Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Business & human rights weekly update - July 29, 2008

From the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre:
Weekly Update: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre - 30 July 2008

CLICK THIS LINK FOR ALL TOP STORIES added past 7 days / Principales noticias / Articles de premier plan:
- also available: our profile of lawsuit against Chevron
- Firestone response

* UN Foundation & Vodafone Foundation lead initiative to improve health in poor countries through access to data

* China Labor Watch report alleges abuses at Hantai Shoe, supplier to Wal-Mart
- Wal-Mart response
- we are inviting Hantai Shoe to respond
* World Bank tribunal finds Tanzania at fault in ending contract with Biwater over water access & pricing, but awards company no damages
- also provided: Biwater response, full text of tribunal's opinions

* Mexico: US security firm Risks Incorporated in torture training sessions with police
- includes videos of the sessions
- we invited the firm to respond, but have not received a response

* Report by UK Foreign Affairs Committee says govt. should introduce "strict regulation on private security companies"

* Microfinance firms agree to publish annual interest rates, in move to help poor borrowers amid sector's commercialization
- Muhammad Yunus criticises for-profit microfinance

* Promoting women's reproductive health increases factory productivity, "HERproject" concludes

* US Govt. bans all Burmese gem imports, encourages Chevron to divest
- Human Rights Watch says new law is "a major step"
- Leber Jeweler calls for all US jewellers to stop selling Burmese gemstones

* Guangdong province, China: Contracts re-negotiated by companies in attempt to evade new labour law may be invalidated

* Singapore: Women's rights group report finds extensive workplace sexual harassment - details best practices, reviews legal remedies

* "Subsidizing Sweatshops" report (further to our 9, 16 & 23 July Updates)
- City of Los Angeles statement regarding Lion Apparel

* Español: Ecuador: Denuncian amenazas de muerte recibidas por activista crítica de concesiones mineras

* Español: México: Videos revelan que empresa de seguridad de EE.UU. entrenó a policías en métodos de tortura

* Español: Colombia: Fueron "condenadas" 30 multinacionales por el Tribunal Permanente de los Pueblos por supuestos abusos de derechos humanos

* Español: México: Réplica de ProDESC a la respuesta de Minefinders sobre impactos de Minera Dolores en Chihuahua - en continuación a nuestra Actualización del 9 de julio (en inglés)

* Español: El Salvador: Más de mil personas marchan contra proyecto de explotación minera de Pacific Rim

* Français : Madagascar : La Banque Mondiale réclame plus de transparence dans le secteur minier

* Français : Les membres de l'Association des entreprises pour la réduction de l'effet de serre affiche une baisse d'émissions de 25% par rapport à 1990

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Peru enacts state of emergeny at Canadian mine site

Thanks to our fearless co-chair Liz Blackwood for posting this on Facebook.

From CBC:The Peruvian government has declared a state of emergency at the site of a mine owned by a Vancouver company, saying its toxic chemicals are putting the capital's water supply at risk.

A 60-day state of emergency was put in place in the San Mateo district, 90 kilometres east of Lima, where Gold Hawk Resources runs the Coricancha metals mine.

Government officials said the mine's storage dump is unstable and at risk of collapse, which could release arsenic and other toxic chemicals into the Rimac River, Lima's main water source.

Gold Hawk, which acquired the mine more than two years ago, issued a statement Friday saying Peruvian officials have asked the company to relocate its processing plant and dump area away from the Tamboraque hillside.

CEO Kevin Drover told CBC News the company knows the area is unstable and has already taken action.

"There has been no leakage whatsoever; there has been no impact to the environment. The only impacts have been to our company because we brought ourselves to our knees," Drover said.

Crushing and milling operations at the mine were suspended in May because of ground displacement around the dumping area, which the company attributed to overwatering by local farmers.

Both company and government experts say farmers overwatering their crops have made the hillsides around the mine soggy, cracking its cement foundation and increasing the risk of landslides.

Oxfam representative critical of mining practices

Farmers say, however, that there has been a local decree in place for the past three months that forbids them to irrigate, according to a representative of Oxfam America in Peru.

