Harper government gives human rights the cold shoulder | National Union of Public and General Employees

Harper government gives human rights the cold shoulder

Disgraceful response to UN Human Rights Review contains no new commitments.

Ottawa (24 Sept. 2013) - The Harper government presented a shallow and disgraceful report last week to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council, outlining its response to the Council's review of Canada’s human rights record.  The UN review, which was carried out in April of this year, was conducted by other countries, including many of Canada’s closest allies.  It highlighted a wide range of concerns and made recommendations to Canada regarding steps to improve human rights protection in the country.

Harper refuses to deal with human rights problems

In its response to the UN, the Harper government declined to consider any new measures or action to deal with obvious and acknowledged human rights problems.  It basically rejected all recommendations that Canada adopt nationwide plans or strategies to tackle serious and complicated human rights challenges such as violence against Indigenous women, poverty, racism, homelessness, food security and implementing the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“Governments from around the world raised critical, concrete recommendations touching on numerous human rights shortcomings that are well known to Canadians,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada’s English Branch.  “This included alarming levels of violence against Indigenous women and girls, nationwide poverty and homelessness, and Canada’s lagging record of ratifying international human rights treaties.  Other areas included the rights of Indigenous peoples, refugee protection, corporate accountability, national security and women’s equality.”

“Particularly stunning is the government’s refusal to develop a comprehensive national action plan dealing with violence against Indigenous women and girls,” said Neve. “Seven countries made that specific recommendation; with 18 others calling for meaningful action to address this grave human rights crisis.  Canada’s unfathomable defiance to do so sends a strong message of callous disinterest.”

Many countries called on the government to ratify a growing number of important international human rights treaties that have been ignored by Canada for years dealing with such pressing concerns as enforced disappearances; economic, social and cultural rights; the rights of migrant workers; the rights of persons living with disabilities; and the rights of children.

Harper refuses to ratify treaty preventing torture

Especially troubling was the Harper government's position taken with respect to a treaty focused on preventing torture, the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.  The Protocol was adopted by the UN almost eleven years ago and Canada made international commitments in 2006 and 2009 to consider ratifying this treaty.

“This time around Canada has told the world that there is no ‘current plan’ to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture,” noted Neve. “That is a climb down from previous pledges to ‘consider’ ratification and leaves Canada thumbing its nose at a concrete UN treaty that seeks to prevent torture around the world through a system of prison inspections.”

The Universal Periodic Review process was instituted as part of a UN human rights reform process that was concluded in 2005.  At the time the Canadian government was a strong champion of the initiative, which would ensure, for the first time, that the human rights record of every UN member state would be reviewed by other governments on an ongoing basis (once every four years).  The review is carried out through the UN Human Rights Council.  This is the second time Canada’s record has been reviewed.  Canada’s record was reviewed for the first time in 2009.

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Amnesty International Canada

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