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|Written by Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan|
|Wednesday, 16 May 2012 20:53|
Respected Canadians are deploring Canada's ditching its traditional championship of human rights, rule of law and support for the United Nations and sliding back into the dark ages. This is especially disturbing, they state, because of the "depth and gravity of the human rights challenges we face today."
The latest warning came from Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada. On Apr. 29, speaking at the annual dinner of the Ottawa Muslim Women's Organization, which donated the dinner proceeds to Elisabeth Bruyere Hospital, Mr. Neve offered examples of Canada abandoning its principles with the result that "many UN observers, human rights experts and other countries now openly muse about Canada as a country of obstruction, not leadership."
Another critic is Earl Turcotte, who led Canada's negotiating team at the negotiations for an international treaty to ban lethal cluster bombs. Referring to new Canadian legislation intended to bolster Canada's part in the treaty, he warned: "It falls way below even the minimum threshold of legality under international humanitarian law and is an insult to colleagues in other countries who, seemingly unlike Canada, have negotiated in good faith."
Canada signed the treaty in 2008 but has not ratified it.
He continued: "Most tragically, it will make Canada complicit in the use of a weapon that for good reason we have supposedly banned. Having led the delegation I can say that without doubt this is the worst of any of the 111 countries that have so far ratified the treaty."
Mines Action Canada executive director Paul Hannon said Canada's proposed legislation "seems very illogical and legally and morally strange. It is certainly contrary to the spirit and letter of the treaty."
Mr. Neve expressed the "greatest concern" on Canada's stand on the rights of Indigenous peoples, "one of the most serious and widespread human rights concerns worldwide, certainly so domestically within Canada. And for decades, one of the most notable gaps in the UN human rights system."
Mr. Neve noted that for 20 years states and Indigenous people organizations negotiated to produce a Declaration to outline Indigenous peoples' rights and a framework for their protection. Canada sometimes led the effort. But when the declaration came before the Human Rights Council in June 2006 Canada inexplicably opposed it vehemently. Only one other country did so. A year later only Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States opposed it before the General Assembly. Then the three reversed their position. Canada followed suit last November, announcing the move quietly.
Another example is Canada's stand on Omar Khadr, who at age 15 was captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and detained at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre. Mr. Neve stated that the U.S.'s "direct responsibility for the serious human rights concerns in Omar Khadr's case has been, to say the least, appalling. But so is the total indifference to his fate demonstrated by the Canadian government. All the more callous when you realize that Mr. Khadr is the only western national held at Guantanamo who has been utterly and completely abandoned by his government."
Expressing the key concerns -- child soldier, torture, unfair trial -- Mr. Neve emphasized: "Rather than take any meaningful action to uphold Omar Khadr's rights, the government has spent buckets of money looking for ways to avoid or delay complying with an astounding number of Canadian court decisions that have found the refusal to assist him to be unconscionable and unconstitutional.”
There have been eight such rulings, at three levels of court -- all of which went against the government.
“Not only has the Canadian government shown contempt for the Canadian courts when it comes to Omar Khadr's case -- they have also shown complete disregard for the entreaties and recommendations of UN human rights experts," Mr. Neve added.
Canada's failure to embrace and champion a vision of strengthened protection of economic, social and cultural rights is in Mr. Neve’s words: "an issue that is nothing new, but a continuing disappointment -- and one that has intensified in recent years. Canada has not come out of the Cold War when it comes to recognizing that rights to healthcare, or to education, or to housing are as fundamental and as deserving of strong protection as rights to free expression, fair trial or to be protected from torture."
On the Middle East, Mr. Neve said Canada’s "reputation for being even-handed and unbiased" is a thing of the past. In recent years, Canada has consistently voted against UN resolutions that are in any way critical of Israel's human rights record and has often been the only country voting no, isolated from traditional EU allies and others.
“In the process, the reputation for being nonpartisan, the ability to be the bridge-builder and the recognition of being a leader has fast disappeared," he said.
As to torture, Mr. Neve said: "We thought that was a campaign we'd won, but many of those gains have unraveled since Sept.11 and suggestions that torture might be justified in terms of security. We've had wrenching reminders -- Maher Arar, Omar Khadr, Afghan prisoner transfers, and more -- of how close it hits to home with the revelations as to ways that Canadian officials or at least Canadian actions have been complicit in torture in a growing number of corners around the world, including Syria, Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, Sudan and Egypt. We owe it to those who have suffered the consequences of that complicity to lead a forceful new global effort to combat and defeat torture worldwide."
In closing, Mr. Neve appealed to his fellow Canadians to "embrace our longstanding belief in multilateralism and return to our tradition of principled bridge-builder.”
“Let's be the insistent, compelling leader that the fragile UN human rights system so desperately and urgently needs," he urged.
Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan is a retired Canadian newspaperman, public servant and refugee judge.