deeply entrenched culture of violence, impunity and discrimination. Despite being the largest economy in Central America, nearly 60% of its population lives in poverty, almost a quarter of its population lives in extreme poverty, and great social and economic inequalities persist.
Guatemala also has the largest indigenous population in Central America, representing more than 40% of the country's total population, and some of the most vulnerable communities in the country.
Guatemala has made initial progress in the fight against corruption and impunity. However, as we approach the 20th anniversary of the peace accords, it is clear that space remains for improvement in many areas, particularly in addressing social and economic inequalities, which were among the root causes of the conflict.
Guatemala remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for women. Guatemala ranks third in the killing of women worldwide, with a femicide rate of 9.7 per 100,000 people. Our embassy reports that from 2012 to date, almost 3,000 women have been murdered, while only 381 cases resulted in a judicial decision.
During the conflict, atrocities were committed against women, including torture, slavery, forced disappearance and the use of rape as a weapon of war. Processes of transitional justice have however barely started. The first criminal trial, pertaining specifically to sexual violence, has only recently been heard in court and resulted in a landmark conviction. This case helped raise awareness about the systematic violation of indigenous women's rights and the verdict was an important step toward reducing impunity for sexual and gender-based violence. It also brought attention to the ongoing efforts of activists fighting for justice.
Some of the most palpable problems that Guatemalan women and girls face are a lack of education opportunities, poor access to health, economic exclusion, inaccessibility of political positions, inequality of wages, limited access to family planning and violence. The plights affecting the region, such as insecurity, impunity, food insecurity, and natural disasters, also have a disproportionate effect on the most vulnerable populations, including women in particular. Guatemalan women face extremely high rates of mortality related to pregnancy, violence, and other preventable causes of death.
Global Affairs Canada's programming in Guatemala seeks to address these challenges. It focuses on strengthening democracy, governance, and security, while protecting and supporting the most vulnerable: women and girls, and indigenous and rural populations. This support is provided through various programs. Guatemala received just over $9 million in financing in 2014-15.
I am very pleased that you will have the opportunity to visit several projects and witness the contributions we made in addressing the many challenges Guatemalans, and especially Guatemalan women, face today. You will hear of course about the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, CICIG, a United Nations-backed, independent investigatory commission supported by Canada and other donors. Global Affairs Canada's support to CICIG has contributed to strengthening the rule of law and increasing the government's capacity to investigate and prosecute crimes as well as to improvements in the country's legislative framework.
You will visit the town of Rabinal, the location of many grave human rights abuses during the armed conflict. You will meet with women who continue to fight for justice for the crimes they and their families suffered as well as the organization that supports them, Lawyers Without Borders. The local legal clinic has received capacity building for strategic litigation, allowing it to provide effective representation for the plaintiffs and psychological and support services to survivors.
You will also learn more about the work of the Canadian Tula Foundation working to help the ministry of health and others to improve health services for rural populations using an innovative concept. The work started in 2004 with a project supported by the Canadian International Development Agency, CIDA, and the Centre for Nursing Studies in Newfoundland. Guatemalan officials have been so satisfied with the results that they have asked Tula Foundation to scale up its work to several other departments of the country. In response, Global Affairs Canada recently awarded $7.6 million to that foundation to do so.
You will witness the results of a long-standing agricultural co-operative initiative providing economic alternatives and allowing Q'eqchi' indigenous populations to benefit from sustainable agricultural practices offering quality products to internal and external markets. The initiative has also expanded to include community tourism where many young women are being employed. The co-operative, which includes the leadership of women in decision-making positions, is now a multi-million dollar business.
You will also meet with girls who have received scholarships, which have enabled them to continue their studies. In impoverished communities, girls are the first to leave school, most often around the age of 12, when schooling is no longer free. The longer they remain in school, the better their future prospects are for health and employment, and for having their rights respected.
In Guatemala City, you will meet with members of congress and other government representatives to hear of the government's approach to issues broadly relevant to women, peace, and security, including the preparation of legislative initiatives and amendments.
Finally, you will visit Memory House in Guatemala City, which memorializes the history of the armed conflict. It will provide important insights into the causes and effects of the conflict and the efforts of Guatemalan organizations to ensure these events are never forgotten or repeated. You will meet with women leaders from civil society to hear of their achievements in fighting for an equal and just society as well as the many challenges that remain.
I will now continue with some observations on Canada's role in supporting women, peace and security in Colombia.
Colombia is an ambitious, middle-income country with a population of over 44 million and is currently the fastest-growing economy in South America.
