Canadian Churches signal alarm over free trade deal with Colombia

Canadian Churches signal alarm over free trade deal with Colombia

TORONTO, Nov. 24 2008 — Ignoring the calls of both civil society and the
parliamentary trade committee for a Human Rights Impact Assessment, Prime
Minister Harper signed the controversial Canada-Colombia Free-Trade Agreement
(FTA) on November 21st.

"It is disturbing that the Prime Minister signed this deal given
Colombia’s severe human rights crisis. The testimony I heard continues to
haunt me to this day," said Pastor Jim Dekker, KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical
Justice Initiatives board member, who travelled to Colombia in 2006 to
participate in one of a series of International Human Rights Tribunals.

In the last 20 years, over 70,000 people have been killed in Colombia,
most of them victims of paramilitary groups with links to government
officials. The United Nations declares Colombia to be the hemisphere’s worst
humanitarian crisis.

In November of this year, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi
Pillay, recognized that the widespread and systematic killings of civilians
could constitute a crime against humanity. In 2007 there were a record number
of extrajudicial killings — 330 compared to 220 in the three-year period of
2004-2006.

"The Colombian government needs to guarantee the human rights of all
peoples before Canada considers moving forward with this trade deal," said Fr.
Omar Fernandez, Franciscan member of the Colombian Social Movements Coalition
(COMOSOC) who is in Canada to speak about the worsening human rights
situation. COMOSOC members include Indigenous groups, church, Afro-Colombians,
unions, women’s groups and farmers representing approximately two million
people.

Days before the deal was signed, over 20,000 Indigenous peoples and their
supporters arrived in Bogota to protest policies that threaten their
livelihoods including the Canada-Colombia FTA. "We call on Canadian
Parliamentarians to oppose this deal at this time," said Fr. Fernandez.

KAIROS calls on the government of Canada to conduct a Human Rights Impact
Assessment before proceeding any further.

KAIROS unites eleven churches and church organizations in faithful action
for justice and peace

For further information: Rusa Jeremic, KAIROS, (416) 463-5312, ext. 225

source: CNW