Harper government challenged for weakening human rights

    OTTAWA, Feb. 22 /CNW Telbec/ - A group of well-known human rights and
civil liberties experts have issued the following Open Letter calling on Prime
Minister Harper to stop weakening Canada's human rights commitments.


    Dear Prime Minister Harper:

    We profoundly oppose the decisions, taken by your government, that weaken
Canada's commitment against torture and against the death penalty and that
weaken Canada's commitment to the right to a fair trial.
    We were encouraged when you made a public promise to provide more
transparency and citizen participation in setting Canada's policies, but these
serious erosions of Canada's human rights commitments were made with NO
parliamentary or public debate.
    Human rights are fragile and must not be casually weakened by unilateral
decision. Canada must respect our international human rights treaty
obligations. And Canada's human rights policies must be decided through an
open, democratic process.
    We call on you to immediately:

    - commit to a process of training officials about torture awareness that
    is objectively based on human rights information and not guided by
    political considerations
    - reverse your decision not to seek clemency for any Canadian sentenced
    to the death penalty in another country
    - speak out publicly against Guantanamo Bay and demand repatriation of
    Omar Khadr
    - ask the Foreign Affairs Committee to hold hearings into the question of
    Canada's recent record with respect to international human rights. We
    look forward to receiving your reply.


    Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada
    Warren Allmand, Ex-Solicitor General and Past President, Rights and
    The Very Rev the Hon Lois M Wilson, CC, President of the World Federalist
    Ken Norman, former Chief Commissioner of the Saskatchewan Human Rights
    Bill Black, former British Columbia Human Rights Commissioner
    Michael Byers, Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International
    law, University of British Columbia
    Amir Attaran, Canada Research Chair in Law, Population Health and Global
    Development Policy, University of Ottawa
    John Foster, former Ariel Sallows Chair in Human Rights, University of
    Kathleen Ruff, former Director of the British Columbia Human Rights

                               BACKGROUND NOTES


    Maxime Bernier, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, has ordered that
Department of Foreign Affairs training materials on torture awareness be
re-written, not on the basis of objective evidence, but for political
    He has signalled that locations such as Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. and
Israel be removed from the list of places of possible torture and abuse,
because they are our allies, even though the United Nations, Amnesty
International, Human Rights Watch and other credible sources have documented
concerns about torture and abuse in each of these places.
    Bernier's decision violates Canada's obligations under the U.N. Convention
Against Torture, which Canada ratified twenty years ago.


    Canada, along with two thirds of the countries in the world, has abolished
the death penalty. Up till now, the Canadian government has sought clemency
for any Canadian sentenced to death in the U.S. or another country.
    But the government has decided Canada "is not going to seek clemency in
cases in democratic countries, like the United States, where there has been a
fair trial."
    As Alex Neve of Amnesty International points out, "It is grossly incorrect
to assume that everyone on death row in the United States received a fair
    By condoning the execution of Canadian citizens in other countries, the
government is discarding Canada's commitment under international human rights
law to abolish the death penalty.


    Every other Western country, except Canada, has intervened on behalf of
their citizens held at Guantamo Bay. This is because of concerns about the
rule of law, torture and ill-treatment and fair trials.
    Omar Khadr has been in Guantanamo Bay for more than five years without
trial. His is accused of killing a U.S. soldier and two Afghan soldiers during
a clash in Afghanistan in 2002, when he was 15 years old, a child soldier.
    "At some point in the course of Omar Khadr's detention the Canadian
government developed the suspicion he was being tortured and abused," says
William Kuebler, Khadr's U.S. lawyer. "Yet it has not acted to obtain his
release from Guantanamo Bay and protect his rights, unlike every other Western
country that has had its nationals detained in Guantanamo Bay."

For further information:

For further information: Kathleen Ruff, (250) 847-1848

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