Speech Article from  Global Affairs Canada

Address by Minister Dion to the High-level Segment of the 31st Session of the Human Rights Council

March 1, 2016 – Geneva, Switzerland

Check against delivery. This speech has been translated in accordance with the official languages policy and edited for posting and distribution in accordance with the Government of Canada’s communications policy.

Mr. President, Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen, it has been far too long since a Canadian foreign affairs minister addressed the High-Level Segment of the Human Rights Council. I am delighted to do so today.

Ten years after member states took the significant step of strengthening the human rights pillar of the UN by creating this council—a major achievement—and 50 years after the adoption of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which marks half a century of international agreement on the very basic principle that underlies the work of this council—that states have obligations to respect and realize the rights of their people without discrimination of any kind—what we see today are new challenges emerging and some regressions:

  • Violent extremism is rising.
  • Human rights defenders are harassed for daring to speak out against human rights abuses and violations.
  • Sexual minorities are a target of extreme violence and hate.
  • Sexual and gender-based violence is committed against women and girls at alarmingly increasing levels.
  • Fifteen million young girls around the world every year are forced into marriage, which keeps them from reaching their full potential, interrupts their education, jeopardizes their health and makes them vulnerable to violence.
  • Children are abused, exploited and neglected, turned into instruments of war, trafficked or made to labour in inhumane conditions, deprived of an education and adequate health care, and denied an opportunity to just be kids.

Above all, what we see today is the proliferation of the misguided belief that diversity­—cultural, religious, ethnic, political, social and other forms of diversity—is a threat.

Justin Trudeau became prime minister of Canada by saying the exact opposite: that Canada is strong not in spite of its diversity, but because of it. When universal human rights are respected, pluralism is an opportunity, not a danger.

Since this is true in Canada, why not in every country? If a Canadian political party was able to win an election by defending and celebrating pluralism and diversity, why would it not be possible in every state?

Respect for diversity is a global issue that should concern us all. No one is immune. No country’s record is perfect. In order for Canada to be effective in this struggle for human rights, our country must recognize that we have our own set of human rights issues, historically and at present. We must be ready to work toward addressing these issues openly and transparently.

I want today to share some of these experiences with you.

One area where Canada has to face up to the reality of a difficult past is Canada’s relationship with its Indigenous peoples. Prime Minister Trudeau has been unequivocal about our commitment to a renewed nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples built on a foundation of recognition, rights, respect, cooperation and partnership based on the spirit of reconciliation.

Canada has committed to implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We are taking steps to create a national public inquiry into the tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. We value the efforts of Indigenous peoples and civil society organizations in these processes.

Let’s address gender equality.

Since the UN Human Rights Council was established, Canada has led a resolution on eliminating violence against women, which has always received strong support and been adopted by consensus. This year we are pleased to announce that the theme of the resolution will focus on eliminating violence against Indigenous women and girls.

But Canada needs to continue to work to improve the status of women in our own country.

There is still a gender pay gap in Canada. Recent statistics suggest that women still earn 30 percent less than men. Participation on corporate boards and in our Parliament should also be increased. We must continue to strive toward gender-sensitive policy and improvement in equity in access.

The government itself must lead by example. That is why the Trudeau cabinet has achieved parity, with 50 percent of ministers being female.

So Canada recognizes that it has more work to do. Each country should do the same.

We need to go further, though, and accept to be scrutinized by independent experts and observers, starting with the treaty bodies and human rights instruments we have all contributed to creating, including this council. This is an essential condition for progress.

Last week Canada appeared before the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In-depth questions were posed on critical concerns in Canada, including poverty, homelessness, gender equality, indigenous rights and education, among other areas.

We firmly believe that governments must be open to criticism. We must be willing to listen when concerns are expressed.

Canada supports the UN human rights mechanisms, and the visits to Canada by special procedure mandate holders, and we will actively participate in the Universal Periodic Review process. We said so to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein during his visit to Ottawa two weeks ago. We encourage all countries to have the same open attitude.

Our support for UN human rights organizations must also take the form of tangible financial contributions. Over the last years, Canada did not contribute to the core funding of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

This must be corrected.

This is why our government will support the important work of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights through a contribution of $15 million over the next three years in new, unearmarked core funding, in addition to project-specific support.

In this context, I am pleased to announce that Canada is making an additional contribution to strengthen the on-the-ground presence of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Burundi.

A stable base of unearmarked core funding is critical to the office’s capacity to fulfill the mandate that we as member states gave it. Put simply, it cannot be an effective, objective promoter and protector of human rights absent predictable resources.

Canada must offer its expertise on human rights matters. This year, our government is pleased to support the candidacy of Marcia Kran, an accomplished Canadian lawyer, to the Human Rights Committee.

Let me conclude with the absolute need for celebrating diversity and promoting peaceful pluralism.

While still imperfect, we have managed in Canada to engender an environment in which diverse communities have the freedom to live and grow.

Whether Indigenous, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian or Sikh, anglophone, francophone or allophone, refugee or migrant, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or straight, all contribute to Canada’s evolving social fabric.

It is because we Canadians believe that diversity makes us stronger that we welcomed 25,000 Syrian refugees in a few months. We have promised to do more. Canada strongly believes that these individuals will contribute to the Canadian fabric and help build a pluralistic, diverse and inclusive society.

Yes, diversity, with full respect for universal human rights, strengthens humanity. Let this truth prevail everywhere.

Thank you.


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