"So they lost crops in order to not add more to the overall risk of the mine while the mine continued to add to the tailing dump," Fran Boern told CBC News.

There is a legacy of toxic waste dumping by gold mining companies in the region, which has led to numerous human rights complaints.

Three years ago, the Peruvian government was warned by an international human rights commission to clean up toxic mining waste in the area, and the Coricancha mine was chosen as a place to store all of it.

The mine's current storage dump, also known as a tailings area, was scheduled to be replaced by a nearby waste facility this summer. Gold Hawk announced last month, however, that it will "seek a long-term tailings handling solution" at another site, Chinchan, which is currently in the engineering stage.

Boern said he is skeptical of such a move.

"Goldhawk indeed has started to move to a new place but it doesn't have an Environmental Impact Assessment and the possibility is still open that after that, they will have to move it to yet another place."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Business & human rights: Weekly Update - July 23, 2008

From the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre:
Weekly Update: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre - 23 July 2008

CLICK THIS LINK FOR ALL TOP STORIES added past 7 days / Principales noticias / Articles de premier plan:

Español: ver abajo - Français : voir ci-dessous

* "Collective Report on Business & Human Rights", ESCR-Net - executive summary
- We will provide links to the full report, related NGO reports & company responses in a future Update

* New 3-year mandate of UN Special Representative John Ruggie - full text

* India: Dongria Kondh tribe's struggles against Vedanta - BBC News report (text & videos) with company response

* Cipla, IPCA Labs, Calyx, Mangalam Drugs, Holleypharm, PIDI Standard sign pact with Clinton Foundation to provide low-priced malaria drugs

* Chairman of UK Equality & Human Rights Commission: "A diverse workforce makes business sense"

* Rwanda: Rwacom Plastics workers locked in factory at night - manager defends policy

* Shell Foundation, Marks & Spencer partnership strengthening fair-trade supply chains in India, So. Africa

* Kenya: Court halts Mumias sugar & biofuels project after concerns raised about threats to local livelihoods

* So. Africa: Report says mining industry does not do enough for migrant labourers who contract tuberculosis

* European Court of Justice ruling: Employers may not discriminate against people caring for disabled

* UK Govt. finds DAS Air in breach of OECD Guidelines for transporting minerals from rebel-held parts of Dem. Rep. of Congo

* Kenya: Court awards $35,000 to woman dismissed for HIV-positive status in landmark ruling

* Overview of Danish Government's strategy promoting corporate responsibility based on intl. principles

* Palestinian villagers sue 2 construction firms in Canada - say companies breach intl. law by building in Israeli settlement on their village's land

* USA: Wal-Mart & other companies monitor diversity in law firms they use

* USA: Maker of trailers that housed hurricane victims admits it should have disclosed findings of high chemical levels

* "Subsidizing Sweatshops" report (further to our 9 & 16 July Updates)
- Responses by Cintas, Lion Apparel

* Español: "Informe Colectivo sobre las Empresas y los Derechos Humanos", Red-DESC - Resumen Ejecutivo
- Proporcionaremos enlaces al reporte completo, informes relacionados de ONGs y respuestas de las empresas en una Actualización futura

* Español: Ensayo de miembro de Grupo de Trabajo de la ONU sobre empresas privadas de seguridad y militares en América Latina y el Caribe

* Español: Perú: Relaves mineros de Gold Hawk Resources amenazan el suministro de agua de Lima - gobierno declara la zona en estado de emergencia

* Español: Bolivia: Empresa Minera Manquiri participará en remediación ambiental en Cerro Rico de Potosí, contaminado durante 470 años

* Español: En fallo inédito, Corte de la Unión Europea prohíbe discriminar a trabajadora por tener hijo discapacitado

* Français : "Rapport collectif sur les entreprises et les droits humains", Réseau-DESC - Sommaire
- Nous fournirons les liens au rapport complet, à des rapports liés d'ONGs & aux réponses des entreprises dans une prochaine Actualité hebdomadaire

* Français : Sherpa entame une action en justice en France contre Trafigura pour pollution en Côte d'Ivoire

* Français : Six compagnies pharmaceutiques indiennes & chinoises se mettent d'accord pour baisser les prix des médicaments anti-paludisme

* Français : Rép. Dém. du Congo : AngloGold Ashanti associe les communautés locales au développement de projets sociaux

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Amnesty Canada's BHR year in review

Please check out Amnesty Canada's annual Business and Human Rights newsletter.

