NEW YORK, October 26, 2011
Thank you Mr. Chair,
The promotion and protection of human rights, a cornerstone of this organization, is a central pillar of Canada’s foreign policy. Canada stands firmly on the protection of human rights and takes principled positions on important issues to promote freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
Over the past century, the world witnessed brutal despotism, including totalitarian regimes which enslaved their own peoples. We recognize that even today, implementation of human rights remains a challenge. Yet, we are hopeful that we can find common ground in order to advance the rights and fundamental freedoms which we all hold dear.
Our Foreign Affairs Minister, John Baird, highlighted in his address to the General Assembly that the Canadian government is in the process of establishing an Office of Religious Freedom within the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. This office will serve to promote the protection of freedom of religion as a key objective of Canada’s foreign policy. History has shown us that where religious freedom is strong, democratic freedom is strong.
Societies that protect religious freedom are more likely to protect all other fundamental freedoms.
Canada remains concerned about the plight of religious minorities, including in Egypt, where there are ongoing sectarian tensions involving Muslim and Coptic communities. We support the commitment by the Government of Egypt, following the clashes of October 9, to work to bring those responsible for the violence to justice, as well the announcement of a new law that increases the penalties for discrimination. All necessary steps should be taken to protect religious minorities and to ensure that they have a meaningful role in the country’s transition to democratic governance. In Pakistan, the abuse of blasphemy laws has often unfairly targeted religious minorities, such as the Ahmiddiyya community. And it is disconcerting that Roman Catholic priests and other Christians are driven underground to worship in China and elsewhere.
Our global efforts to promote and protect human rights are imperilled by continued violations across the globe. In particular, Canada has serious concerns about Iran’s blatant disregard for human rights and fundamental freedoms of its citizens. The Iranian authorities continue to ignore their commitments and obligations under international law, as well as their own domestic laws. Canada remains deeply concerned by human rights violations including execution of minors, the persistent suppression of women’s rights, and restrictions on the right of Iranian citizens to practice their faith, including Baha’i and Christianity.
Canada continues to be deeply alarmed by the situation in neighboring Syria. Syrians for years have had their rights violated. In March, the people of Syria took a courageous stand for democracy. Since then, over 3,000 Syrians have been killed as the Assad regime has attempted to crush this movement through the indiscriminate and excessive use of force, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, and torture. Yet the Syrian people persist in their pursuit of freedom. The Canadian government calls on the Assad regime to put an end to the violence, release all political prisoners, grant free and unfettered access to the Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry, and meet the demands of its people for a democratic Syria that respects the rights of all its citizens. Canada continues to stand with the people of Syria in their peaceful efforts for democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and reiterates its call on President Assad to step aside.
Canada is also concerned that the underlying sources of conflict in Sri Lanka are not being addressed. As such, we encourage the Government of Sri Lanka to engage constructively on a process of political reconciliation and accountability. We also support calls for an independent investigation into credible allegations of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights committed by both parties to the conflict in Sri Lanka, as recommended by the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka.
In addition, Canada deeply deplores the ongoing violations of human rights and the absence of basic freedoms, such as the freedom of religion and expression in North Korea. We regret in particular the continuing reports of collective punishments, public executions, and arbitrary detentions in the country. We share the Special Rapporteur’s concerns about the grim conditions in detention centres, where in addition to torture and sexual assault; forced abortions on female prisoners have been reported. We continue to call on the Pyongyang regime to facilitate the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the DPRK, Mr. Marzuki Darusman, and to allow him access to the country.
Canada also continues to closely monitor the situation in Burma. We were pleased that Special Rapporteur Quintana was able to visit the country in August. However, as he has observed, several important issues remain unresolved. While we welcomed the news that a number of political prisoners were released earlier this month, we note that a significant number remain in detention, and we continue to call for their prompt and unconditional release. While encouraged by meetings held between Aung San Suu Kyi and high level government officials, including the President, we urge the authorities to engage in further, inclusive dialogue with opposition and ethnic groups and call for an end to discrimination against religious minorities, including Muslims. We also urge the authorities to promptly and fully investigate allegations of human rights abuses by government or military personnel.
Finally, the situation in Belarus continues to disappoint Canada and the international community. The crackdown against the political opposition and civil society continues and the authorities appear to have no intention to abide by internationally recognised obligations. The international community must ensure that it closely follows developments in Belarus and takes every possible step to persuade its Government to respect international human rights law.
Canada recognizes that despite progress achieved, girls can continue to be at greater risk of being exposed to various forms of violence, including rape and genital mutilation. Canada hopes that the successful adoption of an International Day of the Girl by the General Assembly will bring further attention to the situation of the girl child and to promoting girls’ rights.
We have drawn attention to some of Canada’s initiatives to protect and promote respect for human rights. However, our collective efforts will not achieve their intended results if some countries continue to disregard these rights and do not undertake serious efforts to bring about much needed changes.
Thank you Mr. Chair.