GENEVA / OTTAWA (19 June 2019) — In the current context of emerging challenges to multilateralism, including on human rights, “Canada is a leader in promoting the international human rights agenda and the benefits of the rules-based international order,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, as she ended a two-day visit to Montreal and Ottawa.
The High Commissioner and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whom she met on Monday, agreed that all stakeholders, including States, civil society and businesses, need to work together to find solutions to common challenges. During a wide-ranging discussion, they discussed key human rights challenges in Canada, as well as situations of concern in a number of other countries. She also met with an all-party parliamentary committee on international human rights to discuss what more Canada can do to support human rights abroad.
“Now more than ever, we need to support one another in speaking up,” Bachelet said. “I and my Office greatly value Canada as an ally in advancing human rights around the world, and we welcome Canada’s continued support for our work in these difficult times.”
The release on 3 June of the National Inquiry report on missing and murdered indigenous women and girls “is a critical step towards reconciliation,” the High Commissioner said. “It allowed the voices of the victims to be heard and their truth to come out.” She called on Canadian authorities to swiftly act on their commitment to develop and implement a National Action Plan to ensure equitable access to employment, housing, education, safety, and health care. She said the UN Human Rights Office, which she heads, stands ready to provide technical assistance. She also encouraged Canada to adopt Bill C-262 to harmonize its legislation with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
During her visit, the High Commissioner also participated at an event with youth and members of civil society --The Global Fight for Human Rights -- during which various issues were discussed, including the importance of acknowledging human rights challenges, multilateralism, and different approaches to pushing back against the pushback on human rights. During the event, Minister for Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland released ‘Voices at Risk,’ Canada’s revised guidelines for human rights defenders. The High Commissioner stressed the importance of supporting the work of human rights defenders and journalists, and defending space for civil society participation in debate and decision-making, which she pointed out are vital to ensure more inclusive, healthier and fairer societies.
In a meeting with civil society and indigenous leaders, participants noted the progress made in recent years on adopting strategies to reduce poverty and improve adequate housing and food. At the same time, they raised a number of key domestic challenges to human rights noting that work is still needed to improve the situation of marginalized individuals and groups, and ensure the justicability of economic, social and cultural rights.
While in Montreal, the High Commissioner participated in the International Human Rights Training Programme organized by Equitas, an organization with which OHCHR has been partnering for the past 20 years to foster social justice through human rights education, which the High Commissioner noted is a powerful tool to advance knowledge and understanding of human rights.
After meeting with the Mayor of Montreal, the UN Human Rights Chief noted the fundamental role cities can play in the effective implementation of human rights, as local officials tend to be closer to, and therefore more aware of, the needs and aspirations of their communities. The High Commissioner thanked the City of Montreal for its leadership and commitment to sustainable development at the local level, as well as its strong and vital engagement in multilateral issues such as adequate housing and migration.
Bachelet said she was disappointed by the adoption of Bill-21 known as “Act respecting the laicity of the State” in the province of Quebec, banning religious symbols for all provincial public servants such as police officers, judges, teachers and senior officials. She echoed the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s and the Mayor of Montreal’s concerns for the rights of minorities.
“Human rights are indivisible,” Bachelet said, “while inequalities enshrined in laws divide communities and stir grievances.”
Bachelet said her visit had also provided a useful opportunity to exchange views with the Artificial Intelligence (AI) community in Montreal – including businesses, researchers and civil society – on the immense ethical and human rights implications of new technologies. They present a web of opportunities, but also serious risks.
“The international human rights framework provides an excellent and essential basis for guiding governments, businesses and societies at large in their decisions around the development, deployment and operation of AI,” Bachelet said.
“I believe that our future -- and the future of human rights -- will depend enormously on the degree to which the technology community is able to embrace human rights principles into the very core of their work,” the High Commissioner said.
Bachelet welcomed Canada’s continued commitment to advancing responsible business conduct abroad and the recent appointment of an Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise. She encouraged the authorities to ensure the Ombudsperson will have sufficient powers to independently and effectively investigate allegations of human rights abuses under its mandate.
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2018 is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: www.standup4humanrights.org.
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