This issue covers such topics as:

  • Stephen Harper - We are still waiting...
  • Canadian law on BHR
  • Victory for Indigenous Peoples
  • Climate change
  • Canada-Colombia trade talks
  • Military security companies
  • Share Power
  • Internet freedom in China
  • Canada Pension Plan
  • BHR Activists in Action
  • And more....
Please let Amnesty know what you think.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Business & human rights: Weekly Update - July 16, 2008

From the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre:
Weekly Update: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre - 16 July 2008

CLICK THIS LINK FOR ALL TOP STORIES added past 7 days / Principales noticias / Articles de premier plan:

Español: ver abajo - Français : voir ci-dessous

* Philippines: Commission on Human Rights investigates OceanaGold over reports of home demolitions
- OceanaGold denies reports

* UN Special Representative on business & human rights: Background note on state duty to protect

* Canada: Aboriginal groups & mining firms seek to prevent future conflicts

* India: Natl. Human Rights Commission investigates allegations of abuses at POSCO's planned steel project in Orissa

* Wal-Mart signs collective labour contract with employees at one of its China outlets - first by Wal-Mart in China

* USA: Tomato farmworkers may battle growers' association over implementation of agreement with fast food firms on pay, working conditions

* High gold prices drive mining firms to remote areas, leading to clashes with artisanal miners in Ghana, Peru

* Nigeria: Kano state govt. & victims group reject Pfizer's $10 million offer to settle drug test participants' claims of injuries

* Business for Social Responsibility launches project to help business protect international migrant workers' rights

* Radio discussion of Natl. Labor Committee report on alleged labour abuses in Toyota plants, supply chain
- Written response by Toyota

* Anglo American CEO Mark Moody-Stuart responds to questions about its investments in Zimbabwe

* "Subsidizing Sweatshops" report (further to our 9 July Update)
- Response by Eagle Industries
- We have invited Propper International and Fechheimer Brothers to respond, but they have not responded

* Wal-Mart launches jewellery line allowing tracing of materials - NGOs hail adherence to code on cyanide management

* Danish Institute for Human Rights to release China country risk assessment

* Jernej Cernic, reviewing John Ruggie's 2008 report, calls for "concrete victim-oriented measures & solutions"

* Español: Perú: Investigarán muerte de minero en choque con la policía durante marcha de protesta contra empresa

* Español: ONU renueva mandato del representante especial sobre empresas y derechos humanos, John Ruggie

* Español: MicroBank (La Caixa) canalizará 60 millones de euros en microcréditos a colectivos desfavorecidos

* Español: Argentina: La cámara laboral condena a empresa a indemnizar a una empleada que fue asediada por compañero de trabajo

* Français : Madagascar : Le PNUD encourage les entreprises à créer des emplois pour les démunis - cas d'étude de Bionexx

* Français : France : Casino publie les résultats d'un testing de discrimination à l'embauche - la moitié des établissements préfère le candidat d'origine « hexagonale »

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Canada must respect the will of Ecuadorians

From The Tyee:.
Canada is "re-engaging with the Americas." That's what Minister of International Trade David Emerson told the Canada Council for the Americas in Vancouver this past February, elaborating that Canada wants to play "a positive role" to "help citizens throughout the region thrive in the world."

"You can count on Canada and Canadians," Emerson assured.

But in Ecuador, a small Andean nation a quarter the size of British Columbia, Canada's government has aligned itself with powerful Canadian mining interests to undo a recently passed decree crafted to strengthen protection for human rights and the environment.

The government decree, hailed as a momentous victory by a grassroots movement fighting big mining projects in Ecuador, would halt what critics call a pell-mell method of granting mining concessions heedless of communities' wishes or damage to nature.

