Friday, December 04, 2009

Stephen Harper: supposed human rights advocate

Any Prime Minister of Canada should be speaking about human rights issues to China, of course they should: "Harper says trade won't stifle human rights talk." But let's not lose our heads here. We should be keeping Mr. Harper's professions on human rights issues in perspective. His record is quite suspect, the list is long.

His government has fought tooth and nail against the repatriation of Omar Khadr from Guantanamo Bay, for example. That facility has been exposed for years now as a locus of torture, conducted by the United States. This, to say it for the umpteenth time, has prompted sensible thinking governments to repatriate their citizens from it. Khadr's circumstances, having been captured in a conflict while a teenager with the UN Convention protection that is supposed to come along with it have meant exactly nothing to the Prime Minister. Human rights supporters would give effect to such conventions that Canada is a signatory to, take into account the evidence that has come to light over the past many years while Khadr has been sitting in that facility, untried. This is a black mark for Canada, legitimate human rights supporters would have long ago taken action.

Then there's the whole removing of words such as "humanitarian" from "international humanitarian law" in our foreign policy language. This is perfectly emblematic of how Mr. Harper says one thing publicly, as he does in China over the past few days, yet does another in the back rooms of our government:
There's a change in language taking place in documents and correspondence put out by Canada's foreign service.

Though it may be imperceptible to some, political hounds have noticed an unsettling transformation in language underway since the minority Conservatives took power in 2006.

Widely-accepted terms like "child soldiers," "gender equality" and "international humanitarian law" are disappearing. In their place are the phrases "children in armed conflict," "equality of men and women" and "international law."

While the government downplays the significance of the new nomenclature, critics are accusing the Tories of diluting Canada's longstanding and globally recognized human rights values.
Done quietly behind the scenes by Conservative staffers. These changes have legal significance, the Conservatives are trying to dial Canada back from any positive international legal obligations that flow from the use of such words above. That's how the Conservatives are diluting Canada's commitments on such human rights issues. But you'd never know it given the attention such measures get versus the Prime Minister's grand public statements.

There's more, of course, blacked out documents on torture allegations and suppression of any inquiry into whether Canada upheld its Geneva Conventions obligations in Afghanistan during that 2006-2007 time period when documents suggest we may have turned a blind eye. There was the hand sitting while Canadian citizens languish abroad, it was quite the summer on that front. The who-me-what-happened reaction from Mr. Harper that such things were happening. Then we have witnessed the incredible changes to Canada's historical, longstanding opposition to the application of the death penalty to Canadian citizens abroad. For Mr. Harper and his government, that's just fine now.

So you'll have to excuse some of us while we say yes, stand up for human rights while in China, as any Prime Minister rightfully should, Mr. Harper. But we know what your record is on human rights issues, it's not very impressive.