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Canada-Colombia free trade deal questioned

   

Human rights at issue

November 28, 2008
- Dan Dyck

Winnipeg, Man. — Rebecca Bartel, Mennonite Church Canada Mission Associate working with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Colombia, reports that Colombian Mennonites and partner organizations have expressed deep concern over the free trade deal that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Alvaro Uribe have recently signed.

In a call to action, Bartel writes that the deal has “… created a cloud of uncertainty around the possible effects that this pact will have on Colombian economy, the dire human rights situation and the humanitarian crisis that is currently facing the country.” Colombians are concerned that natural resources will continue to be plundered at great cost to their own economy resulting in exacerbated land rights conflicts and massive human displacement.

Bartel reports that despite Colombian government assurances that society has become safer, “Church leaders and communities continue to be attacked.” Among the statistics she cites is a 65% increase in “extrajudicial executions” by state armed forces.

MCC is calling on the Canadian government to not implement the free trade agreement until significant improvement to human rights has been shown, to demand that the Colombian government sever all ties with paramilitary organizations, and to conduct an independent human rights impact assessment on Canadian foreign investment in the natural resources extraction industry (ex. oil, gas, coal).

As of Nov. 21, there is a 21 day window of time before the Canadian Parliament votes on the deal, says Bartel. Anyone wishing to express concerns about the Canada-Colombia free trade deal to elected officials needs to do so before Dec. 10. More information, including templates for letters to elected officials, is available from www.mcc.org/canada/ottawa/.