It is a key partner for Canada in the Americas as it shares our values of democracy, human rights, environmental sustainability, economic integration, and international security. It also seeks to play a greater role in the region and on the world stage. Colombia's stability and trajectory matter, particularly as we witness the deterioration of neighbouring Venezuela. Colombians represent our largest Latino diaspora community in Canada.
Our commercial relationship with Colombia is also very important. We were the first G7 country to sign a free trade agreement with Colombia, in effect since 2011. Our embassy estimates that we now have over $10 billion in cumulative Canadian investment in Colombia.
At the same time, Colombia is home to the last war in the Americas: a complex internal armed conflict between the government, guerrilla movements, and a host of armed criminal groups, which has lasted over 50 years. It has claimed over 220,000 lives, 80% of them civilians. It has forced more than 6 million people from their homes, such that Colombia long held the record for the highest number of internally displaced people in the world; it is now second after Syria. Colombia also has the second highest number of landmine victims in the world after Afghanistan.
Colombia's income distribution is one of the most unequal in the world, comparable to Zimbabwe. The relationship between inequality and the armed conflict is clear: tensions emerged to challenge the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of the elites.
The good news is that Colombia is changing. Its government is currently concluding peace negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, the largest guerrilla group. Initial agreements have been reached on four of the key items: rural development, political participation, drug trafficking and illegal crops, and transitional justice. We expect agreements on the remaining two, a ceasefire and disarmament, to come shortly. Official negotiations with the second guerrilla movement, the National Liberation Army, are also expected to begin soon.
A UN Security Council political mission for Colombia was approved earlier this year. The mission is planned to be comprised of unarmed observers from Latin American countries responsible for monitoring and verifying a bilateral ceasefire with the FARC and the laying down of arms. Our met recently with Colombian President Santos and expressed Canada's commitment to peace building in Colombia.
The conflict has subjected the civilian population to widespread human rights abuses, ranging from targeted assassinations, forced disappearances, forced displacement, rape, and recruitment of child soldiers. Women and children have been the victims of violence, exploitation, and abuse by armed actors. Teenage pregnancy is extremely high. One in five Colombian women age 15 to 19 are or have been pregnant and 64% of the pregnancies are unplanned.
Global Affairs Canada's support to Colombia totalled close to $40 million in 2014-15, with a focus on human rights, child protection, education, conflict victims, inclusive economic growth, rural economic development, and peace and security, such as, for example, justice, land mine action, and sexual and gender-based violence. This support also includes international humanitarian assistance contributions delivered by organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Canada's response has been an integrated one precisely because these issues are interrelated. Lack of development in rural areas is both the cause and the result of weak rule of law and limited government presence. While Colombia certainly has stronger state capacity than many other conflict-affected countries, international presence, expertise, and resources are required to help bring a meaningful state presence to lawless regions that have been the epicentres of conflict for decades.
One area where Canada continues to make a meaningful difference is our leadership in supporting child protection and education. Our programming, executed by organizations like Plan International and Save the Children, and situated in the most conflict-affected departments of the country, helps the most vulnerable children and youth develop life options and resist recruitment by illegal groups.
Our projects emphasize gender equality, empowering young women to become community leaders and agents of change. Our inclusive growth programming, executed by organizations such as the Canadian Co-operative Association, Socodevi, and Développement international Desjardins, helps develop co-operative rural businesses, empowering women as participants and leaders. Our peace and security programming and our support to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has helped provide justice for women victims of sexual violence and armed conflict.
I also want to highlight the advocacy work of our embassy in Bogota, which leads donor coordination groups on human rights and on gender equality. Together with UN Women, our ambassador and director of co-operation are leading the dialogue between the international community and the government on the inclusion of gender in peace negotiations. Our reference point for this work is of course UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security. The gender equality group has already succeeded in convincing the government to create a national gender subcommission to provide input to the peace negotiations.
During your visit to Colombia, you will meet with key interlocutors, including Colombian ministers, the presidential adviser on gender equality, and UN Women to learn about women and gender issues in the peace process.
We are planning for you to travel to Meta department, where you will meet with local authorities, conflict victims, demobilized former combatants, land mine victims, and women's groups. You will have a chance to hear first-hand how women have been impacted by the conflict and how they seek to build a new era of peace.
Let me conclude with three key messages from our Guatemala and Colombia experience, which will hopefully inform your study. First, in Guatemala and Colombia, inequality has generated violent armed conflict, and vice versa. Second, women continue to disproportionately suffer the effects of this violence across generations. Third, women must lead the planning and implementation of peace on the ground. A truly lasting peace is not possible without the leadership and the full participation of women.
Canada has made a difference for women in Guatemala and Colombia, and there is much more that we can do to help them usher in a new era of peace and prosperity.
