Neve: We need a human rights game plan for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics

Good suggestions. Latest Angus-Reid poll shows 55 percent support boycott compares to 27 percent opposed:
As the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing draw nearer – less than eleven months to go – calls for a boycott grow.

Every day, grave human rights violations suffocate freedom in Hong Kong; brutalize Tibetan, Falun Gong, pro-democracy and other prisoners because of who they are or what they believe; and jeopardize the survival of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. Worry for unjustly imprisoned Canadians, including Huseyin Celil, Sun Qian, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor – and four Canadians currently sentenced to death in China – is top of mind. Understandably, there is much debate about holding the Olympics in a country responsible for a human rights crisis of this magnitude.

Immediately there is pushback. We hear indignation that a boycott politicizes the Olympics. But concern for universal human rights is anything but political. These are international obligations binding on all nations, including China.

The Olympic Charter itself affirms that: “The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” Surely championing universal human rights is true to the essence of that vision.

What is particularly galling is for governments and the Olympic movement to dismiss boycott calls as inappropriate, then go no further. That is an utter abdication of responsibility. Boycott or not, there must be a forceful human-rights game plan for these Olympics.

With the House of Common’s recognition of China’s genocide against the Uyghurs; with an iron grip of repression closing around Hong Kong; with Canadians unjustly locked up in Chinese prisons; and with the Chinese government determined to bask in a favourable international spotlight – if this is not the time to sharpen the world’s focus, build pressure, and set out clear expectations for human rights change in China, when will that time be?

Here is the beginning of a three-part game plan for Canada.

First, work with other governments to hold China accountable within the United Nations human rights system. The UN Human Rights Council is in session and will meet two more times before the flame is lit in Beijing. Governments need to find their resolve and use the world’s premier human rights body to call out one of the world’s most egregious human rights violators.

Second, take steps that are readily available. Canadian law and policy already provide for a range of meaningful measures such as more robust bans on products made through forced labour; targeted sanctions on Chinese government officials; concrete initiatives to protect activists in Canada facing threats for their Chinese human rights advocacy; and dedicated programs for refugees fleeing this repression. House of Commons committees on the Canada-China relationship, international human rights and immigration have explored and proposed those and other recommendations in recent months. It is time for action.

And third, all stakeholders need human rights-focused Olympics strategies. That includes the government, the Canadian Olympic Committee, media, corporate sponsors and individual athletes.

There needs to be a coherent response with other governments, including maintaining pressure with respect to key human rights concerns throughout the lead-up to and during the Olympics. Coordinated decisions as to which officials will attend and who will pointedly stay away from the lavish opening ceremony should be publicized.

Attention will be needed to ensure that journalists have freedom and are encouraged to report about China’s human rights reality. Similarly, marketing campaigns cannot gloss over China’s grim human rights record. Television networks with Olympic broadcast rights, and companies paying big bucks to use the logo, need to figure out how they will lift up human rights.

And there must be assurances of safety and support for individual athletes who will feel compelled by conscience to show solidarity.

If governments and the Olympic movement are going to rebuff boycott suggestions, it is incumbent upon them to demonstrate they are nonetheless committed to addressing the harrowing human rights backdrop behind the Beijing Games’ fanfare.

This is not playing politics. It is about respecting what the Olympics aspire to be.

Above all, it is about honouring the Uyghur people, the people of Hong Kong, Tibetans, Mongolians, Falun Gong practitioners, democracy campaigners, human rights defenders, journalists, labour activists, imprisoned Canadians, and countless others.

For them, the Olympic flame offers no inspiration or comfort.  For them, we must set the flame ablaze with concern, solidarity and action for human rights.

Alex Neve is a Senior Fellow with the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

Source: Neve: We need a human rights game plan for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics

Latest Angus-Reid poll showing 55 percent favouring a boycott, 27 percent opposed.


China could keep dual citizenship Canadians from leaving Hong Kong amid protests: lawyer

Legitimate worry:

A Canadian legal activist is warning the federal government to grant asylum to democracy activists in Hong Kong and expanded settlement to those with links to Canada before China prevents them from leaving.

