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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on February 26th, 2007
by Pincas Jawetz (pj@sustainabilitank.info)

UN Briefing: Canada Human Rights Scorecard
News and Analysis from UN Watch in Geneva February 26, 2007

Read UN Watch’s Human Rights Scorecard: Canada at the UN in 2006-2007
Click here for the full report

UN Watch today released a new report assessing Canada’s record on human rights and democracy issues at the UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly. Below is an op-ed about the report by Executive Director Hillel Neuer that appeared in The Globe and Mail.

“Canada scores well on human rights at the United Nations.”
By Hillel C. Neuer, Hillel Neuer is the executive director of UN Watch in Geneva.

Human rights at the United Nations is everywhere under assault. At the newly created Human Rights Council in Geneva, and at the General Assembly in New York, an increasingly brazen alliance of repressive regimes is not only spoiling needed reform, but undermining the few meaningful mechanisms of UN human rights protection that already exist. Impunity for systematic abuses is their goal. Amid all this, where does Canada stand?

According to a new report that will be presented to members of Parliament today by UN Watch, a Geneva-based non-governmental organization, Canadians can be proud that their nation ranks at the very top — in both the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly — for its record of consistent support for positive initiatives, and solid opposition to malicious measures. The study, Human Rights Scorecard: Canada at the UN in 2006-2007, also shows, however, that Canada falls short in its failure to speak out often or strongly enough for victims of most of the world’s worst regimes, or to initiate proceedings that would hold violators to account.

The study offers a meaningful evaluation of Canada’s actions by comparing them with those of other countries on a selection of votes considered the most significant by diplomats and activists. These include, most prominently, the “name and shame” resolutions, where a handful of the UN’s 192 countries are singled out for censure, along with other resolutions that encroached on bedrock democratic principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

At the 47-nation council, inaugurated in June to replace the discredited Commission on Human Rights, there have been only 10 country-specific resolutions: eight harsh condemnations of Israel, and two soft, non-condemnatory resolutions on Sudan.

Canada stood shoulder to shoulder with the major democracies in protesting the obsessive focus on censuring Israel that marked the first months of the council, in one-sided texts and special sessions that granted impunity to armed provocations by Hamas and Hezbollah. When the Islamic group introduced its fifth censure of the Jewish state —condemning Israel for holding the Golan Heights but ignoring Syria’s sponsorship of terrorist organizations — Canada was a lone voice in protesting the imbalance. (The General Assembly already had adopted two censures on the same matter, which Canada had supported).

On Darfur, Canada was at the lead of the minority democratic bloc of 11 countries that demanded strong actions for the victims of Darfur and was responsible for the belated convening of a special session in December. Regrettably, to win a majority, the resulting resolution had to be negotiated with Sudan and its powerful allies, and wound up applauding Sudan for its “co-operation.” It did create a council team to visit and assess the situation in Darfur, but Sudan has now reneged on admitting the monitors.

Other indicative votes at the council included that on the resolution introduced by Algeria, in the name of the African group, to impose a “code of conduct” on the 41 independent rights monitors, who examine thematic violations such as torture, or the situations of rights in specific countries such as Belarus. Canada strongly defended the experts, most of whom do excellent work. Joining Britain, France, Germany and other democracies, Canada also fought repeated attempts by the Islamic group to curb freedom of speech by prohibiting the media and others from “defamation of religions” — a thinly veiled reference to the controversy over the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

At the General Assembly, Canada’s support for human rights and democracy issues was on a par with the other major democracies. It led the resolution that held Iran to account for its policies of torture, arbitrary arrest and repression of women, minorities and independent activists. Canada also joined other democracies in citing major abuses in Belarus, Burma, and North Korea, and in supporting the attempt to censure Uzbekistan, whose religious affiliation won it enough votes for a “no action” motion that killed the resolution.

While Canada voted correctly on all of these, it failed to take the floor when the situations in Belarus and North Korea were debated. Atmospherics influence country attitudes — something the repressive regimes have internalized far better than the democracies.

What is perhaps most revealing is the report’s analysis of what Canada has done for victims of the most repressive regimes. Looking at the latest list of 19 compiled by Freedom House, Canada did nothing for 13 of them.

Canada took no action whatsoever at the Human Rights Council or the General Assembly against China’s violations of civil, political and religious rights — which harm over a sixth of the world’s population. Canada was equally silent regarding Fidel Castro’s police state, where journalists languish in jail for daring to speak the truth. It said nothing about Saudi Arabia’s refusal to allow women to vote or drive a car, or its state-sponsored schoolbooks that teach children to hate Christians and other non-Muslims. Nor did it protest Robert Mugabe’s repression in Zimbabwe.

The horizon ahead offers imperatives as well as opportunities.

First, Canada must commit itself to speaking out on far more situations of gross violations, and to do so more vigorously.

More importantly, if it chooses to seize the moment, Canada can marshal the considerable respect it enjoys from both the European Union and the U.S. — which should be encouraged to join the council — to spur a much broader democratic alliance that, with conviction, energy, and unity, can retake the initiative and ensure that the UN’s foremost human rights bodies live up to their promise.

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