OPEN LETTER: Amnesty International Calls on Prime Minister Trudeau to Raise Human Rights During Meetings in USA and Mexico
Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,
We are writing this Open Letter to you on behalf of the 400,000 supporters of Amnesty International across Canada to share a number of urgent recommendations about pressing human rights concerns that we hope you will raise during the meetings you will have with Presidents Trump and Peña Nieto during your visits to Washington and Mexico City next week. We lay out bilateral, trilateral and global concerns and recommendations in the attached Annex. We urge you to recognize that human rights considerations must figure prominently in your meetings with both Presidents and that concrete human rights commitments and action are central to the various issues you will be discussing. We urge you to:
- make it clear that as part of your commitment to a progressive trade agenda, Canada will be pursuing strong human rights safeguards in a renegotiated NAFTA;
- press the United States to comply with international human rights obligations in such areas as refugee and immigration policy, climate change, gun control and women’s sexual and reproductive rights, with a specific request to reverse the decision to limit dramatically the numbers of refugees resettled to the United States next year;
- express public concern about the ongoing human rights crisis in Mexico and a clear expectation that the Mexican government must take more concerted steps to implement sorely-needed reforms, bring human rights violators to justice and ensure effective protection for all those whose legitimate efforts to defend human rights put them in great danger; and
- propose joint efforts among our three countries to address global human rights concerns, notably the devastating crisis facing the Rohingya people in Myanmar and the massive rights crackdown in Turkey which has led to the jailing of prominent human rights defenders, including Amnesty International Turkey’s Director and Chair.
Thank you for your close consideration of our recommendations. Human rights must be at the heart of the North American relationship and your visits next week to the United States and Mexico next week offer a valuable opportunity to convey that crucial message.
Alex Neve Béatrice Vaugrante
Secretary General Directrice Générale
Amnesty International Canada (English branch) Amnistie internationale Canada francophone
We expect that discussions about NAFTA will feature prominently in your meetings in both Washington and Mexico City. Amnesty International does not have a position with respect to the trade aspects of the agreement and associated renegotiations. We do however believe that Canada has an obligation to ensure no trade agreement undermines human rights. At a minimum Canada must undertake due diligence and press for the inclusion of strong, effective human rights protections and safeguards in any trade agreement, including a renegotiated NAFTA. Trade deals and trade policy are not neutral when it comes to human rights. Their impact can be positive, when there is deliberate attention to developing a sustainable and equitable approach to trade. Their impact can be harmful, when human rights concerns are indifferently or deliberately ignored. The renegotiation of NAFTA provides a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate that your government’s vision of “progressive trade” is grounded in strong regard for international human rights norms.
We have welcomed statements by the Canadian government that it is pressing for provisions in NAFTA that will ensure strong protection of gender equality and the rights of Indigenous peoples. We look to you to reinforce with Presidents Trump and Peña Nieto that those will continue to be top priorities for Canada around the negotiating table.
Additionally, Prime Minister, we urge that you make it clear that for Canada, a human rights-based approach to NAFTA includes, at a minimum:
- Enshrining a binding reference to the three countries’ international human rights obligations in the operative provisions of the agreement.
- Explicitly recognizing that a state’s international obligation to uphold human rights constitutes a legitimate defence in provisions dealing with investor/state dispute resolution.
- Committing to conduct expert, comprehensive and independent human rights impact assessments of the terms of NAFTA using UN benchmarks at regular intervals, including before renegotiated provisions enter into force; and ensuring timely, meaningful action to adequately address any negative human rights impacts identified.
- Requiring the three countries to develop enforceable corporate accountability measures applicable to the overseas operations of companies headquartered in their respective jurisdictions.
II. UNITED STATES
Amnesty International has repeatedly spoken out with respect to a range of serious human rights concerns in both US domestic and foreign policy since President Trump assumed office. At the heart of our concerns has been the President’s deeply troubling propensity for divisive measures that fuel hatred and fear, and demonstrate little regard for binding US and international human rights principles.