Thank you for your attention. I will be happy, of course, to answer any questions you may have.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I would like to thank the committee for this invitation.
First, I'd like to apologize to the francophone members of the committee because my presentation will be in English since my notes and databases are in English. I'm sorry, of course, but I will be pleased to answer your questions in the language of your choice.
The two countries we're discussing today offer radically distinct situations, but also, in both cases, good reasons for selective Canadian engagement.
I'll start with Guatemala, one of the continent's poorest countries. Given the extreme inequality there, the average statistics hide the severity of the deprivation in which a large part of the population lives. It's also the country of the Americas with the largest proportion of indigenous people, the vast majority of whom are among the poorest of Guatemala's poor. If only for those reasons, Guatemala should be a shoo-in as a focus country for Canada's aid program. At the same time, however, the country is plagued by extreme levels of violence, corruption, a formally democratic but in practice extremely exclusionary political system, ineffective public institutions, and willingly underfunded public policies. The former president and vice-president were arrested, at the end of 2015, for literally selling government contracts. New arrests have taken place in recent days.
In a recent report—I think this is very important—the International Monetary Fund, a temple of fiscal orthodoxy, criticized the Guatemalan government for its lack of spending on infrastructure, education, and social services, and for keeping excessively low tax rates that prevent it from acting in those areas. Given the needs and the relatively stable economic situation of the country, the fund encouraged authorities to increase the fiscal deficit. I've been doing Latin American affairs for about 30 years. This was the first time I read a report of the IMF telling people that they could have a larger deficit. This gives you the scale of what I call the “willingly” restricted public policy expenditure in Guatemala.
The military is still unwilling to acknowledge the massive abuse of human rights it committed in the 1980s, which have been called, with reason, genocidal not only by human rights organizations but also by the Supreme Court of Guatemala. The party of the current president, Jimmy Morales, was set up by a group of retired military. Some of his closest advisers were involved in the campaign against the Ixil Mayans, which was basically the centre of the most savage part of the military campaign against the population. About 70% to 90% of the villages in that area were razed by the military during that campaign.
Corruption is rife among the military and the police, some of whose members are involved with major Mexican cartels in the transit of drugs from Colombia to Mexico to the United States. The management of the traffic, however, is poorly organized, contributing to a high homicide rate—less high than in the past, and less high than among some of its neighbours, but at 32 per 100,000, about 30 times higher than Canada's rate. Even if the Guatemalan military and police were functional and free of corruption, the economic power of Mexican organized crime would dwarf the capacity of local law enforcement to counter it. In other words, because of its political stability, Guatemala is not generally considered to be a fragile state, but it should certainly be seen as vulnerable to the ripple effects of Mexico's drug wars.
There are two bright spots in the bleak picture. The first one is the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala. I think the representatives of the ministry explained what it was. I won't expand more. It's currently financed until September 2017. President Morales has asked for a renewal, and I think it's a good idea to support it. The other bright spot is the Attorney General's office under Thelma Aldana, which, with the support of CICIG but also on its own, has mustered remarkable courage to confront the network of politicians, military, and oligarchs that continues to dominate the local political system.
The rationales for Canadian aid include the dire needs in a country that could easily be destabilized by drug violence, but is tempered by its limited political absorption capacities. Mid-term potential for progress lies essentially in the consolidation of the rule of law where needs are important, credible recipients exist, and the potential for impact is significant.
I would thus recommend a very selective engagement, support for CICIG, and perhaps direct support for the attorney general's office. For the rest, I would say bypass the government and work with NGOs.
Colombia is a middle-income country with a stable democracy, quite effective institutions, and a bold, capable, and creative political class and technocratic elites. It has one of the largest economies in South America. It is second in population, and is still largely unexplored and unexploited in terms of natural, mineral, and agriculture wealth. It has enjoyed decades of stable and disciplined economic policy, no debt crisis, no large fiscal deficit, no hyperinflation. Its long-term prospects are good.
For these reasons, although it remains unequal and is only slowly addressing a large deficit in the provision of public goods to its poor population, it should be the very opposite of a shoo-in for Canadian development assistance. In theory, it should not be a country of focus. I will still make a case for it, though.
Colombia is currently at a crucial moment of its history as a protracted peace process is coming to fruition. It could spell the end of a series of civil wars that have shaken the country since basically the end of the 1940s almost without interruption. There's massive but not unanimous political support for the peace process, from left to right, including by the Uribisto sectors of the former government, and not only for the peace process but also for the government to invest resources in compensation of victims of the conflict, for repossession of land by people who were expelled from it, as well as for ambitious programs of land redistribution. We're talking millions. However, the promises made by the government, particularly with regard to repatriation, are fiendishly difficult to implement and also extremely expensive, probably well beyond the capabilities of the Colombian government at this point.
