Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016
UN Pressure Mounts for Inquiry
Missing women issue draws international scrutiny
Native Women's Assn of Canada
ix international human rights experts had a historic meeting with Canadian Ministers for Justice, Indigenous and Northern Affairs, and for the Status of Women - the three Ministers charged with designing the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. The meeting offered an opportunity to discuss essential elements of an official national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and to ensure that it is human-rights compliant.
Two members of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee), the Chair of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and three UN Special Rapporteurs, affirmed that a strong commitment to fulfilling obligations under international human rights law in the inquiry and its aftermath will be required for sustainable results.
Long called for by United Nations officials and the IACHR as well as by Indigenous communities and advocacy groups, the Canadian government announced a national inquiry in December 2015 suggesting a new direction and a recognition of the crisis.
Canada has faced criticism by both the UN and the IACHR – each of which conducted their own inquiries – for its inaction to address the disappearances and murders of Indigenous women and girls, and the neglect of their human rights.
The experts were unanimous in welcoming the initiative by the Canadian government to establish this inquiry and stressed, "it is imperative that it be firmly grounded in international human rights norms to which Canada is bound, as well as its own domestic legal framework."
The international experts were unanimous that the Inquiry must be participatory, addressing the root causes of the extreme violence and discrimination against Indigenous women and girls in Canada. Furthermore, it should be based in a solid appreciation that the human rights violations that Indigenous women experience require adequate, effective and clear responses.
The Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Ms. Victoria Tauli Corpuz, welcomed the recognition by the Canadian Government of the complex, multidimensional, and mutually reinforcing human rights violations which indigenous women and girls face and which routinely exclude them from enjoying the rights otherwise guaranteed to citizens. She particularly welcomed the inquiry as "challenges which include gaps and weaknesses in the monitoring and implementation of the human rights of indigenous peoples contribute to a culture of impunity and render the violations of rights invisible to international and national policy makers and legislators".
"It is my hope that the national inquiry will shed light on the magnitude, nature and context of violence experienced by indigenous women and girls and that its recommendations will accelerate progress and action to protect and prevent the violence they have suffered in all its forms", shared Ms. Dubravka Šimonović. "The unacceptable cycle of violence and impunity needs to be broken and appropriate redress has to be provided" she stressed.
"The root causes of this situation are related to a history of colonization, discrimination and inequality and its impact on the present day," noted James Cavallaro, Chair, Inter‑American Commission on Human Rights. "As a consequence, Indigenous women and girls constitute one of the most disadvantaged groups in Canada. Poverty, inadequate housing, economic and social relegation, among other factors, contribute to their increased vulnerability to violence."
"For the Inquiry to be successful it will require a specific examination of gross deprivations of socio-economic rights as a root cause of Indigenous women's experiences of the most extreme forms of violence" stated Leilani Farha, Special Rapporteur on the right to housing. "Of course, it would also require Canada to recognize that socio-economic rights impose on all levels of government very particular standards and obligations."
CEDAW members Barbara Bailey and Ruth Halperin-Kaddari reiterated "The CEDAW Committee's Inquiry found that Canada's failure to protect Indigenous women and to provide them with effective remedies under the law was a grave violation of the Convention. The Government now has an opportunity to implement all recommendations from the CEDAW Committee report and duly protect and ensure that Indigenous women are regarded with the same level of respect and status as other members of society."
The meeting between the international experts and the Canadian Government could lead to a new approach toward Indigenous women in Canada, and the Inquiry could stand as a model human rights procedure internationally.
Prior to meeting with the Ministers, the experts participated in a two-day symposium (30 – 31 January) with Indigenous women leaders and their allies on murders and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls to discuss the possible framework and structure of the inquiry on at the University of Ottawa.
The experts are:
• James Cavallaro, Chair of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights;
• Barbara Bailey, Vice-Chair of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and one of the Committee's designated members who conducted CEDAW's Canada Inquiry
• Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and Chair of the Committee's Working Group on Inquiries
• Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples
• Leilani Farha, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing
• Dubravka Šimonović, United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences
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