PBI-Canada encourages Foreign Minister Marc Garneau to read US civil society letter to Antony Blinken on human rights defenders

Published by Brent Patterson on

On February 9, Peace Brigades International-USA signed this open letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressing concern about “the unabated rise in reprisals against human rights defenders, both globally and within the United States.”

Along with PBI-USA, the letter was signed by Amnesty International, Oxfam, Greenpeace, Global Witness, Front Line Defenders and many others.

The letter calls on Blinken “to elevate the protection of human rights defenders as a U.S. foreign policy priority and commit to play a global leadership role on this issue.”

It also expresses the concern: “We have seen situations where embassies are reluctant to support defenders in politically sensitive countries where the U.S. government has significant national security, economic, or geopolitical interests.”

Among its recommendations:

– “Public designation of a human rights officer at every post whose portfolio includes activities to support human rights defenders. As part of the EU guidelines, for example, EU embassy websites are supposed to identify a human rights defenders liaison officer with contact information.”

– “We also encourage the U.S. government to engage in the first conference of parties of the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean (Escazú Agreement), with a particular focus on sharing information with member countries on the protection of environmental defenders.”

– “Elevating the need for protection of environmental and land defenders, and ensuring justice for attacks against them, as a core part of the Biden Administration’s overall climate strategy, including in its engagement at the UN Climate Change Conference.”

The U.S. civil society letter also recommends “a more robust and public-facing policy for supporting human rights defenders at risk” and notes that Canada has guidelines “that inform policy and instruct practical work.”

Canadian organizations have also acknowledged the Voices at Risk guidelines while at the same time highlighting: “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.”

Blinken became the US Secretary of State on January 26. Just prior to that, on January 12, Marc Garneau was appointed Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Garneau spoke with Blinken on his first day as Secretary of State and while Garneau regrettably used the opportunity to express disappointment about the cancellation of the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, he also welcomed the United States reengaging in the Paris climate agreement and “the two agreed to remain in close touch.”

We encourage Minister Garneau and Secretary Blinken to discuss implementing the recommendations in this letter at their next meeting.

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