Canada is a top investor in Ecuador and Canada's ambassador to Ecuador is Christian Lapointe. Lately, he has been very busy helping to put Canadian mining companies in good stead with the Ecuadorian government. Two companies have projects suspended and have been involved in violent confrontations with protesters. These and more than 20 others have had the constitutionality and, in some cases, legality of their mineral rights challenged.

The ambassador would seem to be simply carrying out his mandate. On the embassy website it is written: "to promote Canada's economic interests in Ecuador to support the efforts of Canadian companies who have selected Ecuador as a target market."

Salvador Quishpe, a former Ecuadorian congressman from the national indigenous movement, has a different view of how Lapointe should be spending his energies. "The ambassador should not act in service of the economic interests of his multinational companies, but in service of people's lives," proposes Quishpe.

"The ambassador needs to take responsibility. Not to just come and see where the gold and copper are, but to see what life is about here, in order to respect the lives of Ecuadorians."

Quishpe is also a spokesperson for a nationwide movement opposed to large scale mining in which Canadians -- with the aid of their ambassador -- are by far the most dominant players.

Ecuador's buried riches

Vancouver-based Dynasty Metals & Mining says that Ecuador's gold, copper and other ore deposits hold "tremendous potential."

Dynasty boasts on its website of being the "largest concession holder in southern Ecuador." It holds about 1,300 square kilometres in mineral rights, nearly the size of Glacier National Park.

One of the biggest recent gold discoveries was made by Toronto's Aurelian Resources. Its Fruta del Norte project in Salvador Quishpe's home province could become the second biggest gold mine on the continent. It has also attracted a handful of Canadian companies to buy nearby concessions.

Beyond healthy deposits, Dynasty also points out that "Ecuador has done much to foster and encourage foreign investment in its mining industry." Dynasty's website highlights Ecuador's adoption of the U.S. dollar in 2000 and neo-liberal mining law reforms around the same time.

Until this spring, Canadian firms were pleased to be operating in a country whose government had abolished a 3 per cent royalty on mineral production payable to the national treasury. By law, the government was prohibited from being able to take away mineral rights for reasons such as negative environmental or social impacts.

Bold new mining decree

But then, in late April, Ecuador's legislative body, the National Constituent Assembly, passed a sweeping new mining decree that seemed to spell doom for the industry and mining companies were shaken as stock prices tumbled.

Former assembly president Alberto Acosta, also past minister of Energy and Mines for President Rafael Correa, is an economist and environmentalist. Acosta has provided important support to the grassroots movement opposed to large scale mining.

During final debate over the decree, Acosta called the decision "historic," saying that it would bring an end to the "free for all" over mineral rights in the country. By this time over 5,000 mineral concessions had been granted or were in the process of application. Covering more than one fifth of Ecuador's national territory, 60 per cent were in the hands of only twelve concession holders.

Quishpe points out that "concessions don't pertain to any natural resource management plan," saying "they were granted without even verifying first what was there: a mountain, a valley, even an entire town."

The decree responded to such concerns. It suspends all large-scale mining activity and orders vast numbers of mineral concessions cancelled for reasons such as failure to consult with communities, proximity to headwaters and overlap with protected areas.

As the assembly broke into applause, Acosta said that whereas "companies have specialized in how to divide communities" leading to "near civil war" in parts of the country that "it is our responsibility to help recuperate the peace."

Quishpe was one of a number of protesters captured and treated cruelly during a confrontation with armed military and private security forces in the southern Amazon at the end of 2006. Concurrent with the election of President Correa's government, such conflicts flagged how important mining would be for this administration.

But there was a trap in the decree, says Jose Cueva, an environmentalist from the northwestern Valley of Intag: "One hundred and eighty days to rewrite the new mining law."

Getting in before the new constitution

Industry's timeline has taken over. Now only about 80 days following the mining decree, the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum has already handed a new mining law to the president. While also paying minimal attention to criteria for concession cancellations, such as community consultation or proximity to water supplies, the rush to write the law could override changes being made to the political constitution. The constitution is due to be completed by the assembly on July 26th.

Calling for a "national mining dialogue," Minister of Mines and Petroleum Galo Chiriboga kicked off discussions about the new mining law in a special meeting with industry leaders on April 28th. However, in January Chiriboga had already announced talks requested by companies such as Corriente and Aurelian that included such plans.

