Liberals, Tories turn a blind eye on human rights violations in Colombia

OTTAWA, March 26 /CNW Telbec/ - PSAC is profoundly disturbed to see Liberals colluding with Conservatives to override trade union and civil society concerns about gross on-going human rights violations in Colombia. Liberal Trade Critic Scott Brison, along with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has cooked up a new amendment to the CCFTA implementing legislation (C2) to include rights impact assessments to be performed by each government annually after the deal is in effect.

The Colombian government has been reporting on its own human and labour rights improvements to the ILO for over a decade, yet Colombia continues to be the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist. 45 trade unionists were assassinated in 2009, over 2700 since 1986. There is 97% impunity for these crimes.

PSAC believes that any human rights impact assessment must be carried out by credible third party, independent human rights experts, before the deal is implemented. Otherwise, Canada becomes complicit in supporting the worst human rights violations in the Western hemisphere.

In 2009 alone, 45 trade unionists and 114 indigenous people were murdered and thousands of Afro-Colombians were displaced from their lands. The government of Colombia has been implicated in corruption scandals, illegal spying on judges and human rights lawyers and on-going support of new paramilitary groups. 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.

The Brison motion, support by Liberal Bob Rae and Trade Minister Peter Van Loan flies in the face of international recognized norms for monitoring human rights compliance. By putting forward this motion, the Liberal party has turned its back on International human rights standards and conventions and betrayed a parliamentary commitment to perform an independent human rights impact assessment before ratifying a trade agreement with Colombia. Countries who are signatories to international human rights conventions do not have the option of reporting on their own human rights records. That is the prerogative of the International Human Rights system.

Recent UN and Amnesty International reports show escalating violence against Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, including murder and forcible displacement from communal lands. 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.

With the recent attacks by the Harper government to Rights and Democracy, regional human rights offices, the dismantling the Court challenges program, status of women etc, we are not surprised to see a back room deal between the Harper and Uribe governments. But surely, the Liberal party is sending the wrong message to the Canadian public indicating that it is prepared to reward the worst human rights violator in the Americas.

"This free trade agreement will do nothing to improve the lives of Colombian workers said John Gordon, national president of PSAC which has over 166,000 members. "In fact, legitimizing a repressive state internationally will put the lives of Colombian activists in further peril. I call on Michael Ignatieff and the Liberal Party to put human lives before free trade".


For further information: For further information: Louise Casselman - cell. (613) 290-3394, (613) 560-5494

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