On June 14, while the House of Commons was wading its way through its marathon voting session, I attended a meeting held in the Parliamentary Restaurant organized by NDP MP Paul Dewar and the Nobel Women’s Initiative to launch the NWI and Just Associates new report “From Survivors to Defenders: Women Confronting Violence in Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala.”
The report is the result of a 10-day fact-finding mission to Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala “to gather evidence of the impact of escalating violence in the region on women and women’s rights, assess the role and response of governments, and acknowledge and evaluate ways of supporting women who are organizing to protect themselves and their communities.”
While many in the room were prepared to hear about situations of conflict and violence against women from the panellists, many of us were taken off-guard by the direct and forthright way that Maria Cuc Choc, a Mayan Q’eqchi’ community leader, made the connection between Canadian mining companies and their war against unarmed indigenous groups in Guatemala.
Cuc Choc spoke without notes, from the heart. She described the terror, violence, and destruction that Canadian mining companies were directing against her people: the burning of villages, murder of those who spoke out against the mining company, and rape of women in areas that the mining company wanted cleared of people. Even though she was speaking through an interpreter, there was not a dry eye in the room.
A man had his hands cut off and was then shot through the head because he spoke out against a Canadian mining company.
“Is this just?” she asked.
A pregnant woman was raped because she refused to leave her land that the government sold to the Canadian mining company.
“Is this just?”
I have been turning her question over in my mind. How can good, polite Canadians — who wait patiently in lines, open doors for people, and teach their children right from wrong — allow our companies to behave outside of Canada with impunity like the worst of military dictators? Do we really have any right to look down upon the Robert Mugabes of the world and demand that they be brought to justice? Or snicker at the irrational inability of the United States to balance issues of corporate greed and human rights of its citizens? Are we really any better?
The answer, of course, is no. We are no better. We are following the well-laid path of previous colonizers and plunderers. But we can and ought to do better.
During the Q & A there was the usual question asking, “what actions can we take to help?” The report lists six:
1. Prioritize human rights and women’s human rights in foreign policy-making, international co-operation, and citizen diplomacy.
2. Publicly denounce violence against women and against women activists/human rights defenders.
3. Urge your legislators to design and adopt foreign-aid programs that place human rights at the centre of security and development.
4. Respond to international action alerts on cases of women human rights defenders.
5. Support women and women’s organizations at all levels in these countries to help bring an end to violence in the region.
6. Urge governments and corporations in your country to comply with indigenous peoples’ rights to consultation.
I would add that we need to learn more about the activities of Canadian mining companies abroad. We also need to bravely confront the beliefs that we hold and the actions that we undertake that allow our government to ignore the need to respect human rights beyond Canadian borders. Only in identifying these weaknesses will be able to overcome them.
For more information:
Environmental Defenders in Danger
Searching for gold at the end of the Guatemalan rainbow
Violations committed by Hudbay Minerals in Guatemala and the struggle against impunity in Canada
Lawsuit defending the voices of indigenous Mayans in Guatemala