By Carey L. Biron
The activists also reported to the IACHR that Ottawa does not make the Canadian legal system available to the victims of these abuses.
“Canada has committed to implementing a voluntary corporate social responsibility framework, but it does not provide any recourse to people who were harmed by Canadian mining operations,” said Jennifer Moore, coordinator of the Latin America program for the non-governmental organization ( NGO) MiningWatch Canada.
“We seek access to the courts, but also for the Canadian state to take preventive measures to avoid these problems in the first place. For example, an independent office that has the power to investigate allegations of abuse in other countries, ”he explained.
Moore and others who spoke to the IACHR formally presented a report that describes the concerns of nearly 30 NGOs and makes several recommendations, during the hearing on Tuesday 28, within its 153rd period of sessions, which takes place between 23 this month. and November 7.
These groups have been lobbying for years for Ottawa to ensure greater accountability for the mining sector, backed by similar recommendations from a parliamentary commission in 2005 and the United Nations, Moore added.
"There was nothing new in the last decade ... The Canadian government refuses to implement the recommendations," said the activist.
"The State's response to date has been to firmly reinforce this voluntary framework that does not work, and that is what we heard from it once again at this hearing," he said.
Canada, which has one of the largest mining sectors in the world, has some 1,500 extractive projects in Latin America, equivalent to more than 40 percent of the mining companies in the region. They receive "a high degree" of support from Ottawa, according to the report.
"At least 50 people died and 300 were injured in the framework of mining conflicts with Canadian companies in recent years, to which there was little or no accountability," said Shin Imai, a lawyer for the Canadian NGO Proyecto Justice and Corporate Responsibility.
Allegations against the mining sector include deaths, injuries, rapes and other abuses attributed to security personnel working for Canadian companies, as well as corporate policies that cause long-term environmental damage, illegal displacement of local populations and subversion. of the democratic process.
The responsibility of the State of residence
The IACHR, headquartered in Washington, is part of the Organization of American States (OAS), made up of 35 member countries and one of the oldest multilateral organizations in the world.
At this week's hearing, the IACHR addressed for the first time the controversial issue of the responsibility of the “State of residence,” that is, whether companies can be prosecuted in their country of origin for actions carried out abroad.
“This hearing was cutting edge. Although the IACHR has been one of the most important allies of the victims of human rights violations in Latin America, it is a bit prudent when faced with new legal issues or challenges, ”said Katya Salazar, director of the Foundation for the Due Process, a Washington-based legal defense organization.
The responsibility of the State of residence is increasingly controversial, thanks to the globalization of companies and supply chains. Firms based in rich countries, which have relatively strong legal regimes, increasingly operate in the developing South, often with weaker legal systems.
The extractive sector is a clear example of this situation, and in the last 20 years it has experienced one of the highest levels of conflict with local populations in any industry. Part of the problem lies in the vagueness around the question of the “extraterritorial” scope of national legislation.
"Too often, extractive companies behave as if they have a double standard, one for the country of origin and one for abroad," said Alex Blair of the humanitarian organization Oxfam America.
"They think they can take advantage of the weakness of local laws, supervision and institutions to operate as they want in developing countries," he said.
Blair notes that there is a growing tendency for local and indigenous communities to turn to the outside to demand accountability from companies. But that is extremely complex and costly, since the legal path in many countries of the industrialized North remains limited.
Beyond the legalistic
At the hearing before the IACHR, the government of Canada stated that it has "one of the strongest legal and regulatory frameworks in the world for its extractive industries."
Canada formulated in 2009 a voluntary corporate responsibility strategy for the country's international extractive sector. It also has two extrajudicial mechanisms that can hear complaints arising from projects abroad, although neither can investigate complaints, give rulings or impose punitive measures.
However, Ottawa's response to activists' concerns was to argue that local issues should be dealt with in a local court and that, in most cases, Canada is not legally bound to hold responsibility for the activities of its activists. companies abroad, stated Dana Cryderman, Canadian representative to the OAS.
"The host countries of Latin America offer national legal and regulatory avenues by which the claims to which the applicants refer can and should be addressed," he added before the IACHR.
The argument frustrated some of the Commissioners of the IACHR, including its current president, Rose-Marie Antoine.
“Despite Canada's assurances… we in the commission continue to see a number of very serious human rights violations that occur in the region as a result of certain countries, and Canada is one of the most important… so we are investigating the shortcomings of those policies ”, Antoine declared after the presentation of the Canadian delegation.
"On the one hand, Canada says, 'yes, we are responsible and we want to promote human rights.' But on the other hand, it is a strategy of washing hands ... We have to go beyond the legalistic if we really care about human rights, "he stressed.
Antoine added that the commission is working on a report on the consequences of natural resource extraction for indigenous communities. The document will include, for the first time, a chapter on the "very sensitive issue of extraterritoriality," he announced.
Edited by Kitty Stapp / Translated by Álvaro Queiruga