Hypocrisies in International Human Rights

Countries and international bodies each have their own stance regarding issues debated in the international arena. Due to the media and subconscious conditioning, we make assumptions about which of these players hold which stances. We assume that some players are more exemplary and that others ought to be shamed. It is time for some of these assumptions to be put to the test.

Canada, for instance, is often perceived as a model nation in the international arena. Having been a member in the United Nations since its creation in 1945, it has had a key role in defining international relations in treaties like the UN Charter, for example. The country helped to create the International Court of Justice and has its own Human Rights Act and Human Rights Commission. It assists in UN peacekeeping missions and contributes at the annual Human Rights Council meetings. Canada even submits its own human rights records to be evaluated by the UN. One should therefore be confident that Canada stands at the forefront of the fight for justice and human rights. In addition to all of Canada’s aforementioned efforts to support human rights, the government claims that the topic is “central” to Canadian foreign policy.

Candle In the photo: Candle- Credit to Catching.Light

However, there seems to be a hypocrisy in Canada’s stance to human rights. This is not the only country who is not fully committing to its principles on the issue.

Where one of Canada’s double-standards comes in is with the UN’s Convention against Torture.

The terms of the Convention include the following:

  • Preventing torture under any circumstances
  • Protecting individuals from being sent to countries where torture is a threat
  • Outlawing any act of torture
  • Ensuring that victims of torture receive fair compensation
  • Establishing a Committee against Torture

Canada did ratify the Convention against Torture in June of 1987. However, it has still not ratified the more recent 2006 Optional Protocol of the Convention. In other words, it has not yet reaffirmed its stance against torture and other humans rights violations.

98634308_05174b5720_oIn the photo: Amnesty International torture campaign- Credit to Harrisonmitchell

In particular, the Protocol introduces further methods of preventing torture: scheduling visits to the places of detention, asking for the State to make a Subcommittee on Prevention consisting of individuals with prior experience of carrying out justice, and for Subcommittee meetings to be recorded on camera. Canada does not want to be exposed in these ways; it seems that the country has things to hide.

It appears that Canada is not the only country failing to go all the way with its support for human rights. Companies that are part of the European Union are in possession of torture devices and technologies, due to loopholes in the EU’s 2006 Torture Trade Regulation. For example, irrespective of recent proposals, EU companies can still participate in the sale and transporting of these types of equipment as long as they do not  enter Europe itself. This is despite of all 28 EU countries signing onto the UN’s Convention against Torture.

7021338_d43d819100_oIn the photo: Torture room in Cambodia- Credit to Timoluege

We can see that some of the big players in international relations have a weakness in their principles when it comes to human rights. Perhaps we will see an analysis and refocus at the next Human Rights Council session, starting on June 15. Fortunately, the current High Commissioner for Human Rights, Muslim and Arab Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, seems to have a strong grasp of justice and rights. He is also not afraid of criticizing those who do not. He has claimed that the Holocaust is key to understanding ISIS, and even refers to jihadis as infedels. Hopefully he will be able to examine and expose the countries holding the double-standards already mentioned. Until these countries decide where their principles truly lye, it is going to be hard for them to place any criticism or shame on non-western countries’ human rights violations.

The subject of torture is just one topical example of hypocrisies in international human rights policies. The appointees to the 2013 UN Human Rights Council were Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and Cuba. Take a read of this article for a few examples of their extreme human rights violations. It is clear that the countries and international bodies that are perceived to be relatively clean allow for a lot of double standards behind the scenes. The best way to resolve this is to expose these faults and to establish international organizations that ensure ongoing transparency. A good example is Transparency International.

Let us hope that more initiatives are taken to reduce these well-hidden hypocrisies.

11322202765_40018a9953_kIn the photo: Human rights stairs display- Credit to University of Essex

In top photo: Universal Declaration of Human Rights- Credit to United Nations Photo



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  1. Claude Forthomme

    Thanks for drawing attention to the case of Canada, usually considered a particularly well-behaved, liberal member of the international concert of nations (but is it really a concert or a cacophony?) – a country that should be a model to follow. I didn’t know of Canada’s shortcomings in this area – usually attention is drawn to the major offenders, like Sudan or China – but I can’t say I’m surprised. The fact is that there is a huge GAP between international law and what is actually applied at the national level – for human rights and in many other areas too (for example, with regard to the application and use of pesticides and other health-threatening chemicals).

    And I agree with you that civil society has a big watchdog role to play as well as a role in prodding national governments to adopt laws and regulations in line with international law as they have agreed to and signed on at the United Nations. It’s not just Transparency International but a score of others, like Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International (the list of human rights organizations is very long, see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_human_rights_organisations)

    I don’t agree however with the Joel Brinkley article you mention, “The Hypocridy of the UN’s Human Rights Council”. While a number of egregious offenses are rightly highlighted, the conclusion the author reaches – that it is “time to disband it” – only shows that he doesn’t understand how the UN works. The Council already succeeded the UN Human Rights Commission that was disbanded in 2006 because of the kind of offending member countries elected to it. What are we going to do? Disband it again and create yet another commission? On what basis and how would a new Commission “work” better? The world is full of human rights offenders and it should come as no surprise that they are active in the only international arena that is legal, i.e. the United Nations.

    So should we have no committee at all allowing UN member nations to debate human rights issues? Then you could argue that the UN is illegally suppressing debate on a fundamental question, human rights!

    I believe it’s better to have the offenders come out in the open where we can shame them.

    And that’s not only the job of human rights organizations like Transparency International, it’s also the job of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (see the landing page of his Office OHCHR: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Pages/WelcomePage.aspx). And a demanding job it is – some remarkable people have served in that position, notably Mary Robinson from Ireland (she served from 1987 to 2002 eventually drawing the ire of the United States and she was forced to step down), Louise Arbour (yes, from Canada!) from 2004 to 2008, and now we have a Jordan Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein who has already taken a strong position on Daech terrorism. OHCHR has a big role to play in this area and civil society knows this very well, in fact, they often work hand in hand with OHCHR staff…

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