Apologize to UN rights expert, Tories urged

OttawaCitizen.com – business – 100 organizations send Harper an open letter
May 31, 2012 .   By Sarah Schmidt, Ottawa Citizen

The Conservative government needs to tell the world if Canada intends to pull the welcome mat from United Nations human rights experts, leading Canadian organizations said Wednesday.

The open invitation to UN Special Rapporteurs to visit Canada, a long-standing policy of the federal government, arose as an issue earlier this month after senior ministers attacked the UN right-to-food envoy for “lecturing” such a wealthy nation about problems of hunger and poverty in remote aboriginal communities and among poor urban families relying on social assistance.

They said Olivier De Schutter, in Canada at the official invitation of the federal government, shouldn’t waste resources and should stick to probing famine-struck developing countries. A minister also called him “patronizing and “ill-informed.”

On Wednesday, more than 100 organizations, supported by former parliamentarians Flora MacDonald, Ed Broadbent and Warren Allmand, sent an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, calling on him to apologize for the government’s “unprecedented attacks” on Schutter during his 11-day mission to Canada.

“Prime Minister, there is no line to be drawn between protecting human rights at home and protecting them in the rest of the world. Human rights are universal and do not only apply to developing countries or countries in which there are military dictatorships,” the letter states.

Amnesty International Canada and Food Secure Canada, signatories to the letter, also want the government to make clear if it plans to rethink Canada’s openness to UN human rights experts, given the reaction of senior ministers to De Schutter’s mission to Canada.

James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people, was also similarly derided last December for speaking out about the living conditions at the Attawapiskat First Nation reserve.

“We do think an apology is owing and deserved,” Alex Neve, Amnesty International Canada’s secretary general, said in an interview. “Secondly, we’ve asked the prime minister to very explicitly reconfirm that Canada not only accepts but welcomes UNlevel human rights scrutiny.

The Prime Minister Office’s said it had “no comment” on either the open letter or the request for clarity on whether Canada intends to review its open invitation to UN Special Rapporteurs.

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