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Human Rights Day Statement by Ambassador Guy Saint-Jacques

December 10, 2015

Today people throughout the world are celebrating International Human Rights Day to mark the landmark adoption on December 10, 1948, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

While Canadian John Peters Humphrey is credited as being its principal drafter, the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a process involving many states with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world. As Canada’s Ambassador to China I would be remiss in not also acknowledging the important role played by China’s Zhang Pengchun in drafting the Declaration, and in helping parties reach consensus on its final text.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” These rights are enshrined in Article 35 of China’s Constitution which affords its citizens the right to “freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.”

During my time as Canada’s Ambassador to China, I have witnessed a worrisome increase in the number of Chinese citizens jailed merely for peacefully expressing their views, as well as attempts to silence critics outside of China. Also worrisome has been the recent intensification of actions against human rights lawyers and defenders and the refoulement of Chinese refugees back to China. Canada’s experience demonstrates that respect for human rights and meaningful public participation are key to ensuring rule of law and national security.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights stands as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations. While work is still required in realizing civil and political rights, China’s spectacular economic growth over the past 30 years has significantly contributed to a general rise in living standards for a large proportion of the Chinese population, leading to qualitative improvements in individual social, cultural and economic rights.

On the occasion of International Human Rights Day, on behalf of the Government of Canada, I call again upon China to fully uphold its international and domestic human rights obligations. Canada is committed to constructive engagement with China on human rights.


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