Not enough, Canadian companies received a personal invite to the launch from President Correa. Ambassador Lapointe helped set up the meeting.

Eight companies were represented together with the embassy, President Correa and his advisors, as well as the Minister Chiriboga and his advisors. Lapointe is reported to have "presented concerns of the Canadian government for a fair, stable and long-term investment environment in Ecuador."

Darryl Lindsay, president of the Mining Committee for the Ecuador-Canada Chamber of Commerce, says that companies followed up by forming a "Council of Responsible Mining Companies." It includes the eight companies with "a single representative that groups together a lot of the smaller companies." "Via the council," Lindsay says, "we have participation" at each of more than half a dozen meetings around the country with a representative at each of the working groups.

Invited, but hardly feeling welcome, grassroots groups that have been in ongoing conflicts with companies didn't find much room to participate. Lawyer and water activist Carlos Perez called the process "a mining monologue." The Federation of Campesino Organizations from the south-central province of Azuay, of which he is part, chose to present feedback about the new law after the dialogue was over.

Other groups simply refused to participate. "It's an anachronous process without any legitimacy," says Jose Cueva. "Once the new constitution is in place, then we can begin seriously working toward a new mining law."

In Cueva's mind, putting the law before the constitution means "that the advances achieved within the new constitution won't be binding. Like the right to water, the rights of nature, and [other changes] that aren't defined yet." Other changes could pertain to indigenous territorial rights and community right to consent.

Based upon a draft mining law, industry is already breathing a sigh of relief.

Prosperity and security

The new draft law promises to reinstate royalties competitive to the region and redistribute revenue to local authorities. That will be if companies can get a drill in the ground. People might still stand in the way.

"We didn't think that we could have a worse law. But now we see that we were wrong," says Carlos Perez. He is not referring to the absence of strong environmental protections. Nor is this a comment about how community consultation regulations have regressed, although he says these are issues too.

"When they included the public forces in order to control the communities, they managed to make a law worse than the last," states Perez. "Far from protecting the population, those that demand the right to live, the right to health, the right to life, far from protecting them, this protects the multinationals."

A draft of the new mining law "guarantees the continuity of mining activities through the intervention of the public forces at the petition of the mining contractor."

"If they approve this law as is," says human rights lawyer Wilton Guaranda, "it will mean that later on they will see much greater problems than those that exist." He notes how militarization in oil producing areas has deepened local conflicts, which occasionally become deadly.

The solution, he suggests, is greater respect for democracy. "It is a sensitive theme" Guaranda says, "that should be analyzed later with the utmost caution," indicating that the new law should wait. "The constitution should be the reference point for both communities and companies."

Last July, Prime Minister Harper traveled to Santiago, Chile and boasted of "Canada's foundational values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law" as he vowed to help expand "opportunities to all citizens" while spearheading Canada's "re-engagement in the Americas."

In Ecuador, those trying to rein in the ambitions of Canadian mining firms may wish Harper and his powerful friends could be less engaged with their small country. At least long enough to let citizens there democratically decide the fate of their mineral resources.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Take action on trade negotiations with Columbia

On June 7, the Canadian government announced the conclusion of controversial free trade negotiations with Colombia. The deal was finalized before the parliamentary Standing Committee on International Trade, which was holding hearings into the human rights impacts and travelled to Colombia to interview witnesses, had completed its report.

The government has yet to make public the content of the deal, which it says will happen after a detailed legal review is completed.

Over the past eleven months since the negotiations were launched, Amnesty International has repeatedly expressed concerns about the potential human rights impacts.

Those concerns were detailed in an Open Letter to Prime Minister Harper last June, a letter to International Trade Minister David Emerson in December, and more recently in our testimony to the Standing Committee on International Trade (CIIT) on April 30.

As Secretary General Alex Neve told the members of the Standing Committee: "Amnesty International takes no position for or against free trade per se, or any other particular approach or trading policy. We recognize that trade and investment in themselves are neither inherently good nor bad for human rights, but that human rights needs specific, determined attention to ensure that trade and investment policies do not impair human rights protection.In the Colombian context, there is serious reason to be concerned that such careful, concerted attention and safeguards are entirely lacking and that human rights will inevitably be further imperiled as trade and investment is opened up in these circumstances."

