Genocide against Indigenous peoples a side note of UN Human Rights commissioner’s visit to Ottawa

The United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights wants Canada to implement the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ (MMIWG) 231 calls for justice.

Michelle Bachelet, a former two-term president of Chile, was in Ottawa Monday for meetings with federal officials, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

In the afternoon she joined Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland for a public conversation about global human rights.

The pair talked about a number of issues but didn’t discuss the MMIWG inquiry’s findings.

Speaking to reporters after the event, Bachelet reiterated points from a previous statement by the UN human rights commission calling on Canada to implement the national inquiry’s calls for justice.

While she hasn’t read the report, Bachelet said “it’s very important that Canada will make an action plan, a national action plan, to include those recommendations to prevent things from happening again.”

She also said Canada’s national action plan should include “redress for the victims and the families.”

In a statement shared with APTN News Monday morning, the UN human rights office said they “encourage the Government to effectively implement the recommendations, including developing a National Action Plan to ensure equitable access to employment, housing, education, safety, and health care. The UN Human Rights Office stands ready to support with technical assistance.”

Given the inquiry’s findings of genocide, the UN is also calling on Canada “to take steps for competent national authorities to assess these serious claims.

“The national inquiry allowed for the voices of the victims to be heard, and for their truth to come out. We encourage everyone to now focus on implementation of the comprehensive recommendations, including ensuring redress for the victims and their families, and taking all necessary measure to prevent further violations.”

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland discuss international human rights in Ottawa, June 17, 2019. Photo: Justin Brake/APTN.

Trudeau has already committed to a national action plan.

On June 3, he told those gathered for the televised MMIWG inquiry ceremonies in Gatineau, Que. that the government “will conduct a thorough review of this report and we will develop and implement a national action plan to address violence against Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ and two-spirit people.

“The commission has outlined the way forward,” he continued.

“You have my word that my government will turn the inquiry’s calls to justice into real, meaningful, Indigenous-led action.”

Since the report’s release, Canada has come under scrutiny from international bodies, including the Organization of American States (OAS), a political organization of states from the Americas.

Earlier this month OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro published a letter to Freeland expressing his “deepest consternation regarding the existence of evidence of genocide against Indigenous women and girls in your country.”

Almagro proposed to support an external investigation into the MMIWG inquiry’s findings of genocide.

“Given that your country has always sided with scrutiny and international co-operation in situations where human rights are violated in different countries, I am expecting to receive a favourable response to this request,” he said.

During Monday’s conversation with Bachelet, Freeland, a former journalist, emphasized the importance of a free and independent press.

“We politicians have to really support the right of our own journalists in our own countries to ask questions, even when they’re questions that make us uncomfortable — and often the best questions do,” she said.

But Freeland did not take questions from reporters following the event.

Asked by APTN if Canada should have a seat on the UN Security Council in light of the MMIWG inquiry’s findings, Bachelet did not respond.

Canada is presently vying for a rotating seat on the security council, which carries with it significant diplomatic powers.

While Trudeau’s meeting with Bachelet was not public, the prime minister’s office issued a statement shortly after.

It did not make specific reference to the MMIWG inquiry’s report.

“The Prime Minister affirmed Canada’s continued support for the High Commissioner’s role in the promotion and protection of human rights, and underscored the importance of being a voice for the vulnerable and minority groups, including the LGBTQ2 community,” the PMO said.

“The Prime Minister thanked the High Commissioner for visiting Canada and meeting with many Canadians engaged in promoting and protecting human rights, including Indigenous peoples.”

On a question of whether countries dealing with human rights abuses at home should simultaneously criticize other countries’ track records, Freeland was candid during Monday’s discussion with Bachelet.

“I think it makes Canada a more credible defender of human rights around the world when we acknowledge very openly and not defensively that we still have a long way to go at home,” she said.

“I think that, as the prime minister said at the UN…there’s a lot of work we have to do at home. And I think that that opens up a better, truer conversation with other countries.”

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