Canadian government less than honest about Columbian free trade deal

By 
  • April 3, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - The ecumenical social justice coalition KAIROS claims the Conservative government has been less than honest with a delegation of Colombians who came to Canada to lobby against a free trade deal.

KAIROS sponsored a delegation of Colombian church and civil society leaders on a visit to Canada in February. The group received assurances Canada wouldn’t proceed with an already negotiated free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia until concerns about the South American nation’s human rights record have been investigated.

“We were assured by Minister (of State of Foreign Affairs for the Americas Peter) Kent that there would be exhaustive study by the parliamentary committee on international trade and that he would take into account the testimony we provided about the increase in extrajudicial killings, death threats against social leaders and killings of trade unionists,” said Franciscan Friar Omar Fernandez Obregon in a KAIROS release. “He also said that he would visit Colombia and meet with us. Naturally, we assumed this meant before the introduction of implementing legislation.”

The Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement implementation bill was put on the government’s notice paper March 24. With support from the opposition Liberals, the implementing legislation for the free trade deal is expected to pass quickly.

Though Kent told Omar and labour, indigenous and women’s movement leaders Canada would look at the human rights situation in Colombia, a week later he told The Catholic Register Colombia’s human rights record is improving.

“We believe that the Uribe government has made great progress. Over the last six years, the personal security conditions of the vast majority of Colombians have improved,” he said Feb. 23 as the Colombian delegation was returning home.

According to Amnesty International , more than 70,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Colombia’s armed conflict over the past 20 years.  At least 1,400 civilians were killed in 2007 compared with around 1,300 in 2006, but still down from a recent high of 4,000 in 2002.

In 2007 paramilitaries, many with connections to Colombian politicians, were responsible for at least 300 killings of civilians, said Amnesty International. Government security forces killed around 330, and guerilla groups opposed to the government killed 260 civilians. The remaining 500 or so killings could not be attributed to any specific group.

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