Saturday, August 11, 2007

Backgrounder: Amnesty letters on SPP

Here are two letters written from Canadian, American, and Mexican national representatives of Amnesty International. It was written during previous flashpoints in the process, the first in 2006 in the wake of the establishment of the SPP, and the second in 2005 prior to a trilateral meeting, calling for the adoption of a "North American human rights agenda".
Open Letter to Stephen Harper, George W. Bush and Vicente Fox

Posted: 28 March 2006

President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington D.C. 20500
United States of America

President Vicente Fox
Residencia Oficial de los Pinos
Casa Miguel Alemán
Col. San Miguel Chapultepec
11850, Distrito Federal

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario.
K1A 0A2

29 March 2006

Dear President Bush, President Fox and Prime Minister Harper

One year ago we wrote to President Bush, President Fox and Prime Minister Martin in advance of their trilateral meeting in Waco, Texas . We urged that the meeting become an occasion to make a firm commitment to put human rights at the centre of all aspects of the relationship among our three countries. We write now, in advance of your March 30-31 summit in Cancun, Mexico, because we remain concerned that more must be done to improve the protection of human rights throughout North America.

The meeting in Waco led to the establishment of the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP). The SPP was reached more than a decade following the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which forged a close economic and political relationship among Canada, Mexico and the United States. Unfortunately, though, over the twelve years of that relationship and despite agreements such as NAFTA and the SPP, there have been no steps taken to put in place an effective and comprehensive North American human rights action plan.

When we wrote last year we highlighted four issues which transcend North American borders and where significant human rights shortcomings require urgent attention and reform: security and human rights; trade and investment; refugees and migrants; and the rights of Indigenous peoples. We have attached that letter as an annex. The concerns raised and recommendations proposed remain current.

In Cancun you will review progress made in the Security and Prosperity Partnership. Neither true security nor equitable prosperity, however, can be achieved without scrupulous regard for human rights. That matters deeply, for all people living within the borders of Canada , Mexico and the United States. It has wider global significance as well though. Deficient human rights practices in North America have an impact far beyond our borders; while North American human rights leadership can go far in strengthening the protection of basic rights around the world.

President Bush, President Fox and Prime Minister Harper, it is time to remedy the human rights gap in the North American relationship. We urge you to use this meeting to commit to establishing a meaningful and concrete North American human rights partnership.


Michel Frenette
Directeur General
Amnistie Internationale
Section Canadienne francophone

Alex Neve
Secretary General
Amnesty International Canada
(English Branch)

Liliana Velázquez Ramírez
Amnistía Internacional

William Schulz
Executive Director
Amnesty International USA

March 21, 2005

Dear President Bush, President Fox and Prime Minister Martin,

We are writing to you on behalf of the more than 400,000 members of Amnesty International in Canada , Mexico and the United States , to urge that you use the occasion of your upcoming trilateral meeting on March 23rd to make a firm commitment to putting human rights at the centre of all aspects of the relationship among our three countries.

Canada , Mexico and the United States individually and collectively face a number of human rights challenges. Our three nations also have the opportunity to demonstrate human rights leadership, both globally and regionally in the Americas . We are aware that you are being pressed to deepen and expand the linkages and connections among our countries, including a suggestion that a North American Community be formed within the next five years.[1] Whether or not this is accomplished, there are already human rights shortcomings that remain unaddressed in the relationship among Canada, Mexico and the United States. Be it evolving security relationships among our three governments, high levels of trade and investment, cross-border flows of refugees and migrants, or the plight of Indigenous peoples, a number of issues with important human rights implications are either explicitly on your agenda or form a critical backdrop to the meeting.

Amnesty International urges you to adopt the following recommendations, as a step toward developing a sorely needed North American human rights agenda.

Security and Human Rights

It is apparent that your meeting will include discussion of tightening border security among our three countries. Some commentators have called for you to work towards the establishing a North American wide security perimeter. Amnesty International has repeatedly underscored the importance of ensuring that all security laws and practices adopted by states are grounded in absolute respect for international human rights norms.