In addition, Colombia is still confronting extremely high levels of violence, much of it drug-related. Its homicide rate is still 50% higher than Mexico's, although Colombia is presented as some kind of success story in the fight against violence and drug trafficking. The production of cocaine has diminished in Colombia, but just recently eight tonnes of pure cocaine powder was confiscated. Eight tonnes, if sold pure on the Canadian market, would be worth about $800 million. It's still significant in the economy, and it's still a lot of money.
Rationale for Canadian aid: Co-operation with Colombia should be framed as a building block for long-term co-operation with a like-minded country with significant capabilities and a fast-rising regional status. The best way to see it is to think of what Chile has become since the FTA in 1997, only in this case Colombia is a country with much more significant demographic, economic, and military capabilities and potential. Chile is a small country with a small economy; Colombia is a big player.
Colombia is not dependent on foreign aid. The extent of the leverage that can be expected from the kind of money that Canada can offer will be limited, so the value of that aid matters less than the political commitment that it would represent. The recommendation is for selective engagement, mostly financial, mostly in support of the peace progress, perhaps very focused. Gender issues were mentioned. That would be an excellent area in which to focus resources.
There could be technical co-operation in areas of complementarity, such as public and tax administration; taxes could go up there too. In resource and land management, there is a massive challenge in Colombia related to the peace process. Finally, there should be triangular co-operation on drug policy and security, working with Colombia in third countries where and when political conditions are favourable, in Central America's northern triangle as a key target for instance, but not now.
Thank you very much for inviting me.
Last year $8 trillion was spent for health care globally, with $2 trillion to lower- and middle-income countries. As well, $30 billion, a massive number that sounds small only when you compare it with these huge numbers, was spent on global health by the aid community, including USAID, UKaid, us, the Gates Foundation, and the Global Fund. About two billion contact points between people and a health care system occurred last year, meaning contacts between a patient and a doctor, a nurse, or a health worker.
At the heart of this massively expensive and complex system touching so many lives is a damaging dysfunction that I want to tell you about and that I think Canada can address as a theme. For people spending all of that money and managing all of those health care systems, there is next to no data going to them about how that money was actually spent and the kind of care that was actually delivered.
You hear that and you wonder how that can be. There are electronic health record systems, and health care IT systems, so how can there be no data? But when you're thinking about that, you're really thinking about hospitals and major medical centres. Those are the guys with that technology. But only about 5% of all of the two billion health care interactions I just mentioned occur in hospitals, while 95% occur in decentralized health care facilities—clinics, offices, and little health posts. Even in the U.S. it's no more than 15%. The vast majority of health care is delivered in decentralized facilities and the vast amount of money is spent there. Yet only approximately 5% of the data we have about health care comes from there, and 95% of all health care data we have over the last decade comes from about the 5% of where our health care happens.
It's not possible for any system organized like that to be spending the money wisely. There's a big data disconnect between where the vast majority of health care is delivered and the vast amount of money being spent. How can that be? Why isn't there more data coming out of clinics?
To understand the answer to that, just picture a clinic. You will picture, probably, hundreds of patients waiting to see a couple of health workers whose supervisors, by definition, are somewhere else, because that's the definition of decentralized health care. Now let's picture the health worker seeing patient number 22. In that short conversation, a tremendous amount of valuable information occurs about how the whole system works and the demographic needs of the population. At the end of that session, when patient 22 leaves, there's a data dilemma. This busy health worker can either stop and record all of what just happened with patient 22, or she—it's mostly a she—can go on to see patient 23. They go on to see patient 23 because there's no time to capture the data. In that moment, multiplied by several hundred times a day in that clinic and in millions of clinics, all of that golden, valuable information is gone.
If the health worker doesn't capture the data at the moment of care, no one gets the data—not their supervisors, not their funders, and not the World Health Organization. The result is a mind-boggling situation where you have trillions of dollars being spent and we don't know exactly how, and you have millions of health workers being very busy but we don't actually know what they're doing.
Fio Corporation is a Canadian company that has solved this problem and is scaling this solution globally. It's a solution that I'll describe briefly and then get back to the main problem. It's simple, it's sustainable, and it's scalable. Instead of the arrangement where delivering health care competes with capturing data, there's a technological way of having the delivery of health care drive, in an automatic way, large-scale data capture so that the result is unprecedented amounts of data for people responsible for the health care system and their funders and other stakeholders.
I have a visual aid here. This is a rapid diagnostic test. We don't make these things. Last year 800 million of these were sold, and that's growing at 20% a year. You squeeze a little blood out of a finger, put a couple of drops there, put in a little buffer, and then in some time, if this thing changes colour, it means you have tested positive for the Zika virus. That little test on the spot can tell you if you have Zika.
