(Geneva) 2018 has been another dangerous year for human rights defenders seeking justice in cases involving large extraction companies, including Canadian companies. At the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights this week, mining affected communities from Guatemala and Papua New Guinea are asking, “Where is Canada’s Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise?” The Canadian government committed to create this mechanism more than ten months ago and has yet to appoint anyone to the post.
“Once established, the Ombudsperson’s office will be the first of its kind in the world,” said Gabriela Quijano, Legal Advisor at Amnesty International. “An effective Ombudsperson is needed to ensure corporate accountability for Canadian companies overseas and remedy for people harmed.”
The Canadian Ombudsperson will be empowered to independently investigate alleged human rights abuses arising from a Canadian company’s operations abroad, and to recommend sanctions, including the withdrawal of government services, such as trade advocacy and Export Development Canada support. But thirty-five Canadian civil society organizations, as well as overseas communities affected by Canadian mining companies, are denouncing the lack of action and progress.
“Companies must live up to their responsibilities to respect human rights and must be held accountable when they harm people,” said Angelica Choc, a Maya-Q’eqchi’ human rights defender from Guatemala who launched a civil suit in Canada against HudBay Minerals for the 2009 killing of her husband, Adolfo Ich Chamán.
“There are so many men and women in our place who have suffered from violent acts by the mine’s security and we have nowhere to turn for justice,” said Joycelyn Mandi, one of many women directly hurt by security forces of Barrick Gold’s mine in their community of Porgera, Papua New Guinea. “Our legal system is weak and it is very hard to go to court overseas. We have written to the Canadian government to create a strong Ombudsperson, but we are losing even that hope.”
“When the Canadian government announced the creation of an Ombudsperson in January 2018, it affirmed that the office would have sufficient resources and all the tools required to conduct independent investigations, including to compel witnesses and documents. This is absolutely critical if the Ombudsperson is to be effective,” said Catherine Coumans, MiningWatch Canada. “It is essential that Canada take responsibility and demonstrate global leadership now.”
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