Domestically, that has included a number of blatantly bigoted, racist and discriminatory Executive Orders and public statements touching on the equality rights of African-Americans, Muslims and transgender individuals, the protection of refugees, the fair treatment of migrants, particularly from Mexico and Central America, and the sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls. There has been direct impact on Canada, most notably, the sharp increase in the number of refugee claimants who do not feel safe or protected in the United States and irregularly cross the border into Canada so as to circumvent the Safe Third Country Agreement and be able to lodge refugee claims in this country.
Amnesty International has expressed deep concern about President Trump’s announcement on September 29th that the United States will admit no more than 45,000 refugees in fiscal year 2018. That is the lowest cap in the history of the modern US refugee program, which was established in 1980. At its height the US admitted 209,000 refugees. During every year of the George Bush Senior presidency, over 100,000 refugees were admitted. In 2016 President Obama set the cap at 110,000. These drastic cuts come at a time of an unprecedented global refugee crisis, marked by a disgraceful failure of states to equitably share the responsibility for ensuring protection, including through resettlement when required, of the highest numbers of refugees the world has seen since the Second World War.
Internationally, we have expressed concern about President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate change accord, the reinstatement of the “global gag rule” regarding funding for organizations that in any way work to educate about or provide safe abortions, and his failure to exert pressure on other foreign leaders with poor human rights records. There has been direct impact on Canada here as well, notably the need to step up, alongside other governments, in providing additional funding to make up for the resources that the US no longer provides internationally in support of sexual health for women and girls.
Prime Minister, we look to you to convey a strong and clear message that Canada needs and expects firm respect for human rights to be a cornerstone of government for our only neighbour and most important ally and trading partner, and raising these specific points:
- Urging that the US reverse the substantial cuts made to refugee resettlement numbers and restore a level in keeping with commitments made in recent years.
- Pressing for a full withdrawal of measures banning entry to the United States on the basis of nationality.
- Sharing condolences with respect to the tragic mass shooting in Las Vegas that has claimed 58 lives and pressing his government to uphold international l legal obligations and address gun violence as the human rights crisis that it is, in particular by reforming the current patchwork of federal, state and local laws to ensure everyone’s safety and security.
- Announcing that due to the mounting concerns and uncertainty about refugee protection and other measures dealing with migrants in the United States, Canada is suspending application of the Canada/US Safe Third Country Agreement.
- Urging that the ‘global gag rule’ be revoked and that the US restore funding for organizations providing sexual health programs and services for women and girls in other countries.
The devastating impact of two major earthquakes that hit Mexico in September has created a humanitarian disaster affecting thousands of victims, many in small communities that have not received the same level of attention as those in Mexico City. This dramatic, heart-rending situation is deserving of Canadian assistance to organizations providing relief. At the same time, Canada must devote attention to the urgent need to provide visible, concerted support for the thousands upon thousands of victims of an acute, ongoing human rights crisis of horrendous proportions in Mexico.
Repeated reports by Amnesty International, like those of multiple UN and OAS human rights experts who have visited Mexico, document widespread, grave human rights abuses, many perpetrated by state agents. These violations have increased exponentially since 2006 when the Mexican government deployed its armed forces to help police combat organized crime, a well-documented fact that causes us to have serious concerns about current bills before Congress that would prolong the presence of the armed forces in regular policing functions.
According to official statistics, there are currently over 33,000 people reported “missing” and the figure continues to rise monthly. Enforced disappearances are hardly ever investigated. The high profile, emblematic case of 43 teacher-training students, taken away by police in September 2014 and never seen again, underscores terrifying realities as Mexican authorities conducted a highly flawed investigation that has failed to find the students or bring the perpetrators to justice. Meanwhile, the recommendations of independent, international experts have been ignored.
