Colombia Human Rights Assessment Sneaks Past Parliamentary Scrutiny

Liberals table platitude-laden report to empty House of Commons

TORONTO, July 22, 2016 /CNW/ - United Steelworkers' (USW) National Director Ken Neumann says the Liberals' first Human Rights Impact Assessment Report (HRIA) on Colombia, tabled Wednesday to an empty House of Commons, remains as meaningless as those tabled by the previous government.

"This requirement for a report was the Liberal opposition's excuse for supporting the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (CCOFTA) back in 2010," said Neumann.

"It does not allow for a full assessment of the state of Human Rights in Colombia and must be tied directly to trade activities under the terms of the CCOFTA. In other words, it is neither a true reflection of human rights in Colombia nor a directive to improving conditions for Colombians. It is, at best, a statement of platitudes."

Neumann said the USW has been working closely with workers and communities in Colombia for many years, through relief, development and mutual aid and continues to observe the conditions and challenges in Colombia through regular exchanges and delegations.

"Our union sponsored a visit to Canada in 2009 by a Colombian human rights lawyer whose union activist father was murdered because of his activities. Yessika Hoyos pleaded with Canadian parliamentarians on the International Trade Committee for an independent, impartial and comprehensive human rights impact assessment before going ahead with any free trade agreement with Colombia," Neumann said.

"However, it was not enough to stop then-trade critic Scott Brison from looking for a way for Liberals to support the Conservative government's deal with a country whose human rights record was one of the worst in the Americas."

The USW participated in consultations leading up to the 2016 report. Those consultations included a call from stakeholders, such as academics, unions and human rights organizations, for a Human Rights Impact Assessment that looks at the real state of human rights in Colombia.

"We know human rights in Colombia are still problematic, with many reports of harassment and intimidation of human rights leaders and threats against local communities," said Neumann. "These are not reflected in a report that relates specifically to an agreement that is a commercial document, devoid of any moral obligation to uphold human rights. Indeed, like all so-called free trade agreements, the CCOFTA enshrines investor rights as the guiding imperative."

Neumann said the only way to make the process honest is to alter the HRIA so that the monitoring of human rights in Colombia is not directly tied to the CCOFTA.

"If this new government is serious about its claims to uphold human rights, then it must do more than continue with meaningless annual reports."

SOURCE United Steelworkers (USW)

For further information: Mark Rowlinson, Assistant to the USW National Director, 416-544-5952, 647-231-5983, mrowlinson@usw.ca; Bob Gallagher, USW Communications, 416-544-5966, 416-434-2221, bgallagher@usw.ca

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