We are deeply concerned, however, that since September 11 th the U.S. government in particular has pursued an approach to security that has led to serious violations of fundamental human rights. That has included the deeply disturbing incidents of torture and ill-treatment of detainees in US custody exemplified by the photos of US soldiers abusing detainees at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib detention centre, the continuing indefinite detention of hundreds of individuals at Guantánamo Bay, and the troubling practice of extraordinary rendition whereby individuals have been transferred by U.S. officials into the custody of foreign governments in circumstances where there is a clear risk of torture. In fact, one such case of extraordinary rendition involved a Canadian citizen, Maher Arar, arrested in the United States and sent to Syria, where he was held for one year without charge or trial and subjected to severe torture.

Our concerns are not limited to the United States. We have repeatedly called on Canada to reform its security laws so as to conform to international legal obligations. In particular, the practice of detaining individuals pursuant to security certificates issued under the country’s immigration legislation denies detainees basic fair trial protections and puts them at risk of being deported to torture.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s remarks in Mexico on March 10 th, indicating that the U.S. has concerns about “al-Qaida trying to use our southern border, but also about them trying to use our northern border” suggest an intention to develop a common North American approach to security matters. It is imperative that any further cooperation among our three countries be within a strong human rights framework.

President Bush, President Fox, and Prime Minister Martin, your meeting offers a valuable opportunity to commit to a North American security agenda that is wholly grounded in respect for international human rights obligations, including protection against torture, freedom from discrimination, and the right not to be arbitrarily arrested and detained. Insecurity does not stem from government efforts to protect and safeguard human rights, but rather from a failure to ensure the universal fulfillment of those rights.

We urge you to go further and demonstrate that your governments are prepared to strengthen human rights protection in ways that will improve the real security of women, men and children around the world. One such initiative presently before the international community is a proposal for a new international treaty that would regulate the global trade in small arms and light weapons. The largely unregulated trade in small arms and light weapons has contributed significantly to much of the world’s insecurity and grave human rights abuses. Amnesty International calls on each of your governments to announce support for this effort at the very earliest date possible.

Trade and Investment

It is over ten years since Canada , Mexico and the United States officially entered, in 1994, into the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). At that time and since, many organizations have expressed serious concern that increased trade and investment links among the three countries would pose a risk to human rights, the environment and workers rights unless strong and effective mechanisms for protection were put in place. Those concerns have deepened as NAFTA has, over the past several years, stood as a possible model for a proposed free trade area that would span the Americas.

Amnesty International is concerned that the rapid increase in trade among and between Canada , Mexico and the United States has not been accompanied by a concomitant increase in laws and institutions for the protection of fundamental human rights. There is a high human cost of this failure. For example, young women from all over Mexico have been attracted to jobs in the maquila zones in the cities of Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua . But over the past 12 years, nearly 400 young women from these cities have been murdered, and many more are missing. The failure of local and national Mexican authorities to respond to this alarming level of violence in a timely and effective manner is a human rights tragedy. So too, though, has been the failure of the Canadian and US governments, as well as the Canadian and US companies that operate in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua, to consider the connections between this violence against Mexican women and the economic conditions that have resulted from NAFTA.

President Bush, President Fox and Prime Minister Martin, Amnesty International urges that you make a firm commitment at your meeting on March 23rd to ensuring that human rights will be at the centre of business in North America. In particular, obligations under international human rights law must be acknowledged to have primacy and precedence over trade and investment rights and obligations. We urge you to initiate steps to launch a public and transparent process for carrying out human rights impact assessments of the trade rules that already exist within NAFTA and to consistently undertake such assessments before those trade rules are amended or expanded in any way.

In the face of expanding trade and investment within North America and more widely throughout this hemisphere, it is critical that there be strong and effective regional human rights laws and institutions in the Americas . Notably, the Organization of American States’ (OAS) human rights system needs to be significantly strengthened and improved. Neither Canada nor the United States have yet ratified any of the key OAS human rights treaties and should move to do so without further delay.

Refugees and Migrants

The land borders that divide Canada , the United States , and Mexico are immense, extending a total of 12,000 kilometres (7500 miles). Hundreds of millions of people cross those borders every year. Among them are refugees from all corners of the world, seeking asylum in either Canada or the United States . Among them also are migrants from Mexico and from Central and South America , seeking economic opportunities in Canada and the United States in hope of escaping the grinding poverty and violations of economic, social and cultural rights at home.

