Thursday, April 10, 2014

Canada: Groups seek human rights protections in Canadian trade agreement with Honduras


PEN Canada and the International Human Rights Program (IHRP) at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law will call on officials to tie human rights obligations to Canada's proposed free trade agreement with Honduras during a committee appearance in Ottawa tomorrow, April 10, 2014 at 11 a.m.

The Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement was signed by the current government on Nov. 5, 2013, but must be debated and voted upon by Parliament before it becomes Canadian law. The House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade will make recommendations to assist Parliament in its deliberations.

In their submissions, PEN Canada and the IHRP will highlight the findings of their 2014 report – Honduras: Journalism in the Shadow of Impunity. The report documents a surge in violence against journalists who cover organized crime and government corruption and who increasingly face threats and lethal attacks with almost complete impunity for perpetrators. Since the June 2009 coup, at least 32 Honduran journalists – most working for the broadcast media – have been killed, yet almost all of these killings remain unsolved.

Carmen Cheung, a researcher on the report, cautions: “violence against journalists stifles not only the individual rights of journalists to expression and speech, but compromises the expressive rights of the entire society. Honduras is facing a serious human rights crisis.”

PEN Canada and the IHRP believe that real commitment on the part of the Honduran government to protect freedom of expression is essential to safeguarding Canada's interests in Honduras. “This agreement should not be business as usual for Canada. This is a country that has performed far worse than its neighbours,” said Executive Director of PEN Canada, Tasleem Thawar, of Honduras' record on freedom of expression. “This is a unique opportunity for Canada to press Honduras to address its human rights obligations.”

PEN Canada and the IHRP will ask the committee to recommend that the Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement include binding and enforceable obligations in relation to fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression. “It is essential that Canada not be seen to condone the gross human rights violations taking place in Honduras through ratification of a treaty that is essentially silent on the human rights crises in Honduras,” said Renu Mandhane, Director of the IHRP.