No Scrutiny Please, They’re Saudi.

This op-ed appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on October 1, 2015. 

In 2014, on the shores of Lake Geneva and next to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, a lavish ceremony was held to honour the recipient of the Moral Courage Award — an annual honour bestowed by UN Watch, a Geneva-based NGO dedicated to “(monitoring) the performance of the United Nations by the yardstick of its own Charter.“

Surrounded by Canadian diplomats and at least one fellow cabinet minister, Jason Kenney was feted “for demonstrating the courage to lead in upholding the founding principles of the United Nations, and defending the true principles of human rights.”

Lauding the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer declared: “When others have been silent while serial perpetrators of human rights abuses like Iran and Syria seek to hijack the UN’s human rights and anti-racism causes, Minister Kenney has been a clear and consistent voice for their millions of victims, opposing tyranny, hypocrisy and injustice.”

Accepting the award “on behalf of my colleagues and Prime Minister Stephen Harper,” Kenney sought to reiterate what he, his colleagues, and the prime minister have long portrayed as their unequivocal stance in defending the rights and dignities of those living under the world’s most oppressive regimes.

“Human rights are not subject to interpretation,” he said. “They exist by virtue of the dignity of the individual person. They cannot be written off simply because a handful of particularly brutal regimes have been given a veto powers in a bureaucratic body.”

You’d expect, then, after word leaked that Saudi Arabia, a leader in the abuse of human rights, restriction of religious freedom, and repression of women, was selected to head a panel of independent experts on the UN Human Rights Council, that both Kenney and Harper would be among the prominent human rights advocates – including UN Watch – leading the condemnation of the appointment.

One could argue the confluence of events coinciding with this incomprehensible decision — allegations of indiscriminate killing of civilians and ethic cleansing of Shiites in the Saudi-led aerial campaign against the Houthi rebels in Yemen; the imminent beading and crucifixion of Ali al-Nimr, nephew of a well-known Shia cleric and prominent critic of the Saud dynasty, arrested as a 17-year-old high school student for taking part in pro-democracy protests — made it incumbent upon Kenney and Harper, both of whom position themselves as global leaders in human rights advocacy, to front the charge in seeking to have the UNHRC appointment rescinded, to call for for an investigation into atrocities in Yemen, to demand clemency for a man condemned to death simply for seeking political reform.

Instead, they’ve offered absolute silence on each crucial matter detailed above. That’s not to say the government’s relationship with the Saudis has gone entirely unmentioned in recent days: When questioned about the ethics of his government’s secretive, multi-billion dollar arms deal with Riyadh — secured without the requisite human rights assessments or assurances such weaponry wouldn’t be used against the civilian population — Harper defended Saudi Arabia as a valued ally. He was concerned only, evidently, about possible job losses in Ontario should the deal be axed.

A key element of the Conservatives’ re-election bid has been to present themselves as warriors against fundamentalist ideologies and extremist entities. That they’ve deemed a woman who — entirely of her own accord — wears a niqab a greater threat than providing arms to a regime which adheres to and exports the actual medieval ideology which imposes draconian dress codes on women hints at the emptiness beneath the government’s veil of nationalistic rhetoric and international proclamations of moral authority.

Further reading:

Ten facts about Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia http://opencanada.org/features/ten-facts-about-canadas-arms-deal-with-saudi-arabia/

This thread of links.

Questions for the Minister: HERE and HERE 

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Stephen Harper’s Maternal Health Disaster

In what is arguably an effort to win over fundamentalist Christian voters, Stephen Harper’s G8 maternal and child health initiative, as it currently stands, will result in far more preventable deaths than the overall number of lives saved.

In what Huffington Post contributor Jodi Jacobson called an “absurd move,” Harper initially excluded family planning from his G8 initiative. A brief explanation was given by International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda, telling the House of commons “when we know what we can do by providing clean water, vaccinations, better nutrition, as well as the most effective way is the training of health care workers and improving access for those women, that is what we are going to do.”

Oda’s remarks came a day after Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon told a Commons committee that the Conservative government’s maternal health initiative “does not deal in any way, shape or form with family planning.”

Facing both opposition and international backlash, Harper back-pedalled on the remarks made by his cabinet ministers, telling the House of Commons “[the Conservatives] are “not closing doors against any options including contraception. But we do not want a debate here or elsewhere on abortion.”

Any hope of an open debate on the issue was crushed when a motion demanding a “full range of reproductive health services” in the government’s G8 initiative was put forward, and ultimately defeated by the Liberals.

Last week, Jennifer Dicthburn of the Canadian Press outlined the “startling statistics about the impact of expanded access to contraception” contained in a report released by Guttmacher Institute and United Nations Population Fund. The report concluded, among other things, that “meeting the world’s needs for modern birth control would reduce maternal deaths by 70 per cent, family planning would eliminate two-thirds of unintended pregnancies and three-quarters of unsafe abortions…and spending on contraception would ultimately reduce other health costs for women and their babies – an estimated $5.1 billion annually if wealthy nations were aggressively contributing to the cause already.”

On the issue of abortion, CNN shed light on a study revealing the barbaric methods women in Kenya are forced to turn to in the face of that country’s restrictive abortion laws. The so-called ‘backstreet abortions’ are crude, makeshift medical procedures using foreign objects such as metal wire and knitting needles to put an end to tens of thousands of unwanted pregnancies. ‘Backstreet abortions’, which carry a high risk of infection, injury, and death, are often the only option Kenyan women have due to the lack of access to safe abortions. When it comes to maternal mortality rates in Kenya, it’s no surprise that one-third of all maternal deaths come as a direct result of unsafe abortions.

Harper’s actual record on the well being of women and children is questionable at best, and in a scathing piece from The Globe And Mail’s Gerald Caplain details precisely why “evidence counts for nothing in faith-based Tory policy.”

Harper’s lack of credibility on the plight of women and children, combined with his willful ignorance of the scientific evidence backing the importance of contraception and abortion to maternal health, sets the stage for another Bush era ‘no condoms for Africa‘ foreign policy disaster; Conservative political posturing resulting in millions of easily preventable deaths.

This is ‘collateral damage’ in its cruellest form.

Cross-posted at rabble.ca
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UPDATE March 30: From the G8 Foreign Ministers conference, Hillary Clinton: Contraception must be part of maternal health plan

UPDATE April 27: Stephen Harper refuses to include abortion in G8 plan

“There will be no debate, Tories say, putting Canada’s signature maternal-health initiative at odds with policies of U.S. and Britain.”