Sadly, the examples are numerous and ongoing. Amnesty International has documented a pattern of grave human rights abuses against Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities defending their land rights in areas of interest for resource extraction or agricultural potential. There are ongoing threats and attacks against trade union leaders in the context of contract negotiations or opposition to multinational companies. Amnesty International also continues to document violations against community leaders and small-scale miners in areas of mineral wealth.

In such dire and worrying circumstances, Amnesty International has called on the government to go no further with the possibility of a free trade agreement with Colombia, unless and until an independent, impartial, and exhaustive human rights impact assessment is carried out. We made the same recommendation to the Standing Committee on International Trade with the caveat that any negative impacts identified by such an assessment would then need to be addressed before advancing with the trade agreement.

The report of the Standing Committee endorses this recommendation.Yet the Harper government is not bound to comply and may well choose to forge ahead regardless, given its record to date.


The government has indicated that once the text of its trade deal with Colombia has gone through a legal review, it will be tabled for debate in the House of Commons for a period of 21 sitting days. The government must also introduce and pass legislation to implement the agreement. In this context, it is very important over the summer to make sure your MP knows how you feel about the situation in Colombia and the need for a human-rights based approach to trade and investment that proceeds only with careful attention to accountability and safeguards.

Please send a short, polite, personally-worded message to your MP. In your first sentence, introduce yourself. Then write several sentences to:

  • Express your concern about the ongoing human rights crisis in Colombia (you may wish to refer to some of the facts mentioned in the background section below) and the need for concerted pressure on the Colombian government to show progress in bringing to justice those responsible for human rights abuses.

  • Call for an independent, impartial human rights impact study that considers the effect the proposed trade agreement will have, particularly on vulnerable sectors of the population like women, campesinos, trade unionists, Indigenous peoples and Afro-descendent communities, and a commitment to adequately resolve any negative impacts before considering implementation of the trade agreement.

  • Urge that any trade agreement with Colombia must be accompanied by legislated enforceable provisions on corporate social responsibility and reporting mechanisms to monitor the implementation of universal human rights standards by Canadian corporations or other entities (such as the Canada Pension Plan or Export Development Canada) investing in Colombia.

  • Underscore the need for explicit reference to the full spectrum of international human rights norms in the main body of any trade agreement (i.e. not a separate side agreement), together with an effective compliance and enforcement mechanism for human rights.


Click here to find the contact information for your MP's constituency office, where he or she can be found during the summer break. Make sure to include your address so it is clear you live in the riding.


Hon. David Emerson
Minister of Foreign Affairs
House of Commons
Ottawa ON K1A 0A6
Fax: 613-943-0219

Also send a copy to Amnesty Canada’s Colombia campaigner Kathy Price


Under international law, economic actors are accountable for the human rights impacts of their activities and responsible to ensure they make a contribution to safeguarding and promoting human rights.

On December 4, Canada’s Trade Minister David Emerson appeared before members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on International Trade (CIIT), some of whom questioned the ethics of entering into a comprehensive trade agreement with Colombia, given its human rights record. This is some of what Mr Emerson had to say:

“With the election of President Uribe, we believe there is a very strong commitment on the part of the Colombian government to improve the situation in Colombia … There are few things we can do for a country like Colombia that are more powerful than a free trade agreement or an agreement that will allow Canadian investors to go into Colombia and make socially responsible but wealth creating investments … We all recognize that there have been some terrible violations of the rights of people and union leaders in Colombia over the years, but I think you would have to admit that the level of incidents has been declining. It is our view that the President is making very strong efforts to control the paramilitary groups that could be involved here.”

Here is some of what Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada said to the Standing Committee on International Trade on April 30:

"Earlier this month, on April 10, an e-mail death threat signed by the Aguilas Negras paramilitary group was received at the offices of the agro-mining federation in Bolívar Department. The same threat was also sent to the offices of other non-governmental organizations and to three Catholic priests, all working in this area rich in minerals. The death threat stated, “You will be killed one by one. Start getting your loved ones ready so they can bury you.”

