Steven Edwards, CanWest News Service – NEW YORK – Canada has drawn an avalanche of criticism from countries with some of the worst human rights records after speaking out against them at the United Nations.
Of 13 countries whose records Canada highlighted at a human rights meeting, Iran, Cuba, Sudan and Uzbekistan lashed out, variously accusing Canada of mistreating its First Nations population, serving as a puppet of the United States, and generally getting all its facts wrong.
After Iran additionally pledged to ask the UN General Assembly to look into the plight of Canada’s indigenous people and immigrants, Canada hit back, spelling out the differences between life in the Islamic republic and Canada.
The onslaught comes as the UN’s refugee agency announced Wednesday Canada will admit more than a third of some 150 Palestinian refugees turned away by Jordan and Syria after fleeing their former camps in Iraq.
Always outspoken against human rights violations, Canada has taken on a sharper tone against countries deemed abusers since the Conservatives took office.
The tactic has come as a shock to many at the world body who had become used to a more diplomatic Canada.
”Never would Canada claim that we have a perfect human rights record E” Henri-Paul Normandin, Canada’s deputy ambassador to the UN, told the world body’s human rights committee Wednesday.
”(But)we are in favour of genuine, open discussions on human rights, and our government is ready to account E From what we can see, Iran’s approach, both domestically and internationally, is rather to deny, stifle debate, retaliate.”
Canada has been at the forefront of international criticism of Iran since the 2003 torture and murder in an Iranian jail of Zahra Kazemi, a Montreal-based Iranian-Canadian photojournalist who had been covering a student protest outside a prison in Tehran.
On Monday, Normandin put the world body on notice Canada will table a General Assembly draft resolution chastising the country.
The former Liberal government tabled similar drafts at earlier annual sessions.
Normandin also delivered Canada’s overview of abuses and advances around the world.
Beyond Iran, he said independent journalists work ”under the threat of criminal sanctions” in Belarus, Cuba, Eritrea and Ethiopia, and freedom of expression is completely absent in North Korea and Turkmenistan.
He said Canada was ”deeply concerned” over continued human rights violations in Zimbabwe, and suggested Uzbekistan has yet to explain the ”violent repression of protesters” last year in the city of Andijan, where witnesses say government troops killed hundreds of unarmed people following an uprising and a jailbreak.
Canadian criticism of the Arab-led government of Sudan came as Normandin said the Janjaweed the Arab militia that human rights groups say have Khartoum’s backing as they kill black Sudanese in Darfur ”continue to act with impunity.”
Events in Burma, China and Russia have also sparked Canadian concern, Normandin said.
Typically at the UN, repressive countries despise being embarrassed on the international stage, and there was swift reaction to the Canadian assessment.
”In Canada, individuals have been deprived of their liberty awaiting trial or sentencing, and there have been allegations of police brutality and inappropriate use of chemical agents by law enforcement,” said Hossein Panahiazar, the Iranian representative.
”Indigenous women and girls, meanwhile, suffer from a high level of discrimination and violence.”
Cuba’s Jorge Cumberbatch accused Canada of shortsightedness for failing to notice what he called ”abuses south of Canada’s border,” adding Canada was now an ”accomplice in the war adventures” of the United States.
Normandin had been joined by New Zealand Ambassador Rosemary Banks in his criticism of Sudan, prompting Sudanese representative Idrees Mohamed Ali Mohammed Saeed to lash out at both countries.
”Canada and New Zealand’s support for the practices of slavery and apartheid are well known,” he said, ”as is the tragic situation of their indigenous peoples and migrants.”
Uzbek Ambassador Alisher Vohidov said Canada had got it all wrong about the events in Andijan, saying ”dozens of people were killed by the so-called demonstrators carrying arms.”
Canada has agreed to accept 63 of the Palestinian refugees who have been living in a so-called ”no-man’s land” since fleeing the war in Iraq in 2003, said Astrid Van Genderen Stort, spokeswoman for the UN High Commission for Refugees.
The families of most had moved to Iraq after the creation of Israel in 1948, then sheltered in tents just inside Jordan after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq began.
© CanWest News Service 2006
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