Amnesty urges Canada's Harper to talk rights in Colombia

Amnesty International on Wednesday urged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to raise human rights concerns with his Colombian counterpart when he travels to the South American nation for trade talks.

The head of the rights watchdog's Canadian branch, Alex Neve, said it is "absolutely crucial" that Harper discuss rights with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on the sidelines of a Pacific Alliance leader's summit "in a forceful and clear way and not as afterthoughts."

Harper arrives on Thursday in Cali, Colombia for the summit.

Neve pointed to Ottawa's pledge as part of the 2011 Canada-Colombia free trade pact to monitor human rights in Colombia, "and to ensure that mining development and trade deals do not lead to human rights violations."

Ottawa agreed to report its findings annually, but Neve said last year's report "was empty" and this year's report, which was expected on May 15, was not released because parliament was not sitting.

"It's troubling and deeply disappointing to us that it hasn't come out yet," Neve said, lamenting the absence of "any kind of meaningful accountability or reporting about human rights and its connection to the Canada-Colombia (trade) deal."

Withholding the report, he said, means Harper could focus solely on trade when he attends the talks.

The Pacific Alliance members are Chile, Colombia, Peru and Mexico.

Bilateral trade between Canada and the four countries totaled Can$39 billion (US$38 billion) last year. Canada became an observer to the alliance in October and Harper is seeking to use the summit to bolster Canadian cooperation with the group.