Free Trade without Free Elections: Ground’s Eye View of Colombia’s Human Rights

For Immediate Release

Council of Canadians
Contact: 

Dylan Penner, Media Officer,
(613) 795-8685,
dpenner@canadians.org

Free Trade without Free Elections: Ground’s Eye View of Colombia’s Human Rights

Liberal’s amendment will not “fix” Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, say Canadian election monitors, who warn of continued violence

OTTAWA, Ontario - As the Canadian government considers voting on Bill C-2, the Canada
Colombia Free Trade Agreement, two Canadians who were part of an
international election monitoring mission to Colombia warn that the
Liberal backed amendment to the Agreement will not improve human rights
condition in Colombia. The 22 person mission, which included Carleen
Pickard of the Council of Canadians and Barbara Wood, a representative
of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, was in Colombia for 12 days
in February in advance of the March 14 congressional elections and the
upcoming May 30 presidential election. The findings note that
systematic human rights abuses, corruption and escalating violence cast
doubts on the likelihood that free and fair elections can be held in
Colombia.

"Our findings note that the human rights crisis in Colombia clouds
every aspect of daily life, and the serious problems are amplified
during the electoral process, impeding one’s ability to participate
freely ", says Carleen Pickard of the Council of Canadians, who formed
part of the mission in the department of Antioquia. “In all four
regions our mission visited, we heard stories and saw examples of
involvement of illegal armed groups in the electoral process resulting
in fear and intimidation among the population, electoral fraud, illegal
campaign financing and the manipulation of federal social programs to
influence and coerce citizens’ votes.

The recent amendment proposed by Liberal Trade Critic Scott Brison
ignores the recommendation by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on
International Trade that an independent human rights impact assessment
to occur before the Agreement is considered and is rejected by human
rights and social justice groups in Canada and Colombia, which argue
that the Colombian government is in no position to assess its own human
rights record.

Wood says the amendment, which Brison claims he initiated after a night
of dancing and a steak dinner in Bogotá, will allow the Colombian
government to pass judgement on its own human rights record – something
it is inherently in conflict with. “The Brison amendment is a sham. For
decades human rights reports, including the United Nations, have
implicated the Colombian government as perpetrators of violence. How
can it be then expected to report objectively on itself? Clearly
there’s a need for an independent rights assessment before Canada moves
any further on the trade deal with Colombia,” she says.

NDP Trade Critic Peter Julian has opposed the Canada Colombia Free
Trade Agreement. “At a time when Parliament is seized with the debate
around the Colombia trade deal, this issue of whether or not free and
fair elections are occurring in Colombia is of utmost importance,” says
Julian.

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