The warning came Monday from Avvy Go, the director of the Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, which has already helped bring Hong Kong pro-democracy activists to Canada.

There are 300,000 Canadians of Hong Kong descent in China, and Go says if Ottawa doesn’t act now to accommodate those who want to leave, Beijing will prevent them from leaving in the future.

“The time to act is now. As China continues to crack down on the democracy movement in Hong Kong, it may soon find ways to prohibit Hong Kong activists from leaving that city, period,” Go said Monday at a joint video press conference hosted by Amnesty International.

“Even with those who are Canadian citizens, China may refuse to recognize their dual citizenship status and deny their exit from Hong Kong.”

MPs from the four major Canadian political parties and one independent senator stood in solidarity with the proposals Go put forward at a virtual press conference convened by Amnesty International.

Canada, along with the United States, Britain and Australia, have condemned Beijing’s imposition of a new national security law that they say violates Hong Kong’s freedom from Chinese communist interference.

“This is the Beijing government’s most breathtaking, threatening and callous attack yet … discarding any pretence of fulfilling China’s international promises made when Hong Kong was handed over in 1997,” said Alex Neve, the secretary general of Amnesty’s Canadian branch.

Go called on the federal government to implement several immigration and asylum measures, to help people get out of Hong Kong before it is too late. They are:

— Expediting family sponsorship applications by Canadians with spouses and parents in Hong Kong.

— Expanding family-reunification sponsorship programs beyond parents and spouses.

— Issuing more temporary-resident permits, work visas and student visas.

— Granting refugee status to democracy advocates, and offering them stepped-up resettlement options.

Last year, Hong Kong residents took to the streets in mass protests against a proposed extradition law from Beijing that was eventually abandoned.

During that unrest, Go’s clinic received requests from Canadians of Hong Kong descent whose relatives participated in pro-democracy protests, she said.

Since Beijing announced the new security law, the clinic is getting calls from Canadians who are worried about their families even though they may not have been involved with the democracy movement, said Go.

“These are our people. And as parliamentarians dedicated to promoting and protecting democracy, we cannot stand by silently. I endorse all of the actions,” said Independent Sen. Marilou McPhedran.

McPhedran said she has travelled across Africa and seen the effect of China’s massive development spending, an influence-buying effort that many analysts say is a power play by Beijing’s ruling communist party.

“The weaponization of economic support is something that we need to understand better as we look at what is happening in Hong Kong,” said McPhedran.

“The violation of the Hong Kong Basic Law, which is the essence of what China is saying it is going to do, is in fact a precursor to threats to democracies in many other countries as well.”

Conservative MP Kenny Chiu, who was born in Hong Kong, said the people of his homeland respect human rights and the rule of law, and they are prepared to commemorate Thursday’s anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre that saw the Chinese army kill scores of pro-democracy student protesters in 1989.

“We’re witnessing in Hong Kong basic dictatorship in disguise, exerting its power out of fear for these values,” said Chiu.

Source: China could keep dual citizenship Canadians from leaving Hong Kong amid protests: lawyer

Religious freedom office faces uncertain future as Liberals consider wider human-rights proposals

Good in-depth piece, with considerable commentary offering advice on what the Government should consider:

The Liberal government is considering whether to scrap Canada’s controversial Office of Religious Freedom — considered a signature achievement by the previous Conservative government — and instead focus on ways to champion a broader array of human rights abroad.

Unless the new government intervenes, current Ambassador for Religious Freedom Andrew Bennett’s three-year term will expire Feb. 18. The office’s mandate and funding, about $5 million a year, will run out on March 31.

Supporters of the office are urging the Liberals to save it. Others are calling for big changes, if not its outright abolition. The government is weighing its options.

“Beyond March, the government has not made a decision with respect to the mandate and associated budget of the office,” said Adam Barratt, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion. “The minister is examining options and how best to build on the work that has been accomplished in the area of religious freedom while promoting human rights as a whole.”