This is for malaria. It's the same thing for HIV, dengue, and so on. There are hundreds of millions of these a year. Health workers do this. Do they do this accurately? Nobody really knows. We've created a set of mobile smart devices that go into the hands of health workers. This is an example. It has a little drawer. After you prepare the test, you pop it in and it will read this test with a level of accuracy equal to that of a centralized laboratory. It's highly accurate.
It will guide the health worker. How do they even know which test to give? Well, there's a whole bunch of Q&A involved, and it will guide the health worker through that, and by offering questions and having answers that the health worker just touches as soon as the patient speaks, basically, as the health worker is delivering care, it is automatically entered as a by-product of that process. It is uploaded to a cloud from which managers overseeing these supervisors can be looking at their tablets or smartphones, and it is as if they are hovering over all of the thousands of clinics they're responsible for and they can actually see what's going on. It's a new level of accountability and transparency. It interconnects a continuum of care.
Cellphones became smartphones when they fused data and email with calls. These devices are fusing data with diagnostics and other care delivery. It's the same thing, and once they're together they won't be pulled apart.
The results from the field are a ten-fold reduction in diagnostic errors made by health workers within weeks. There's been a ten-fold increase in the accuracy of the care they give. Just because somebody gets the right diagnosis doesn't mean you get the right drug necessarily.
There has been a twenty-fold reduction in unnecessary patient visits. If you misdiagnose a patient and they're still sick, they're smart, and they're going to come back. If you give them the right diagnosis, the right treatment, they have better things to do than to come back.
There's been a twenty-fold increase in epidemiologic accuracy. For example, in a certain region of Kenya, they believed that malaria incidence was 17%. Think of all the drugs and tests the government must order for 17%. They installed our devices and found it was 0.7%. All those people with fevers didn't have malaria.
Africa spends approximately $1 billion per year on anti-malarial drugs for people who do not have malaria.
We're scaling this technology in a number of countries, and I guess this begins to get at the question that was posed. We're in Colombia. We're in Brazil, where we're working on the Zika problem. We're talking with Honduras and Ecuador. In west Africa we're in Ghana. We just entered Nigeria, where ExxonMobil—and this is a very interesting opportunity in which dollars are matched by the private sector—is doing a pilot in the Niger Delta.
In east Africa we're in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Ethiopia. In central Africa we just launched in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where people who are literally in the middle of nowhere to the rest of us are getting laboratory-quality care delivered with clinical expertise through these devices. We are in South Africa and Lesotho, and we are about to start a pilot in India with the largest private health care provider.
We are working in Europe with the largest diagnostic company, and the same in the United States. In the United States, the U.S. Department of Defense has us in about a half-dozen projects. We also work with the Gates Foundation and the Global Fund. We're in programs that deal with malaria, HIV, maternal and child health, and primary care. I tell you this list because we started relatively recently, and yet we have had such a response with this business of health care data from decentralized places and not hospitals that we're on to something.
You're contemplating a strategy of selected countries versus themes. When Fio came into being and started from scratch on this in 2010, we were in a world that had, to use a well-known phrase, “separate solitudes”. There was data and there was care delivery. You had to choose. It was data versus care. Our solution is based on realizing that there's a way to make it data and care—the fusion of care and data. Global health care data is a theme that can result in profound leverage when it's added to selected countries, because it's a sector that impacts all other sectors.
We always fly the Canadian flag whenever we do business anywhere. Canadians are known for being a measured people. Let's be known for measuring health care data. It's a wide open field. It's estimated that in the next five years there will be fifty times more health care data than today. It's a field in which tens or hundreds of millions of dollars of spending can impact hundreds of billions of dollars, or trillions of dollars, of other spending and outcomes. It's a very big bang for a very little buck when it's combined with selected countries.
Thank you very much.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. It's really good to see you again today.
Thank you for the invitation to come and make a presentation. I've been asked to give some input about your upcoming trip to Latin America, as well as to provide some insights and recommendations on the study you're conducting. I'll do my best to do this in the time that I have.
Let me say at the outset we are delighted that you're going to Colombia and Guatemala this summer to learn first-hand about the very real challenges facing both countries and the aspirations of their citizens for a better future.
Inter Pares has worked with counterparts in both countries since the 1980s and we would be more than pleased to provide you with a detailed briefing and to facilitate meetings with local civil society contacts in each country. There are a lot of positive things to say about what's happening in both Guatemala and Colombia right now. Mr. Daudelin mentioned a number of them.
