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VIEW: ‘Human rights critics sounding alarm on Colombia FTA with good reason’, says Diebel

Toronto Star columnist Linda Diebel – the Star’s former Latin American bureau chief and winner of a National Newspaper Award for her reports from Colombia – writes about the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement now making its way through the House of Commons.

She highlights Colombian human rights lawyer Yessika Hoyos Morales’ presentation to a parliamentary committee last May in Ottawa. “Said Hoyos: If Canada, ‘known for respecting human rights,’ goes ahead with the deal, ‘it will be backing the regime of human rights violators’.”

“Last year, Hoyos also described the continuing rise in assassination of trade unionists, including her own father, Jorge Dario Hoyos Franco. He was among 2,709 union activists gunned down since 1986 (more than 400 during Uribe’s presidency).”

Diebel adds, “The Obama administration has a full plate and hasn’t made it a priority to bring politicians onside for free trade with Colombia. …The U.S. Congress, notably Democrats, is still balking due to human rights concerns, and the European Union is divided. …(But) the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, (is) eager to pass its trade treaty and (is) apparently backed by the Liberals…”

“Critics argue the deal must not proceed without a comprehensive, independent review of its potential impact on human rights.”

“A recent Amnesty International study found more than 60 per cent of people forced from their homes and land come from areas of mineral, agricultural and other economic importance. ‘The fighting has provided a useful cover for those seeking to expand and protect economic interests,’ says the report. ‘The civilian population continues to bear the brunt of the violence.’ (Amnesty International’s Colombia specialist Kathy) Price argues Canada should not allow trade and investment policy to exacerbate the situation by allowing Canadian companies to profit from land grabs.”

Diebel concludes, “the fuss over the lack of a comprehensive rights review is puzzling because such a survey easily could have been undertaken. In 2008, the all-party parliamentary trade committee tabled a report urging the government to undertake just such a review. Soon after, Tory MP Gerald Keddy stood in the Commons to withdraw the support of Conservative committee members for having such an evaluation.”

For information on the Council of Canadians campaign against the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, please go to http://canadians.org/CCFTA.

Linda Diebel’s column can be read at http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/article/789851–is-colombia-free-enough-for-free-trade-with-canada.