On March 22, a member of the National Union of Coal Industry Workers, Adolfo González Montes, was tortured and killed. At the same time, other leaders of the union received telephone death threats and reported that their homes were under surveillance by unknown individuals. The killing and threats coincided with preparations by the union to initiate negotiations on working conditions with BHP Billiton, AngloAmerican, and Xstrata, the companies that own the Cerrejón coal mining operation in La Guajira department.

These specific incidents arise in a wider human rights context, which is directly relevant to this proposed agreement. Grave human rights abuses are committed against indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities defending their land rights in areas of interest for resource extraction or agricultural potential. There are ongoing threats and attacks against trade union leaders. Violations against community leaders and small-scale miners in areas of mineral wealth are of great concern. Since 1985, more than three million Colombians have been forced to flee their homes. More than 60% of those displaced have been evicted from lands situated in areas of mineral, agricultural, or other economic interest. These high levels of displacement continue, with 305,000 new cases last year alone, particularly affecting Afro-descendant and indigenous communities.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, and the National Liberation Army, the ELN, continue to commit human rights abuses and to violate international humanitarian law, including the deliberate killing of civilians and hostage-taking. There has been a disturbing increase in extrajudicial executions carried out by state security forces. The victims include trade unionists, campesino leaders, members of indigenous communities, and other social activists. Most of these killings have been referred to the military justice system, despite a 1997 constitutional court ruling stating that human rights cases implicating the security forces should be handled by the ordinary justice system. Notably, human rights defenders who have been raising objections about the situation have been publicly accused by President Uribe of working with guerrilla organizations.

Finally, there is mounting evidence of very disturbing links between members of President Uribe's political circle and illegal paramilitary organizations. Paramilitary commanders claim they control 35% of the Colombian congress. More than 60 congressmen from President Uribe's coalition are now under investigation by the Supreme Court. Last week, the president's second cousin and close political ally, former Senator Mario Uribe, was arrested. He stands accused of participating in meetings with paramilitary groups in which land grabs were orchestrated. President Uribe, in response to all this, has proposed mechanisms to set free or reduce the prison terms of politicians who may be convicted of colluding with paramilitaries and has also made public attacks against the Supreme Court and individual judges who are conducting these investigations, thus threatening judicial independence.

Before this committee and elsewhere, the Colombian government insists that Colombia's human rights situation has substantially improved. Amnesty International is extremely concerned that such statements repeatedly only point to the limited improvements there have been in a few areas, such as overall conflict-related killings and kidnappings, and that the wider, very worrying human rights situation is disregarded.

Take, for example, the issue of violence against trade unionists, an enormous issue of concern in the context of free trade negotiations. The Colombian government talks about a reduction of violence. The number of killings was lower in 2007 than in 2006, but the number of failed assassination attempts of trade unionists doubled and there was no reduction in the number of death threats. Indeed, there was an increase by some 22% in the number of forced displacements of trade unionists. Meanwhile, more currently, in the first three months of this year there was an 89% increase in the number of killings, in comparison with the first three months of 2007.

The point here is that there has been no substantive or sustained improvement in the human rights situation faced by trade unionists, nor will there be until decisive action is taken to end impunity, which remains at more than 90%.

The Colombian government also insists that paramilitaries no longer operate in the country. This view has been contradicted by reports from the United Nations, the U.S. State Department, and the Organization of American States. There is indisputable evidence that many traditional paramilitary groups continue to operate in many regions and that the number of killings committed by them remains high. There is also clear evidence of continued collusion between these groups and the security forces.

The bottom line, sadly, is that Colombia's human rights situation has not substantially improved--in many aspects it has worsened--and that by any measure it remains an absolute crisis."

