Canada must lead by example on human rights
Hello there! We your Accessibility team at www.sterlingcreations.ca would like to shine the spotlight on Canada! A nation that needs to start addressing its Human Rights situation. Arguably so, Canada is by far not as bad as other countries when it comes to its Human Rights record but there is certainly room for improvement.
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Canada must lead by example on human rights
Lloyd Axworthy and Alex Neve
Ottawa Citizen , Feb. 5, 2009
As part of a new United Nations review process, Canada’s human rights record
has just been examined. Much is at stake in how we respond. It is a time for
strong Canadian leadership.
For decades, UN human rights reviews have been politicized and inconsistent.
Powerful countries have brushed off criticism. Countries with few friends
have been easy targets. Israel has received far more attention than any
other country. Many countries with serious problems have never made the
list. Discussions have often focused more on avoiding scrutiny than facing
up to problems.
This new “universal periodic review” process is an effort to break through
these shortcomings and actually put human rights at the
heart of the UN human
The key is that the new process is “universal.” For the first time, the
human rights record of every country in the world will be reviewed, once
every four years. That applies whether a country is big or small;
well-respected or a pariah.
The review is carried out by other governments which means politics are
still front and centre. That will be a problem as many countries will have a
“you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” mindset.
It is also a great advantage, however, in that the recommendations might be
taken more seriously by governments because they come from their peers.
Canada championed the adoption of this new process when it was debated
within the UN in 2005 and 2006. That is all the more reason for Canada to
model the best possible approach.
Sixteen countries will come under the human rights microscope this week and
next. This week that includes our own human rights record. Next week China
is slated for review. Both pose challenges for Canada. Both offer great
The review of China’s human rights record is much anticipated. This is the
first time that governments have scrutinized China’s record at the UN.
Previously China was always able to marshal enough countries to its side to
fend off any criticism. This time it can be different. Countries must
demonstrate that despite China’s economic clout, they are prepared to raise
difficult issues. The spirit of exchange should be constructive, but must
face up to China’s
human rights reality.
We will be looking to Canada to lead the way. Also on the list are other
powerful countries that generally escape international critique, such as
Russia and Saudi Arabia. Some are close allies of Canada, including Mexico
and Germany. Others are countries with well-documented human rights
problems, such as Tajikistan and Cuba. Canada must take each review
Canada is well-placed to be a leader because of the fact that our own record
is being examined.
That is a first for us as well. Canada’s human rights record has never
before been assessed by a group of governments.
One of the most meaningful contributions we can make, therefore, is to go
through our own review ready to hear the criticisms and to implement the
recommendations that emerge.
But for a country that is the envy of the world when it comes to human
rights, Canada’s rate of complying with UN human rights recommendations is
shamefully low. Over the past 30 years, UN human rights experts have made
recommendations to Canada dealing with many pressing concerns: aboriginal
peoples; poverty and homelessness; women and children; refugees, migrants
and racial minorities; people living with disabilities; counter-terrorism
practices and more.
But those recommendations have come back to Canada and become lost in a maze
of government departments and in the complexities of federalism. Very few
have been implemented and there has been no meaningful public reporting as
It is time for a new approach to how Canada lives up to its international
human rights obligations. With overlapping jurisdiction among federal,
provincial and territorial governments, that new approach needs to be
innovative and it needs political champions. There has not been a meeting of
federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for human rights
in this country since 1988. Such a meeting is long overdue.
The first item for ministers at a human rights meeting should be the
recommendations that come out of the review in Geneva. They should adopt an
implementation plan that is well-co-ordinated, publicly transparent, and
backed up with clear political accountability.
Canada’s global voice as a human rights champion must ring true this week
and next. Looking to others, we must be ready to pose hard questions.
Looking to ourselves, we must be ready to accept criticism and heed advice.
Lloyd Axworthy is former Canadian minister of foreign affairs and Alex Neve
is secretary general of Amnesty International Canada.
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