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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 - April 13 - 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
"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.