In Guatemala, as I mentioned to you in April, there have been important advances in the struggle against impunity this year. I'm referring especially to the Sepur Zarco case in which a group of Maya Q'eqchi' women made history this February in the first criminal trial for sexual violence during Guatemala's armed conflict and the first ever case of sexual slavery to be heard in a national court.
In Colombia, for the very first time in many years, there is real hope that peace accords will soon be signed to bring an end to the country's 60-year-old armed conflict. However, in both countries, conflicts are still raging. In Guatemala, we are seeing a re-militarization of citizen security, including declarations of states of emergency; judicial persecution of community leaders; and, once again, the establishment of military bases on territories of indigenous communities where there are existing land disputes. This is happening to support large-scale resource development projects, in particular, mining and hydro-electric dams.
Femicide remains a leading cause of death for women in Guatemala. In Colombia, as I speak, there are over 70,000 people—mainly indigenous, Afro-Colombian, and campesinos—who are taking part in mass mobilizations in 80 communities across the country, expressing their opposition to the Colombian government's development model, in particular its impact on marginalized communities and their access to land and food security.
Inter Pares has received disturbing reports of indiscriminate and excessive force being used by the state security forces against protesters. Last night in a phone call, I was told that to date three indigenous protestors have been killed, over 100 have been wounded, and close to 200 have been arrested.
As Colombia moves closer to a peace accord, there has also been an alarming increase in attacks against human rights defenders and members of political opposition parties, most notably the Marcha Patriótica.
For our partners in Guatemala and Colombia, your visit is extremely important and timely, and it goes without saying that we hope you will make adequate time in your agenda to have meaningful engagement with a broad range of civil society representatives in both countries. Doing so will enable you to hear directly and from the ground up the issues of concern and to learn first-hand about the impact of Canada's actions in the region, both positive and negative, in promoting human rights and democratic development.
Related to this, and before I speak to the theme of the committee's study, I'd like to bring an urgent matter to your attention. Two weeks ago, the president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a clarion call to the member states of the Organization of American States, stating that the commission is facing the worst financial crisis in its history and that unless member states come through with funding commitments by June 15—six days from today—the commission will be forced to lay off almost half of its staff, cancel its next two sessions, and suspend upcoming country visits.
The Inter-American Commission is the pre-eminent human rights body in the Americas, and Canada has been one of its strongest supporters, but unfortunately that commitment seems to have collapsed. Between 2011 and 2015, our financial support dropped from $600,000 to $75,000, and nothing has been committed for 2016.
Last week, the Americas Policy Group—a coalition of which Inter Pares is a member—sent an urgent letter to , calling on the Canadian government to show leadership in providing support this year and ensuring stable funding in future years, to ensure that the commission can undertake its important work. More than 300 prominent civil society organizations in 18 countries in the Americas have likewise signed an SOS in defence of the commission. We call on all members of this committee to urgently take up this issue, as we cannot afford to lose this important regional mechanism.
Turning to the issue of focus countries, this is an important theme with huge implications for organizations in our sector given the high concentration of Canada's aid budget in a small number of countries and sectors. At Inter Pares, we have never based our programming on lists of focus countries or sectors developed in Ottawa. Rather, our program is developed based on long-standing relationships with civil society counterparts in Canada and in the global south. For us, the most effective accompaniment we can provide is to support our partners' solutions and not impose our own.
We concur with the analysis and recommendations of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, and would like to highlight six recommendations of our own.
The first recommendation is that if Canada maintains an approach based on focus countries, then there must be transparency in the selection of criteria, and these should be based on reducing poverty and inequality. We all know that situations can change overnight. Countries that seemed stable can suddenly become fragile states, or levels of inequality or poverty can grow very rapidly. We need to be flexible and responsive to meet the changing but real needs and realities on the ground.
Second, there should be a greater percentage of funding available for non-focus countries.
Third, the funding landscape has changed over the last years, as has the relationship between Canadian NGOs and the successors of CIDA. Increasingly, aid is “project-ized”, and NGOs are treated as service providers or contractors and not as long-standing partners in development. Our third recommendation is that it's crucial that the Canadian government reinstate its ability to provide long-term, predictable, and flexible core funding that allows Canadian civil society to build relationships with local civil society and respond to the opportunities, challenges, and needs as they arise. Our experience is that this long-term approach has provided the stability that is necessary to develop innovative and even groundbreaking programming. At times it involves taking risks.
I spoke to you earlier about the Sepur Zarco case in which our partners provided holistic accompaniment to the women plaintiffs for over a decade. To give you another example, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Inter Pares developed programming in Colombia that focused on the situation of internally displaced persons, or IDPs. In those years, the Colombian government was denying the existence of IDPs, claiming instead it was just a case of normal migration patterns. The Europeans were reluctant to support this work for a variety of reasons. In fact, while the term “refugee” has an authoritative definition under the 1951 refugee convention, there was no legal definition of “internally displaced persons”.