It can be dangerous to cross these borders, and unknown numbers of refugees and migrants have lost their lives in desperate efforts to reach the United States or Canada. While Amnesty International recognizes the right of sovereign countries to regulate their borders and further recognizes that all migrants do not have the right of entry, we are also concerned that laws, policies and practices related to the two land borders that separate our three countries may have the effect of denying the fundamental rights of thousands of individuals. We are also concerned that any moves toward possible harmonization of the immigration and asylum policies of our three countries would likely gravitate toward the lowest common denominator, thus further jeopardizing the basic rights of refugees and migrants.

The recently concluded “safe third country” refugee agreement between Canada and the United States is one such example. Amnesty International is concerned that the operation of that agreement, which prevents most asylum-seekers traveling through the United States from gaining access to Canada’s refugee determination system, in some cases leads to the detention of asylum-seekers, which is generally discouraged under international standards. The recent expansion of "expedited removal" to include uninspected foreigners within 100 miles of all U.S. land borders and to apply for the first two weeks after arrival, as well as its expansion to include asylum-seekers crossing from Canada pursuant to the safe third country agreement, is a troubling development that diminishes rather than enhances the right to seek asylum.

President Bush, President Fox and Prime Minister Martin, North American borders must be a frontier for the protection of human rights, not a place where the basic rights of vulnerable individuals are abused. Amnesty International calls on you to take no steps toward harmonization of immigration and asylum laws that would lead to human rights violations. The current agreement between Canada and the United States should be abrogated, and asylum-seekers ought to be allowed to decide in which of the two countries to lodge their asylum claims.

Protecting the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in North America

Indigenous peoples remain among the most vulnerable sectors of society throughout North America . The determination of Indigenous peoples to maintain their distinct ways of living, and the centrality of these customs and practices to the fulfillment of their basic rights to food, healthcare, and work, is in constant tension with discriminatory attitudes and policies that disregard the interests of Indigenous peoples and exclude them from meaningful control of their own lives and futures.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people has pointed out that increased global trade and investment has led to more mines, roads and other projects in Indigenous communities. When major investment initiatives take place in lands used by Indigenous peoples, the Special Rapporteur has concluded, "it is likely that their communities will undergo profound social and economic changes that are frequently not well understood, much less foreseen, by the authorities in charge of promoting the projects. Large-scale development projects will inevitably affect the living conditions of indigenous peoples. Sometimes the impact will be beneficial, very often it is devastating, but it is never negligible.[2]

As our three governments discuss ways to increase trade and investment, it is essential to consult closely with Indigenous peoples to understand and address the potential impacts on their distinct rights. Particular priority must be given to ensuring that all Indigenous peoples have secure access to the lands and resources needed to maintain their unique cultures and enjoy their fundamental human rights. Immediate measures must be taken to resolve outstanding land and resource disputes in a fair and transparent manner consistent with a progressive interpretation of the rights of Indigenous peoples under domestic and international law.

Given the widespread dispossession and displacement that has already occurred in Indigenous communities throughout North America , attention must also be paid to the situation of the growing urban Indigenous populations in all three countries and to ensuring the provision of services in ways that are culturally appropriate. Particular attention should be paid to measures needed to assure the safety and welfare of urban Indigenous women who are often doubly disadvantaged by racial prejudice and by global patterns of discrimination against women. Information concerning effective responses to the situation of Indigenous women should be shared among the three governments.

President Bush, President Fox and Prime Minister Martin, Amnesty International urges you to seize the opportunity afforded by your meeting to demonstrate global leadership in ending the longstanding neglect of the human rights of Indigenous peoples, in North American and around the world. Among our three countries, only Mexico has ratified the Convention Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries (ILO 169). The governments of Canada and the United States should consult with Indigenous peoples with a view to ratifying this Convention. All three states should give priority to timely adoption of strong and effective declarations on the rights of Indigenous peoples within the United Nations and Organization of American States.


The North American relationship must be one that is characterized by a firm commitment to human rights, both in how each of your governments governs its own affairs, but also in the initiatives that you pursue in common. Amnesty International urges each of you to take advantage of your upcoming meeting to establish that vision of North America .

[1] Creating a North American Community, Report of the Independent Task Force on the Future of North America, Sponsored by the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, the Consejo Mexicano de Asuntos Internacionales and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, March 2005.

[2] Rodolfo Stavenhagen, Special rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, Indigenous issues: Human Rights and Indigenous Issues, Report submitted to the Commission on Human Rights, 59th Session, E/CN.4/2003/90. 21 January 2003.

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