The Office of Religious Freedom was the subject of controversy even before it was formally established on Feb. 19, 2013. It was promised by the Conservatives during the 2011 election, but some worried it would be used to selectively champion Christianity, woo certain ethnic voter groups and pursue pet projects of the government.

Those who supported its creation argued there was is a growing link between religious freedom and democratic rights. They also said religion was becoming an increasingly important factor in international affairs, and having an office dedicated to the issue would benefit Canada abroad.

Bennett subscribes to that belief. Sitting in his office at the Department of Global Affairs, surrounded by religious symbols from different faiths, Bennett warned recently that Canadian diplomats risk a “blind spot” if they don’t have a strong grasp of how religion influences countries’ actions.

“We need to ensure that if we want to be really nuanced and winsome in how we engage countries that are deeply religious, that we can actually employ language that enables us to have a deeper engagement,” he told the Citizen. “If we can’t do that, then we risk developing or having a serious diplomatic blind spot.”

Even those who question the need for an Office for Religious Freedom have been impressed by Bennett, the well-spoken policy analyst at the Privy Council Office who also moonlights as a professor and dean at a small Christian college in Ottawa.

“Anytime I reached out for him, he was open, available and worked within the mandate,” said former NDP MP Paul Dewar, who was his party’s foreign affairs critic for years. “I think he did as good a job as he could to connect with groups from different religions and really try to engage to the extent he could.”

That doesn’t mean his term has escaped controversy. When the Conservative government appealed a court ruling that struck down a ban on face coverings during citizenship ceremonies, Dewar asked for Bennett’s position on the issue. The ambassador replied it was outside his mandate.

Bennett, however, admits that what happens in Canada has an impact on his ability to champion religious rights abroad. For instance, he says Turkish officials were quick to raise Quebec’s controversial Charter of Values two years ago when he was pressing them on the treatment of religious minorities in Turkey.

But even now, Bennett refuses to talk about the niqab debate, or the use of identity politics during the election debate. Mandate restrictions aside, he says Canada is different from Turkey and other places because it has a healthy democracy in which such issues can be debated.

“We need to be conscious as Canada that we have our own challenges that we have to engage,” he said. “But at least we’re able to engage them. In many countries, they can’t even talk about them.”

…Father Raymond de Souza wants the government to keep the office. A Roman Catholic priest and National Post columnist, de Souza is also chair of the Office of Religious Freedom’s external advisory committee. He says the federal government spends more on water treatment plants abroad than on the office each year.

“And if you ask why are there Syrian refugees in the first place, at least part of the answer is religious liberty,” he said. “People are fleeing religious persecution … The foreign policy issues that the government of Canada has at the top of its agenda are sort of shot through with religious liberty questions.”

…Alex Neve, the head of Amnesty International Canada, said the human rights group appreciated Bennett’s frequent public interventions on both individual and broader issues of religious persecution abroad. And he suggested the government might consider appointing ambassadors focused on other human rights.

“There is considerable value in devoting dedicated resources to a particular human rights concern, and appointing high level ambassadors or envoys to represent Canada globally with respect to that issue, as has been done with the Office of Religious Freedom,” he said.

Conservative foreign affairs critic Tony Clement hopes the Liberal government will keep the office and Bennett. He says both have contributed to religious freedom abroad, and transformed Canada into “a voice for research and advocacy and collaboration in order to protect people and their religious freedoms.”

But even some supporters question its impact. One is Imam Abdul Hai Patel, founder of the Canadian Council of Imams, Muslim chaplain for the University of Toronto and York Regional Police, and another member of the office’s external advisory board.

“I welcome the office. But then it has limited or no powers really to do anything,” said Patel. “I think it hasn’t really fulfilled the purpose for which it was intended, because it has no teeth and there was a limited budget.” He would like to see the office have more independence and influence, like its counterpart in the U.S.

