12 actions Canada could take to improve the situation of human rights defenders in Canada and around the world

Published by Brent Patterson on

Ambassador Leslie E. Norton responds on March 5 to UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor’s report on the threats against and killings of human rights defenders.

On March 5, the UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor presented to the Human Rights Council on the threats against and killings of human rights defenders.

Lawlor noted that at least 281 defenders had been killed in 2019.

She further highlighted that impunity remains a key driver of this violence and that States should not only end this impunity but also publicly applaud the vital contribution that human rights defenders make to help build just societies.

To watch Lawlor’s presentation, please click here.

In response, Leslie E. Norton, Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, commented:

I would like to thank the Special Rapporteur for her timely, urgent report.

Canada remains profoundly concerned by the number of murders of human rights defenders often fuelled by impunity including the murder of the most vulnerable people who work on challenges linked to land, environment, commercial activities, and the rights of Indigenous people.

As part implementation of the Voices at Risk guidelines in Canada we will continue to support the rights of HRDs.

Too often HRDs are killed having protested against the negative repercussions of commercial activities on human rights. Therefore, this report serves as a call to action towards business for them to prevent and put an end to violations of the rights of human rights defenders.

Some states have established specific protection mechanisms to prevent risks and attacks against HRDs and to intervene when need be.

Canada wants to stress these important milestones such as the Escazu Regional Agreement in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Madame Rapporteur, how can we improve and better support the protection mechanisms of regional governments to prevent attacks against human rights defenders and intervene when necessary?

Ambassador Norton’s comments can be seen here (at 26:29).

We are pleased to see Canada support the Escazu Agreement, a legally binding treaty that includes specific provisions to protect environmental defenders.

In response to Ambassador Norton’s question, Peace Brigades International-Canada would suggest as a start these 12 steps:

1- Strengthen the investigatory powers of the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) to address the issue of corporate impunity.

2- Establish a temporary international relocation program so that HRDs at imminent risk can travel to Canada to improve their security situation.

3- Support the Binding Treaty on transnational corporations and human rights to strengthen the provision in the voluntary Guiding Principles.

4- Make the protection of environmental human rights defenders and Indigenous land defenders a central part of Canada’s strategy to address climate change.

5- Add a comprehensive implementation plan to the Voices at Risk guiding principles to strengthen the protocols for Canadian embassies to support human rights defenders.

6- Increase Canadian funding going directly to human rights defenders the movements they represent, publicly acknowledge the importance of their work and publicly condemn any threats that are made against them.

7- Emphasize State obligations to the protection of human rights defenders in the countries where Canada has significant mining and oil and gas commercial investments.

8- Make upholding Indigenous rights, notably the right to free, prior and informed consent, a central focus of Canadian embassies.

9- End the public financing of fossil fuels and deny Export Development Canada (EDC) support to corporations that have violated human rights.

10- Comply with the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that calls on Canada to stop construction on the Site C dam and Trans Mountain and Coastal GasLink pipelines and to withdraw the RCMP from those traditional territories.

11- End Canada’s increasing arms exports, notably to countries that violate human rights and where those weapons could be used against human rights defenders.

12- Recognize environmental human rights defenders as crucial to the fulfilment of Canada’s obligations under the Paris climate agreement.

Additionally, one of the recommendations made by Global Witness in this report (on page 36) notes: “Make foreign aid and investment in projects conditional upon whether specific measures for the security of land and environmental defenders are in place or not.”

PBI-Canada also supports the call for a fundamental reassessment of Canadian foreign policy that would identify other actions the Canada could take that would improve the security situation for human rights defenders around the world.

For a fuller articulation on the situation of human rights defenders, please see Lawlor’s 23-page report Final warning: death threats and killings of human rights defenders.

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