The support we received from the partnership branch of CIDA enabled us to engage on this theme in an agile way and gain valuable experience, which helped inform Canadian government policy. Not only did this help place the situation of IDPs on the map domestically, but it also contributed significantly to the development of the UN guiding principles on internal displacement, which today is the key international framework for work with internally displaced persons throughout the world.
Fourth, too often in conflict or post-conflict scenarios aid becomes entirely focused on strengthening the state. Supporting democratic states is very important, but it must include a balanced approach: ensuring a state is responsible to its people and empowering all people to hold their governments to account. Our recommendation four is that Canada needs to invest in local civil society, especially a civil society grounded in work with indigenous, oppressed, or excluded communities and populations.
My fifth point is around the promotion of women's rights. We have seen a shift in the past years away from supporting the broad range of women's rights, and instead focusing narrowly on supporting women as mothers. There has been a further narrowing of support excluding women's sexual and reproductive rights. Canada has been a leader in the promotion of women's rights globally, although we have lost ground in that area in recent years.
The news that Canada has been elected to the governing body of the UN Commission on the Status of Women is a welcome development, but it also means that with such a high profile role, we have more responsibility to ensure that we're walking the talk. Development with a feminist lens needs to mean something, and is a beautiful opportunity for global leadership.
Accordingly, our fifth recommendation—and it is in a package of them here—is that 20% of all Canadian aid investment should have the promotion of women's rights, advancing gender equality, and women's autonomy and empowerment as their principal focus. Moreover, women affected by armed conflict and post-conflict situations need to have access to the full range of sexual and reproductive health services without discrimination, including regarding pregnancies resulting from rape. Furthermore, thinking particularly of the situation in Colombia, it's crucial that we support women's active role in formal peace processes and in the monitoring the implementation of accords reached.
Sixth, and finally, we need to ensure policy coherence in our international development. Trade and commercial interests cannot trump human rights and undermine our development goals. Canada needs a human rights framework for its international assistance, including not only cooperation but also foreign policy and trade. We think that Canada should show strong coherence on the primacy of human rights in order to attain positive results.
Thank you very much for your attention. I look forward to your questions.
KAIROS very much appreciates this opportunity to appear as a witness. KAIROS and its member churches have a long history of working with partners in Colombia and Guatemala on issues of women's peace and security, indigenous rights, and ecological justice. You can imagine how difficult it's going to be for me to contain my remarks within eight minutes, but I'll do my best, and I hope this is the beginning of an ongoing dialogue.
We're encouraged by the committee's decision to host this consultation and by its plans to travel to Colombia and Guatemala at the end of the summer.
We look forward to continuing to work with you as you plan your delegation.
In April, my colleague Ian Thomson spoke to you about KAIROS' work, including our Women of Courage program. At that time he put forward some recommendations on women, peace, and security. In fact, our partners in Colombia are an integral part of our women, peace and security program. I hope to build on KAIROS' previous submission by speaking specifically about our partnerships in Guatemala and Colombia and what recommendations we can draw from this experience.
As Latin American partnerships coordinator and gender justice program coordinator at KAIROS, I've had the privilege of working with civil society organizations in Colombia, particularly women's organizations, over the last 15 years.
Today I want to focus on one partner, La Organización Femenina Popular, the popular feminist organization, which is a grassroots women's organization that has worked for 44 years in the region of Magdalena Medio. I do this because the OFP represents the tenacity, the creativity, the resilience, and the determination of many civil society groups in Colombia, characteristics that have allowed it not only to survive, but to thrive despite the conflict and the constant threats to its work and to the lives of its members.
OFP works at a local level through women's centres, providing training, legal accompaniment, and even affordable food at community kitchens. At the same time, it plays a key role in networks for peace and human rights at a national level. While its strategies and programs have changed in response to the context of the conflict, it remains a reference point for work in human rights and peace. For example, in the 1990s at the height of paramilitary control in Barrancabermeja, when it was extremely dangerous—deadly, in fact—to be a human rights defender, the OFP led and held together a human rights network at a local level, while simultaneously mobilizing tens of thousands of women in the most conflict-ridden areas in Colombia and providing accompaniment to these women in these conflict areas.
In 2012 the OFP held regional women's courts for justice, peace, and territory and gathered hundreds of testimonies from women who had experienced human rights violations as a result of the conflict. In the context of impunity, these ethical or symbolic courts were an important space for women to denounce human rights violations and to expose the truth. Legal action demanding reparation was initiated in a number of the cases presented during these women's courts.