Some Canadian diplomats have also quietly grumbled that the creation of the office politicized the issue of religious freedom, and hurt Canada’s ability to advance it abroad by putting it into a silo.

History might be against Bennett and the office surviving under the current Liberal government. Unlike the U.S. and some other countries, Canada has not traditionally appointed ambassadors for specific themes. And, fairly or not, the ambassador and office are inextricably linked to the previous Conservative government.

Bennett argues the office is needed more now than ever. In particular, he would like to offer more training to Canadian diplomats, to protect against that potential “blind spot” as religion and belief become more and more important in international politics.

And he says there’s an appetite for what the office has to offer. He says he has always acted as a non-partisan public servant. “My goal for the office is to just do the work. I just want to help people. I want to take that Canadian experience and try to assist as best we can people who are being persecution.”

Source: Religious freedom office faces uncertain future as Liberals consider wider human-rights proposals

Canada deports people to wars, repressive regimes | Toronto Star

Does appear to be some policy incoherence in deporting people to countries with a deportation moratorium:

“The prevailing human rights situation is so grave in some of these countries, the very real possibility that deportees would be at risk would be a very high one,” said Alex Neve, the secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, after viewing the statistics.

“There are countries on this list where there is widespread insecurity and armed conflict. We’ve got Somalia on the list and Syria,” Neve said. “There are other countries on this list where there are deeply entrenched patterns of widespread repression. Eritrea would be a good example. And there are countries where people who have been outside the country and are being sent back are viewed with suspicion, like North Korea.”

Neve says Amnesty International has nothing against deportations in general and points out that international law allows deportations of refugee claimants if they’ve had a fair hearing and can safely return to their country. But some of the countries people are being deported to give reason to worry.

“The government reserves the right to carry out deportations if a person has a criminal record,” said Neve. “That doesn’t mean that those deportations are in conformity with international law because there are some human rights protections that are absolute.

”Protection from torture, enforced disappearance and extrajudicial execution are all examples of uninfringeable human rights, Neve said.

“If you’re going to be gunned down by a death squad or if you’re going to be abducted by a secret police unit and disappear into a prison system without ever going through any kind of legal process — international law includes the protection against being deported to face that risk,” he said.

Canada deports people to wars, repressive regimes | Toronto Star.

Ahmad Waseem case illustrates Canadas foreign fighter problem

Good range of commentary on the challenges on stopping “terror tourism” and Australia’s legal framework:

Its telling that Waseem is wanted by the RCMP on charges of passport fraud but not terror-related crimes. In his case, says [Craig] Forcese, it is more than likely that if he ever returns to Canada, hell be prosecuted on those charges — which carry a sentence of up to 14 years in prison — rather than for his activities in Syria.

“It’s sort of an Al Capone strategy,” Forcese said, referring to the FBIs inability to pin any charges but tax evasion against the notorious Chicago gangster.

Alex Neve, the secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, said his concerns lie with whether foreign fighters violate the Geneva Convention, which set out the international rules of war, during their travels.

“Human-rights law would be concerned that if an individual is going to take part in an armed conflict or insurgency … and there’s reason to believe that in doing so, they’re likely to be involved in the commission of war crimes or crimes against humanity, then it would be important to look at what kinds of legal restrictions would be imposed,” Neve said.

Another consideration is that the labels “terrorist” and “insurgent” are highly charged.

“Some of these terms can be very politicized,” Neve said.

Forcese’s proposal? Adopting a Canadian “neutrality act” modelled after Australia’s Crimes Incursions and Recruitment Act, with a blanket ban on taking up arms with any non-government army.

The Australian law includes a maximum prison sentence of  20 years if a citizen or resident enters a foreign state with intent to engage in hostile activity.

“That includes trying to overthrow the government or injuring public office holders, or basically engaging in a war,” Forcese said.

It would also prohibit financing armed groups on behalf of a faction that isn’t part of a foreign government.

Would have been interesting to know the experience Australia has in enforcing the law.

Ahmad Waseem case illustrates Canadas foreign fighter problem – Canada – CBC News.