On April 14th and 15th, Colombia will host the Sixth Summit of the Americas. The Summit will bring together leaders from all over the Western Hemisphere to discuss the challenges faced in the Americas and policies to address them.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be attending the event, along with the Minister of International Trade and the Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas and Consular Affairs). CCIC’s Americas Policy Group (APG) will be following the Summit closely, since Canada’s announcements will allegedly be informed by a consultation process initiated by DFAIT in the fall of 2011.
The consultation process aimed to review the Americas Strategy that Canada first announced in 2007. There were two in-person consultations, as well as an opportunity to submit written input. The APG participated in all the consultations and worked hard to assemble its written recommendations despite DFAIT’s ambitious template and challenging deadline.
The recommendations we made to DFAIT are summarized here:
Free Trade AgreementsSince one of the three pillars of Canada’s 2007 Americas Strategy was trade, the APG recommended ways to ensure that free trade creates benefits, not harms, for Latin Americans. It recommended that Canada refrain from concluding free trade agreements (FTAs) with countries that have poor democratic governance and human rights records. FTAs tend to increase the kinds of investment that are most associated with militarization, violence and forced displacement, such as gold, oil, and plantations for biofuel. This is problematic in countries such as Colombia, where paramilitary groups are widespread and often use violence to displace people from their lands for lucrative projects. Colombia is a world leader in internal displacement, with millions of people living in desperate conditions after being forced to flee their resource-rich lands. It is also the most dangerous place in the world for union leaders. FTAs between northern and southern countries generally capitalize on the southern country’s comparative advantage: cheap labour. This is problematic in contexts where the right to unionize is severely constricted and where workers are unable to organize to maintain or improve their working conditions.
The APG recommended that, in order to determine whether a FTA is appropriate or not, Canada ensure that an independent human rights impact assessment (HRIA) is conducted prior to ratification. For FTAs that are already in force, such as the Canada-Colombia one, the APG insisted that HRIAs reflect the UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights Impact Assessments for Trade and Investment Agreements and that there be real consequences to any negative findings.
Corporate AccountabilityOther APG recommendations focussed on corporate accountability for Canadian companies operating in Latin America. The local legal frameworks in which these companies operate are often weak and unable or unwilling to protect human and environmental rights. The APG believes that it is unrealistic to expect companies, which are fundamentally driven by profit, to regulate themselves and that corporate accountability should be pursued through regulation and law. It recommended that Canada establish a binding complaint and investigation mechanism to help remove barriers to justice for the victims of human rights abuses seeking remedy in Canada. It also recommended that the government remove Export Development Canada support from companies with poor environmental and human rights records.
Democratic GovernanceThe APG urged Canada to stay true to its commitment to democratic governance in the Americas – one of the three pillars of its original Americas Strategy. Since the June 2009 coup d’état in Honduras, hundreds of regime opponents have been intimidated, arbitrarily arrested, disappeared, tortured and killed. The APG is concerned that Canada has validated the regime by signing a FTA with Honduras and by supporting the widely criticized Truth Commission, which was set up without consultation and input from civil society. Instead, it urged Canada to refrain from strengthening relations with the Honduran government until there is a verifiable improvement in the human rights situation and until the report by an alternative, civil-society propelled, truth commission is released.
SecurityFinally, the APG raised concerns that militaristic approaches to drug and criminality problems in Latin America may actually be detrimental to public security. It pointed to the many innocent citizens who are caught in the crossfire and to the fact that drug wars are often used as an excuse for impunity and increasing violence against other groups, such as women. The APG urged the Canadian government to address security problems in a more sustainable way by focussing on the socio-economic issues that underlie criminality and illegal economies in Latin America.
Since the APG represents a wide range of Canadian civil society organizations with experience and expertise in Latin America, we hope that our recommendations will be heard. The team leading the consultations at DFAIT has gone quiet and it has been difficult to get any updates on the process. However, we have learned through other sources that cabinet has discussed the new strategy and that there will be no formal report-back to the organizations consulted.
The APG and its networks will be watching the Summit closely and hoping that the government will honour its commitment to include more civil society perspectives in its new Americas Strategy.
This blog post was written by Brittany Lambert, coordinator of CCIC's Americas Policy Group (APG).
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of CCIC or its members.