Appeal for Canada re indigenous peoples and resource extraction in Colombia

Date of publication: 
29 April 2014

Amnesty International and Assembly of First Nations appeal for Canadian government attention to emergency facing indigenous peoples amidst resource extraction in Colombia

(Ottawa, ON) – Two weeks before the Canadian government must submit its 2014 report on the human rights effects of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, Amnesty International and the Assembly of First Nations have made an urgent public appeal to the Canadian government about the acute human rights emergency that threatens the very survival of scores of Indigenous peoples in Colombia, many in areas earmarked for resource extraction.

The call comes a day after Indigenous, labour and environmental organizations in Colombia made public a report expressing concern about the impact of Canadian mining projects and the responsibility of Canada to ensure Canadian-based companies respect human rights in Colombia.

Earlier this month, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights representative in Colombia Todd Howland warned that 40 of the 102 Indigenous nations in Colombia are at risk of extinction. Indigenous organizations have signaled that many others are faced with destruction. All agree that the imposition of mining projects without human rights guarantees is a key factor in this emergency.

One significant consequence of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is greater access to Colombia for Canadian extractives companies. To date annual human rights reports prepared by the Canadian government, as required by the trade deal, have failed to say anything about the human rights situation for Indigenous peoples or to examine the record of Canadian resource extraction companies in Colombia.

“The decision to sign a free trade deal with Colombia, amidst so many trade-related human rights challenges, was a risky one. Adding a requirement to assess human rights impacts was supposed to address that concern,” stated Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada. “The meaningless human rights reporting to date has now become part of the problem, instead of a means to identify any human rights issues and then address them. The 2014 report gives the Canadian government an important chance to show it is serious about human rights, particularly the rights of Indigenous peoples in Colombia who face such a perilous future.”

“The Assembly of First Nations stands with the Indigenous peoples of Colombia. Indigenous peoples around the world are increasingly being pressured to develop the natural resources that their lands have been blessed with. We see this happening here in Canada as well. We stand in support of our Indigenous brothers and sisters from Colombia who are fighting for their lives and for the survival of their cultures,” said AFN International Portfolio holder, Quebec/Labrador Regional Chief Ghislain Picard. He shared testimony sent by an Indigenous leader in Colombia forced to go into hiding following death threats, the assassination of two family members and the displacement of other members of the community. These events happened after they voiced opposition to the use of local land by paramilitary groups and mining companies.

AFN Regional Chief Picard stated: “Our thoughts are first and foremost for the well-being of the Indigenous peoples of Colombia and for the respect and protection of their human rights and Indigenous rights. We urge Canada to take an active stance to protect them.”

“Canada has an opportunity and an obligation to acknowledge the human rights emergency for Indigenous Peoples in Colombia, to ensure their rights are respected, particularly in areas of resource extraction, and to hold Canadian extractive companies accountable for their human rights record in Colombia,” stated Alex Neve.

Amnesty International and the Assembly of First Nations illustrated their call for action with an eye-catching display on the steps of Parliament Hill of photo messages sent by concerned Canadians from across the country. Amnesty International is set to deliver thousands of written appeals for action to the office of Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.

To date, more than 65,000 people have expressed concern about the human rights crisis affecting Indigenous peoples in Colombia and called for action by the Canadian and Colombian governments to protect their rights and survival on their lands.

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) is the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada.

For more information, please contact:

Elizabeth Berton-Hunter, Media Relations for Amnesty International: 416 904 7158; bberton-hunter [at] amnesty [dot] ca

Alain Garon, Assembly of First Nations Bilingual Communications Officer: 613 292 0857; agaron [at] afn [dot] ca