Disappearances are only one of the many troubling indicators of crisis. There are daily incidents of arbitrary detentions and torture by police and the military, disturbing evidence of extrajudicial executions carried out by state security forces, and an epidemic of femicides that authorities have failed to properly investigate, causing thousands to march in protest in cities across Mexico on September 17. Add to that increasing threats and deadly attacks, documented in the January 2017 report of UN expert Michel Forst, on those who speak up for human rights, search for the missing, report on corruption and violence, or dare to defend Indigenous rights and oppose resource extraction. Near total impunity for all of these crimes provides a green light for more human rights violations, with perpetrators secure in the knowledge they will not be brought to justice.
Amnesty International is also deeply concerned about the plight of thousands of asylum seekers, many children among them, who enter Mexico each year across its southern border and who are particularly vulnerable to extortion, trafficking, sexual assault, disappearances and deportation by Mexican authorities, facing danger, even death, when deported to the countries from which they had been forced to flee.
Friends and commercial partners do not shy from frank exchanges, Prime Minister, especially in times of crisis. We urge you to use your visit to Mexico, and Canada’s close relationship with our NAFTA partner, to speak out and make visible Canadian concern about disappearances, torture, arbitrary detentions, violence against women, attacks on human rights defenders and journalists, and lack of protection for asylum seekers. Failure to speak out, as Canada does with regard to serious human rights violations in other countries, would not only leave those at grave risk in Mexico feeling unsupported by Canada. It would also raise legitimate questions about the relative priority for your government of human rights in comparison to commercial interests.
We urge you during your visit to Mexico to meet and hear directly from civil society human rights organizations, including victims organizations like the families of the disappeared, whose own safety is jeopardized by their courageous, legitimate work.
In your meetings with Mexican authorities, we look to you to press for concrete solutions to address the human rights crisis, including the following:
- Call on Mexico to end the role of the Armed Forces in performing regular policing functions, such as detentions, investigations and interrogations, for which they are not trained or accountable.
- Indicate Canada’s support for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ 2016 recommendation to establish an Advisory Council of renowned experts to advise the Mexican State on strategies and reforms to foster the capacities to investigate and prosecute, and to reverse impunity rates.
- Urge Mexico to strengthen the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists to provide effective and timely protection for people at risk with adequate resources and political coordination among federal, state and municipal authorities. This is particularly urgent considering the increase in attacks on journalists.
- Express Canada’s interest in a General Law on Enforced Disappearances, scheduled for a final vote in the Lower House of the Mexican Congress on October 10, almost three years after legislative discussions began on this bill. Urge authorities to ensure that the law is implemented so as to grant justice, truth and reparation to the many families who have dedicated years to searching for their relatives. Also press Mexico to implement all the recommendations of the independent international experts who reviewed the investigation into the 43 disappeared students, so as to achieve truth and justice for all those involved.
- Ask about progress implementing a new law on torture and prosecuting perpetrators. To date, Amnesty International is unaware of any federal charges presented for the crime of torture in 2017.
- Indicate Canada’s support for the urgent creation of a nationwide register of arrests, in line with international human rights standards, where information is recorded in real time and easily accessible.
- Given joint hemispheric commitments on the issue of asylum seekers, urge Mexico to end illegal practices of refoulement, properly inform detained migrants of their right to seek asylum and ensure their access to asylum procedures. Also urge Mexico to ensure no child remains in immigration detention.
IV. GLOBAL CONCERNS
Understandably, Prime Minister, your meetings in Washington and Mexico City will focus on issues directly related to bilateral relationship and to the North American relationship more widely. Given the many serious and pressing human rights crises on the world stage, beyond our continent, we hope that you will also have an opportunity to explore opportunities for closer coordination and cooperation with both the US and Mexican governments in addressing some of those challenges, including:
- Committing to work together in an effort to spearhead more effective and coordinated international action to end the human rights and humanitarian crisis facing the Rohingya people in Myanmar.
- Pressing the government of Turkey to release imprisoned human rights defenders in the country, including the Chair and the Director of Amnesty International Turkey, who have been detained since June and July of this year respectively.