Keep updated on developments from Geneva.


May 14, 2013: Draft report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review Canada

Logo of the Human Rights Council

 The Draft Report of Canada’s UPR is now posted on the United Nations Website.  The Draft Report chronicles the comments and statements made by member states of the Human Rights Council on Canada’s human rights observance.  The Draft Report also includes responses given to comments by Canada made during the review.  At the end of the document, the recommendations made by the HRC member states to Canada to improve the Canadian human rights record are set out.

Response from Canada to comments and recommendations in the Draft Report are due this upcoming September. At that point, Canada will note those recommendations it rejects and those it accepts.

Stay posted for some analysis of the Draft Report.

In the meantime, the report can be viewed at:

Also, watch some of the post NGO discussion below:

Geneva, April 26th  Palais des Nations 


“We need competent and responsible states to meet the needs of “we the peoples” for whom the UN was created. And the world’s peoples will not be fully served unless peace, development and human rights, the three pillars of the UN, are advanced together with equal vigour.” – Ban Ki-moon, 2006 acceptance speech on appointment as
the 8th Secretary-General of the United Nations

Canada’s second Universal Periodic Review began today at 9:00 am, Geneva time.  The room in which this hearing takes place is a beautiful chamber.  The picture of this room on this blog doesn’t do justice to the experience of being in the room.  The ceiling is a stunning three dimensional art installation, created by the Spanish artist, Miquel Barceló.  The room is large but feels intimate; the space seems oddly distorted by the work of art overhead.  NGOs sit around the perimeter of the curving lines of desks, everyone with a plastic cup-like device over her or his ear for simultaneous translations of the delegates’ interventions.  Two large screens dominate the front of the room: one with the list of countries up to speak and the other with a picture of the current speaker.  A long row of desks between these two screens hosts the delegation of the country under review.

The Canadian delegation—about 10 people–opened with a general statement of achievements and commitments.  This statement was made by Elissa Golberg, the Canadian Ambassador and Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations at Geneva.  She concluded her presentation with the statements that: Canada is “proud of its achievements in human rights and its current efforts in building a peaceful stable country,” and that “although difficulties do persist we are determined to work towards a free and open society.” (Translation from French).

After Canada’s opening statement, the Council President introduced a long list of countries who have registered the desire to speak to Canada.  Each speaker has 1 minute and 26 seconds to intervene—that is, to ask questions and make statements and recommendations in relation to Canada.  The large screen at the front clicks down the seconds of each intervention.

First up was the delegation from Chad, then, Chile, China, USA, Cote d’Ivoire, Cuba, Spain and so on.  The format of these interventions is predictable, for most.  The delegate begins with an expression of appreciation to the Ambassador for her excellent presentation, issues congratulations on something Canada has done or is doing, then zeroes in on some concerns and perhaps a recommendation or two (or three).  A few countries departed from this formula, but most kept to it.  Meanwhile, at the back row of the room, NGO reps scribe feverishly away, trying to pull out significant moments, unexpected comments, or noticeable themes.

Here are some of the themes and key moments that stood out for me.  Once the final report is out more systematic elaboration is possible.

1.         Most stark was the tremendous interest in and concern about the state of Indigenous peoples, and Indigenous women, in particular, in Canada.  It was a minority of countries that didn’t mention this issue.  For instance, here are the countries I noted that mentioned concerns about Aboriginal women and girls: China USA Cote d’Ivoire, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Honduras, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Senegal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Togo, Turkey, UK, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Australia, Belarus, Brazil, Burundi, Cambodia, Cap Verde.  In addition to these countries, many more focused on Indigenous issues more generally.

The specific issues raised included violence against Aboriginal women, housing, education, imprisonment, and discrimination.  A significant number of delegates called for a national action plan to address issues relevant to Aboriginal women.  Ireland called for an independent national inquiry.

2.         A significant number of countries raised concerns about poverty and homelessness in Canada, many recommending that Canada implement national strategies on homelessness and on poverty.  These countries included: Sierra Leone, Malaysia, Slovakia, Sri Lanka Cuba, Egypt, Malaysia, Russia, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam.

3.         Frequent comment focused on those international human rights instruments that Canada has yet to ratify, such as the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.  This theme can be expanded to include general concern about Canada’s cooperation with the variety of human rights mechanisms of the United Nations system.  So, countries called for Canada to invite special experts and investigators in to look at specific problems.

