Canada signs UN letter calling for a “safe and enabling environment” for human rights defenders

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Photos: Unist’ot’en land defender Freda Huson speaking at the UN on April 24, 2019.  On February 10, 2020, she was arrested on her territory.

On April 24, 2019, Unist’ot’en land defender Freda Huson spoke at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York City.

Huson stated: “Our hereditary chiefs have said ‘no’ to pipelines on Wet’suwet’en territory. This year, a pipeline company forced a court injunction on us. If we stop them from entering our territory because they don’t have consent, we face arrest.”

She concluded: “I am here today to make UN aware of the continued genocide happening in Canada, and to demand that our Indigenous rights and laws are respected.”

Within months of that intervention by Huson at the UN, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) passed this resolution with respect to the fracked gas pipeline being constructed on Wet’suwet’en territory.

On December 19, 2019, it called:

“Upon the State party to immediately halt the construction and suspend all permits and approvals for the construction of the Coastal Gas Link pipeline in the traditional and unceded lands and territories of the Wet’suwet’en people, until they grant their free, prior and informed consent, following the full and adequate discharge of the duty to consult.”

It further urged:

“The State party to guarantee that no force will be used against Secwepemc and Wet’suwet’en peoples and that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police [RCMP] and associated security and policing services will be withdrawn from their traditional lands.”

And yet within weeks, on January 13, 2020, the RCMP set up an exclusion zone on Wet’suwet’en territory blocking access to media and allies of these land defenders.

Then on February 10, 2020, Huson was arrested by the RCMP on her territory while holding a ceremony to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

As of this date, October 15, 2021, the Wet’suwet’en believe another RCMP raid on their territory is imminent as water protectors peacefully blockade a site where Coastal GasLink would drill under the sacred Wedzin Kwa headwaters.

In contrast to Huson’s intervention at the UN in April 2019 and her arrest by the RCMP in February 2020, Canada joined with 79 other countries on October 14, 2021, to recognize “the importance of civil society and human rights defenders.”

That statement highlights:

“The Security Council has encouraged States to create a safe and enabling environment for those who protect and promote human rights, especially women, to allow them to conduct their work independently, and to address threats and violence against them.”

While there has not been the suggestion that Huson’s arrest was in reprisal for her engagement with the UN, her arrest near the Unist’ot’en Healing Centre (at kilometre 66 on Wet’suwet’en territory) to a jail in Houston, British Columbia still raises concerns about criminalization and forced removal from territory.

Furthermore, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination wrote this letter on November 24, 2020, to Canada’s ambassador at the UN that highlighted: “The Committee regrets that the State party has provided no information on measures taken to address the concerns [about the three megaprojects, including the Coastal GasLink pipeline] raised by the Committee in its decision of 13 December 2019.”

That letter also noted that the Committee expects Canada to submit a report on its compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (that Canada ratified in 1970) by November 15, 2021.

We continue to closely follow this situation.

Video: Huson speaks at Coyote Camp on Gidimt’en territory on September 30, 2021, where land defenders anticipate another militarized RCMP raid to push through the Coastal GasLink fracked gas pipeline without free, prior and informed consent.

More on the current situation on Gidimt’en territory.

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