Global Affairs releases “Voices at Risk” guidelines for Canadian diplomats to support human rights defenders

Published by Brent Patterson on

On June 17, Global Affairs Canada released the 2019 edition of Voices at Risk: Canada’s Guidelines on Supporting Human Rights Defenders.

Their media release notes, “Voices at Risk offers practical advice for Canadian diplomats working around the world, and in Canada, to support human rights defenders who seek help. …The overall goal of the guidelines is to enable the ongoing work of human rights defenders, with the support of Canadian diplomats around the world.”

Indigenous human rights defenders

The “Voices at Risk” guidelines document notes, “Thousands of Indigenous peoples are criminalized and discriminated against, and alarming numbers of them die while defending their land and rights.”

“Indigenous peoples are often targeted for opposing large projects, including with the intent to discourage their participation in consultation processes.”

“Mission support for Indigenous HRDs should be informed by the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), including equality, partnership, good faith and mutual respect.”

“When conflicts arise around the use of land and natural resources, especially when Canadian companies are involved, missions can advocate for meaningful engagement and partnership with Indigenous peoples on issues of concern.”

Land rights and environmental human rights defenders

The guidelines also note, “A land rights defender takes peaceful action to protect the land of a group of people …Land rights are often tied to the rights of Indigenous peoples, and in these contexts, individuals may face additional challenges, including marginalization.”

“Canadian companies operating abroad are expected to respect human rights and to operate lawfully and in consultation with the host government (national and municipal) and local communities.”

“All sections of Canadian missions abroad can advocate in support of human rights defenders working on land and environmental issues.”

The response from the United Nations

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, recently concluded a visit to Canada. During that visit, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland released the “Voices at Risk” report.

In response, a United Nations media release noted, “The High Commissioner stressed the importance of supporting the work of human rights defenders and journalists, and defending space for civil society participation in debate and decision-making, which she pointed out are vital to ensure more inclusive, healthier and fairer societies.”

“Bachelet welcomed Canada’s continued commitment to advancing responsible business conduct abroad and the recent appointment of an Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise. She encouraged the authorities to ensure the Ombudsperson will have sufficient powers to independently and effectively investigate allegations of human rights abuses under its mandate.”

During the visit, CBC reported, “The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is putting pressure on Canada to implement the findings of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which concluded the issue amounts to genocide.”

At a public forum, Freeland commented, “I think that it makes Canada a more credible defender of human rights around the world when we acknowledge very openly and not defensively that we still have a long way to go at home.”

The response from Canadian civil society

Several Canadian civil society groups — including Amnesty International Canada and the Nobel Women’s Initiative — have commented, “For Canada’s new guidelines to be effective in helping to protect and support human rights defenders, they will need to be accompanied by a comprehensive implementation plan and increased Canadian funding going directly to human rights defenders and the movements they represent.”

“Canada also needs to take a stronger approach to support human rights defenders advocating for corporate accountability, for instance, by enabling robust investigations when defenders face heightened risks linked to private sector investments.”

Their statement adds, “It will also be critically important that Canada create an advisory body that includes the participation of human rights defenders with experience and first-hand knowledge of the threats facing human rights defenders.”

Categories: News Updates

1 Comment

Is the role of an Embassy to be a corporate advocate or uphold human rights? – Peace Brigades International-Canada · July 29, 2019 at 4:03 pm

[…] This past June, Global Affairs released its “Voices at Risk” guidelines for Canadian diplomats to support human rights defenders. More on that “practical advice” and the response to it from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and several Canadian civil society groups in this PBI-Canada overview. […]

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