A new complaint to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights makes the case for Canada’s legal accountability for human rights abuses tied to its mining companies overseas.
OTTAWA – Finding no avenues for justice in Canada, the family of murdered Mexican environment defender Mariano Abarca have filed a groundbreaking complaint against Canada at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
The complaint alleges that Canada failed to uphold its international human rights obligations when it pressured Mexican authorities to advance a Canadian mining project despite having knowledge about related threats to Mariano’s life. Canada has since failed to investigate any wrongdoing by Canadian Embassy officials who, through their unwavering support and persistent lobbying on behalf of the Canadian mining company, may have put Mariano’s life at greater risk. The complaint marks the first time that a Canadian embassy has been singled out at the IACHR for its actions in another country.
A community leader, Mariano Abarca was outspoken in the movement to protect community rights in relation to the “Payback” mining project – a barite mine owned by Blackfire Exploration Ltd (“Blackfire”) that operated in his hometown of Chicomuselo, Chiapas between 2007 and 2009. After receiving complaints from Blackfire about community opposition around the mine, a high level delegation from the Canadian Embassy went to the Governor’s office in Chiapas to “advocate” for Blackfire in October 2009. Seven weeks later, on November 27, 2009, Mariano was murdered in broad daylight in front of his family restaurant. Nearly 14 years later, no credible investigation into his murder has been conducted.
The IACHR complaint, filed last Friday by the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project (JCAP), relies on over 1000 pages of internal reports and emails from the Canadian Embassy in Mexico that show the Embassy played a crucial role getting the mine into operation but failed to do any human rights due diligence before becoming involved.
“Embassy staff worked behind the scenes to advance Blackfire’s mining interests, all the while knowing that Mariano was a threatened human rights defender and that their actions or inaction could elevate the real risk to his life,” says Leah Gardner, a lawyer with the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project (JCAP). “This combination of influence and foreseeability of serious harm created a legal obligation for Canada to do what was reasonably within its power to avoid increasing the risk to his life and help protect him.”
In 2018, Mariano Abarca’s family and supporters filed a complaint with the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner (PSIC) in an effort to launch an investigation into whether the actions and omissions of the Canadian Embassy put Mariano at greater risk. The Commissioner refused to investigate embassy conduct in this case, and Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal upheld the decision. In January 2023, the Supreme Court of Canada denied leave to appeal the decision, effectively closing the door to any investigation by Canada. The complaint filed on Friday at the IACHR is trying to change that.
José Luis Abarca – Mariano’s son – joins Esperanza Salazar from the Mexican Network of People Affected by Mining (REMA) in Ottawa this week to launch the complaint against Canada on a visit backed by 15 Canadian civil society organizations and coalitions. “Canada has refused to investigate whether Canadian officials bear any responsibility for my father’s murder,” says José Luis Abarca. “This case is important, not only for my family, but for all the other human rights and environmental defenders around the world who have the misfortune of catching the eye of Canadian mining interests.”
Canadian mining investments in Mexico are on the rise. “As more Canadian mining money comes to Mexico, risk of violence against human rights and environment defenders opposing these projects increases substantially,” says Esperanza Salazar. “Canadian officials need to have this front and centre.”
Canada recently announced its candidacy for the UN Human Rights Council’s 2028-2030 term and topping Canada’s list of priorities is “seeking justice and accountability for those on the frontlines of defending human rights.” For Viviana Herrera, the Latin America Program Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada, Canada has a long way to go to get serious about accountability. “Canadian embassies continue to play a major role advancing Canadian mining investment across the world,” she says. “Yet they wash their hands of any responsibility to protect the people who are put in harm’s way because of that Canadian investment. We are looking to the IACHR to finally take this case seriously – because Canada hasn’t.”
- Summary of the petition (available in English, Spanish, and French)
- Full petition (available in English)
- For more information: Justice4Mariano.net
- Viviana Herrera, Latin American Program Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada, [email protected], tel. 438-993-1264
- Leah Gardner, Lawyer, Justice and Corporate Accountability Project (JCAP), [email protected]
To coordinate interviews with José Luis Abarca, Esperanza Salazar, or other Mexican civil society organizations, contact Viviana Herrera (English, Spanish, or French).