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Canada must address root causes of extreme violence and discrimination against indigenous women – Rights experts

OTTAWA / GENEVA (1 February 2016) – Six experts* from the United Nations and the Inter-American human rights systems today urged the Government of Canada to fully address the root causes of the extreme violence and discrimination against indigenous women and girls in the country.

The human rights experts made their appeal at a key meeting in Ottawa with the three Canadian Ministers charged with designing the official national inquiry into the murder or disappearance of nearly 1,200 indigenous women and girls over the past three decades in Canada.

“The inquiry must be participatory, addressing the root causes of the extreme violence and discrimination against indigenous women and girls in Canada,” the experts told the Ministers for Justice, Indigenous and Northern Affairs, and the Status of Women. “Furthermore, it should be based on a solid appreciation that the human rights violations that indigenous women experience require adequate, effective and clear responses.” 

The experts also stressed that to achieve a sustainable outcome, there should be a strong commitment to fulfilling obligations under international human rights law both during and after the inquiry.  “It is imperative that the inquiry be firmly grounded in international human rights norms to which Canada is bound, as well as its own domestic legal framework,” they said.

Canada had faced criticism from the UN and the Inter-American Commission on Human Right (IACHR), which conducted their own inquiries, for its inaction to address the disappearances and murders of Indigenous women and girls, and the neglect of their human rights. Both the UN and the IAHCR, as well as indigenous communities and advocacy groups, had long called for an inquiry.  In December 2015, the Canadian government announced a national inquiry, suggesting a new recognition of the crisis.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli Corpuz, welcomed the recognition by the Canadian Government of “the complex, multidimensional, and mutually reinforcing human rights violations which indigenous women and girls face and which routinely exclude them from enjoying the rights otherwise guaranteed to citizens.”

“Challenges which include gaps and weaknesses in the monitoring and implementation of the human rights of indigenous peoples contribute to a culture of impunity and render the violations of rights invisible to international and national policy makers and legislators,” she said. 

“It is my hope that the national inquiry will shed light on the magnitude, nature and context of violence experienced by indigenous women and girls and that its recommendations will accelerate progress and action to protect and prevent the violence they have suffered in all its forms,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Dubravka Šimonović. “The unacceptable cycle of violence and impunity needs to be broken and appropriate redress has to be provided.”

The Chair of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, James Cavallaro, noted that the root causes of this situation are related to a history of colonization, discrimination and inequality, and its continued impact today. “As a consequence, indigenous women and girls constitute one of the most disadvantaged groups in Canada. Poverty, inadequate housing, economic and social relegation, among other factors, contribute to their increased vulnerability to violence,” he said.

“For the inquiry to be successful it will require a specific examination of gross deprivations of socio-economic rights as a root cause of indigenous women’s experiences of the most extreme forms of violence,” stated the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to housing, Leilani Farha. “It would also require Canada to recognise that socio-economic rights impose on all levels of government very particular standards and obligations.”

Two members of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which carried out its own inquiry, last year, noted that:  “Canada’s failure to protect indigenous women and to provide them with effective remedies under the law was a grave violation of the Convention.”

“The Government now has an opportunity to implement all recommendations from the Committee’s report and duly protect and ensure that Indigenous women are regarded with the same level of respect and status as other members of society,” said CEDAW experts Barbara Bailey and Ruth Halperin-Kaddari.

The international human rights experts expressed that the meeting with the Canadian Government could “lead to a new approach toward indigenous women in Canada, and the inquiry could stand as a model human rights procedure internationally.”

Prior to meeting the Canadian Ministers, the experts took part in a two-day symposium (30–31 January) with indigenous women leaders and their allies on murders and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls to discuss the possible framework and structure of the inquiry on at the University of Ottawa.

(*) The experts: Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples; Dubravka Šimonović, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing; James Cavallaro, Chair of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; Barbara Bailey, Vice-Chair of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and one of the Committee’s designated members who conducted CEDAW’s Canada Inquiry; and Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and Chair of the Committee’s Working Group on Inquiries

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Welcomepage.aspx 

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/en/hrbodies/cedaw/pages/cedawindex.aspx

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is a principal and autonomous organ of the Organization of American States whose mission is to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere. Learn more, log on to: http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/mandate/what.asp

UN Human Rights, country page – Canada:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/LACRegion/Pages/CAIndex.aspx

For inquiries and media requests, please contact Ms. Juana Sotomayor (+41 22 917 9445 / jsotomayor@ohchr.org), Ms. Mariannick Koffi (+41 22 917 9257/ mkoffi@ohchr.org) or Mr. Jakob Schneider (+41 22 917 9301 / jschneider@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
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