4.         Canada was asked to better include civil society in its implementation of human rights commitments.  Two countries (Sudan, Algeria) took Canada to task for inferring that human rights reviews of this sort were inappropriate for the developed democracy of Canada.  The United Kingdom urged Canada not to allow the fact of being a federal state to impede human rights implementation.

5.         Many countries expressed concern about racism and xenophobia in Canada, calling for more effective legislative and policy measures.

4.         A cluster of countries made statements about the right to water and differential access to clean water between aboriginal communities and non-aboriginal communities.  The Council for Canadians and Indigenous groups have been active on this issue here in Geneva.  Clearly they have been successful in raising awareness.

6.         Several countries expressed concern about the situation of migrant workers in Canada and the absence of protections for these individuals.

7.         There was a strong theme of concern about children’s rights and access to such things as education and protection against sexual exploitation.

My impressions at this point in the day, after four days of meeting with other NGOs and government delegates, and then listening through the three hour review today?  It’s exhilarating to see government representatives from other countries “get” the significance of the issues about justice, equality, and human dignity we have brought to Geneva.  It’s frustrating to hear the Canadian government present itself so obdurately as already doing the right thing.

NGOs commune at the close of Canada's UPR.
NGOs commune at the close of Canada’s UPR.
Canada’s Universal Periodic Review hearing.

Geneva, Tuesday, April 23rd

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.” — Eleanor Roosevelt, “In Our Hands” (1958 speech delivered on the tenth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

I am sitting in one of the two lounges in the Palais des Nations, sipping a tea and waiting to track down the representatives of the “troika” responsible for Canada’s review.  The Human Rights Council draws the names of three of its member countries for each country undergoing a UPR.  These three countries form the “troika” responsible for facilitating a particular country’s UPR.  The countries in Canada’s troika for this second UPR are Ireland, the Philippines, and Brazil.  We are planning to talk to the representatives about housing issues as a specific example of social and economic rights protections, poverty issues, and women’s equality issues.  Oh, and general issues around civil society participation.  Not a slim agenda…

These issues are all backed up by superb documentation by a number of NGO written submissions to the Human Rights Council for Canada’s UPR.  You can read some of the submissions that inform our discussions here at the following cites.

1. Housing Justice Submission:

2. FAFIA Submission:

3. BC CEDAW Group Submission:

The Human Rights Council also provides a summary of points raised in all of the NGO submissions.  This document can be read at:

The Human Rights Council Room where the UPR takes place.
The Human Rights Council Room where the UPR takes place.


Housing Justice at the United Nations Human Rights Council, Geneva.
Housing Justice at the United Nations Human Rights Council, Geneva.

Geneva, April 22, 2013

“All victims of human rights abuses should be able to look to the Human Rights Council as a forum and a springboard for action.”
- Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, 12 March 2007, Opening of the 4th Human Rights Council Session

Left the rain of Vancouver for the overcast skies of Geneva, Switzerland the day before yesterday. Temperature is very similar; Geneva is perhaps a bit chillier. Geneva is a beautiful city—interesting buildings and extensive tourist infrastructure around the lake. Lots of ice cream cafes and a merry-go-round that I think we must somehow work into our video on the human rights process. In the central area of town around the lake, every second person seems to be a tourist. Today, I am venturing up to the Palais des Nations to get my United Nations grounds pass. Yesterday, I walked by the Palais Wilson, named after President Wilson of the United States for his role in founding the League of Nations. Today the building houses the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Some quick information on the process Housing Justice is observing here in Geneva—Canada’s second Universal Periodic review…

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is described as a unique process for reviewing the human rights performance of all member states of the United Nations. Member states are to be reviewed every four years. There are currently 193 member states. The UPR is conducted by the Human Rights Council of the United Nations, a body created in March 2006 by the United Nations General Assembly. The Council consists of 47 members, each elected in staggered elections from and by member states of the General Assembly. The Council meets three times a year. The Human Rights Council has finished its first round of reviews and is currently on its second batch. During the first round 48 states were reviewed each year; this round, 42 states are reviewed yearly. The United Nations Human Rights Council begins its sixteenth UPR session this Tuesday, April 22nd. More on this to come, of course.