The visibility of the crimes also strengthened the advocacy efforts of the women's movement, as well as its demands for truth, justice, and reparation within the current peace process. In the last few years, the OFP has engaged in a process to secure collective reparations from the Colombian state under law 1448 on the rights of victims to reparation.
The OFP's 44 years of work with victims and survivors, as well as its crippling institutional losses, including the assassination of a number of its leaders, makes this case for collective reparations emblematic in Colombia. It has documented this experience in a number of documents and those are being used as a model. As well, throughout the reparation program, the OFP has made concrete advances and real change in the lives of thousands of women.
In the OFP we see the resilience of civil society in Colombia, its ability to respond to the given national and local context to create spaces and proposals for peace, and to reach the most vulnerable populations with really concrete programs. In fact, at KAIROS, our gender-justice work has been inspired by the OFP. We have learned how militarized conflict impacts women; how women are victimized many times over through gender, inequality, poverty, and racism; and how sexual violence is used in the strategy of war. At same time, we have seen how women's groups are integral actors in defence of human rights and processes for peace, justice, and reparations.
The OFP has also demonstrated the importance of psychosocial and legal accompaniment that empowers women victims of human rights violations to heal and themselves become active in the peace process. This is in fact the basis of our women, peace, and security program that is currently under active review in the partnership branch at Global Affairs. The focus of this program very much aligns with the focus of this committee's work. Civil society organizations like the OFP represent Colombia's hope and strength and require ongoing and sustained support.
This brings me to two recommendations. One is that Canada's bilateral assistance must prioritize financial support for independent civil society groups in Colombia, particularly women's groups. It is important that these are long-term partnerships and that they inform development policy and priorities. Investing in civil society will guarantee resources to groups that have the capacity to influence and implement peace accords on the ground. Two, it is important that bilateral assistance adopt a human rights approach to development, including accompaniment of victims of human rights violations and providing human rights training. We have seen, as I mentioned, how women, often victims of violence themselves, can become protagonists in the peace process with appropriate psychosocial support and human rights training.
I would like to take the last few minutes to talk about our partnerships in Guatemala and how this experience informs additional recommendations for your review.
For 10 years now, KAIROS has worked with CEIBA, an organization that supports community development in indigenous communities in western Guatemala. CEIBA was founded in 1994 when Guatemalan refugees were returning to the region. It has accompanied these communities since then with responsive programming in community development and human rights. CEIBA has delivered programs in community health, food sovereignty, environmental and land protection, leadership development, and human rights training.
Some of the communities accompanied by CEIBA are responding to resource extraction projects, the majority of which involve Canadian companies. In a number of cases, communities have raised concern that these projects threaten the very community development and human rights that are being supported by this partnership, particularly indigenous rights. When they raise these concerns, when they protest and demand that their rights be respected, they face criminalization, threats, and sometimes death. In Guatemala, as in Colombia, we have seen an increase in threats and assassinations of indigenous and environmental rights defenders. Leaders in CEIBA, as well as in the communities they accompany, have been targeted.
Based on this experience and the conflict in Guatemala, I would like to add the following recommendations. Canadian development policy and practice must be informed by indigenous rights, including FPIC, free, prior, and informed consent, as outlined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Furthermore, the Government of Canada must establish a mechanism to hold Canadian resource extraction companies accountable, so that the investment and resource extraction policy does not undermine the very development initiatives we are trying to support. To this end, we call on the Canadian government to establish an independent ombudsman on resource extraction and legislation that holds Canadian companies accountable.
To summarize then, Colombia and Guatemala must be a focus. More importantly than this, within this focus, Canadian development assistance must support independent civil society groups in long-term partnerships. By doing so, we are investing in resilient, effective programming that reaches the most vulnerable. Human rights are key. Development assistance needs to be underpinned by Canada's commitments to human rights, including the rights of indigenous people and to all women. Finally, Canadian development assistance needs to be responsive and informed by long-term partnerships with civil society organizations in Canada, in Colombia, and in Guatemala. Our partners tell us that as important as financial support is the capacity of the Canadian government to amplify their voices in their demands for peace and human rights.
Finally, and as I mentioned earlier, KAIROS has submitted an unsolicited proposal to the partnership branch at Global Affairs. While we are still awaiting a response, we remain hopeful that the work of KAIROS and our partners will complement and ensure the success of Canada's international development assistance in Colombia and in other countries of concern.
KAIROS very much appreciates being included in this consultation, and we look forward to being a part of the ongoing dialogue as you prepare your itinerary in Colombia and Guatemala, and in the policy discussions that follow.