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Business & human rights: Weekly Update -- July 2, 2008

From the Business & Human Rights Weekly UpdateWeekly Update: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre - 2 Jul 2008

CLICK THIS LINK FOR ALL TOP STORIES added past 7 days / Principales noticias / Articles de premier plan:

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* National Labor Committee report accuses Toyota of labour abuses in own operations & supply chain
- Toyota responds

* Amnesty & others pressure ONGC over role in Sudan - urge investors to engage
- ONGC responds

* Tesco says it will stop trade with Zimbabwe, "cannot ignore the growing consensus that further action must be taken to maximise the pressure for change"

* Cocoa industry "fails to deliver" on child labour commitments targeted for 1 July 2008, says Intl. Labor Rights Forum

* Presentation to UN human rights treaty bodies on UN Special Representative John Ruggie's 2008 report - background note

* "Creating Value for All: Strategies for Doing Business with the Poor" - UNDP report with case studies on 50 companies

* India: Gap works with govt. to address child labour and exploitation of women workers

* So. Africa: Court rules in favour of AngloGold Ashanti in silicosis test case - plaintiffs may appeal
- Also included: Text of decision

* UN Global Compact delists 630 companies for failure to communicate progress, in effort to enhance accountability

* Asia Pacific Forum of natl. human rights institutions will consider private sector impacts at annual meeting - Kuala Lumpur, 28-31 July

* UN conference delegates reject ban on booming toxic waste exports

* China: IBM fined under new labour law for firing an employee with depression

* China: Labour contract law grants workers additional rights, but improvements in migrant workers' actual working conditions may be limited
- "New Labour Contract Law: Myth and reality six months after implementation"

* Ireland: Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility calls on Shell to accept proposal to end dispute over alleged health & safety risks of Corrib gas pipeline
- Shell responds, saying it cannot accept proposal

* New book will highlight 4 cases in which European firms including Botnia, Syngenta involved in alleged abuses in Latin America

* US Social Investment Forum welcomes UN decision to extend John Ruggie's mandate

* Español: México: Denuncian que compañía de agua Agbar "viola el derecho humano al agua" en Coahuila
- Respuesta de Grupo Agbar

* Español: Argentina: Película sobre la toma de una fábrica por parte de los trabajadores "para frenar las muertes y los accidentes"

* Español: Perú: Club Universitario de Deportes le saca "tarjeta roja" al trabajo infantil

* Español: Guatemala: Detienen a 15 personas luego de protestas contra empresa cementera por supuesta contaminación de agua

* Français : Barclays mise en cause pour son soutien financier au gouvernement du Zimbabwe
- avec la réponse de Barclays

* Français : Giesecke & Devrient annonce l'arrêt de ses ventes au Zimbabwe de papier pour l'impression de billets bancaires - Berlin avait demandé cette suspension à cause des conditions de droits de l'homme

* Français : « Les entreprises face aux défis de la pauvreté : Des stratégies gagnantes » - rapport du PNUD avec cas d'études sur 50 entreprises

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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Presentation in Guatemala - Metal Mining in Central America: Pain and Resistance

For those wondering what James Rodriguez is up to, I received an e-mail from him which directed me to this blog post of his.
After almost a year of arduous work, Oxfam America will be presenting in Guatemala the photo-publication titled Metal Mining in Central America: Pain and Resistance. Such booklet features my (James Rodriguez) photography and the format is based on the same formula used to produce the photo-essays published in

The negative impact produced by metal mining at industrial levels in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua, as well as the many types of local resistance which have sprouted in the region, are documented visually and supported by investigative text throughout the publications’ 72 full-color pages. Examples which expose the negative impact of metal mining focus on the fundamental issues regarding the use and contamination of water sources, deforestation, health, continuous poverty and lack of sustainable development in mining communities, as well as the social conflicts which almost always arise.

If you happen to be in Guatemala or have local contacts which might be interested, please be aware of the official presentation which will take place at the Royal Palace Hotel in Guatemala City (6a Avenida 12-66, Zona 1) on Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008, at 9 AM.

Panelists will include Monsignor Alvaro Ramazzini, Bishop of San Marcos, as well as Rodolfo Pocop from the Indigenous Peasant National Coordination (CONIC). Bishop Ramazzini, a leading anti-mining activist in Guatemala, will speak about Mining Law Reform while Mr. Pocop will share his views on the relationship between the Mining Industry and Mayan Cosmovision.

Please confirm participation by sending a message to:

The blog post continues with info on the content of the presentation.