Family and supporters of a Mexican activist who was killed after he opposed a Canadian company’s mining project have taken their case to an international human rights organization.
The Justice and Corporate Accountability Project, a Canadian initiative of volunteer lawyers, has filed a complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of Mariano Abarca’s family.
The complaint alleges that Canada has failed to fulfill its international human rights obligations by pressuring Mexican authorities to move the mining project forward, despite knowledge of related threats to Abarca’s life.
The activist’s supporters have exhausted all legal avenues in Canadian courts.
The case dates back to 2007, when Calgary-based Blackfire Exploration Ltd. a barite mine opened in Chiapas, Mexico, sparking local resistance, demonstrations and a blockade of a route to the project.
After being beaten and threatened with death for leading protests over the environmental and social consequences of the mine, Abarca was shot and killed in front of his home on November 27, 2009.
Quest for justice in Canada
Several years later, members of Abarca’s family and organizations dealing with mining abuse asked Joe Friday, Canada’s Commissioner for Public Sector Integrity, to investigate whether there had been misconduct by members of Canada’s embassy in Mexico.
They said federal policy required Canadian embassies to promote corporate social responsibility and assess potential human rights impacts, including violence.
The supporters also argued that the embassy never investigated the source of the tensions between the community and Blackfire and did not conduct a violence-related risk assessment.
In addition, the family members and groups noted that while embassy officials met with Mexican officials to advocate on Blackfire’s behalf, there was no indication that the embassy expressed concern to the Mexican government about Abarca’s security or the importance of respecting democratic values such as freedom of expression.
Friday, however, decided not to conduct a probe.
In April 2018, he found that there was no code of conduct violation and no misconduct by the embassy in its interactions with Blackfire, given its mandate to assist Canadian companies abroad. Friday also concluded that the embassy had not ignored human rights concerns, noting that after Abarca was arrested by police in 2009, the embassy sought information about his detention.
The Federal Court concluded that it was reasonable for the commissioner to decide not to launch an investigation, a ruling upheld by the Federal Court of Appeals. In January this year, Canada’s Supreme Court said it would not hear the case.
As a member of the Organization of American States, Canada is bound to respect standards set by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Abarca supporters say.
The complaint about Abarca’s case asks the commission to conclude that Canada must pay reparations for violating its right to life, freedom of expression, association and due process under the law.
Jose Luis Abarca Montejo, the son of Mariano Abarca, said in a statement issued by MiningWatch Canada, a non-governmental organization, that Ottawa has declined to investigate whether Canadian officials “have any responsibility for my father’s murder.”
“This case is important not only to my family, but to all other human rights and environmental activists around the world who are unfortunate enough to catch the eye of Canadian mining interests.”