A report released last Monday by Amnesty International Canada (Canada and Human Rights in 2010: Time to Return to Leadership, February 2010) calls on the Canadian government to adopt a new vision on human rights promotion and protection and to once again make Canada a leader in advancing the international human rights agenda. With the world’s attention centred on Canada as the host of the just-completed Winter Olympics and the G8 and G20 Summits coming in June, this year offers the government an extraordinary opportunity to reclaim Canada’s historic role as a champion of human rights.
The Amnesty International Canada report embraces the Harper government’s pledge to tackle appallingly high maternal mortality rates around the world, but it asserts that the issue must be looked at through a human rights paradigm that understands maternal mortality as part of a larger problem of gender inequality, discrimination, and violence against women and girls.
The report identifies the G8 Summit in Huntsville and the G20 Summit in Toronto as crucial to developing international standards for business and human rights at a time when the world faces the twin challenges of recovering from the economic downturn and elevating a billion people out of extreme poverty. Amnesty International Canada, in coalition with a number of other organizations, is calling on the Canadian government to keep international human rights standards in mind during the Summit talks.
In addition to taking the lead in promoting human rights, Canada needs to address the problems that have cast doubt upon its commitment to protecting the human rights of its own citizens. The report calls on the government to reverse its failure to support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, end the discriminatory levels of funding for First Nations child protection agencies, and develop a comprehensive action plan to address violence against Indigenous women.
Internationally, the report calls on Canada to return to its “honest broker” role with respect to Israeli and Palestinian human rights issues, to arrange a public inquiry into the Afghan detainee scandal, and to repatriate Omar Khadr from Guantanamo Bay. It also recommends that the government make independent human rights assessments obligatory in its negotiation of free trade agreements, improve the protection it offers to refugees, and ratify the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.