Recently, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (OAS) said that there should be an inquiry in Canada into the country’s missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. The seven-member panel concluded that the disappearances and murders are part of a larger pattern of discrimination. The report said: “addressing violence against women is not sufficient unless the underlying factors of discrimination that originate and exacerbate the violence are also addressed.”
While many Canadians are familiar with the United Nations, others may not have heard about regional human rights bodies that Canada is involved with, such as the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Human Rights System.
The Organization of American States Charter was signed in 1948, and entered into force in 1951. The Charter has been amended on a few occasions. According to OAS Charter Article 1, the OAS was created to achieve among its member states “an order of peace and justice, to promote their solidarity, to strengthen their collaboration, and defend their sovereignty, their territorial integrity, and their independence.” The OAS consists of all 35 independent states of the Americas (including Canada) and is the main political, juridical, and social governmental forum in this hemisphere. The Report notes that although indigenous people represent a small percentage of Canada’s total population, the number of missing and murdered indigenous women is particularly concerning… The OAS has also granted permanent observer status to 69 other states and the European Union. The OAS has four pillars: democracy, human rights, security, and development.
The American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man was adopted in 1948 (“Declaration”). In 1969, the American Convention on Human Rights (“Convention”) was adopted. The preamble states that the purpose of the Convention is “to consolidate in this hemisphere, within the framework of democratic institutions, a system of personal liberty and social justice based on respect for the essential rights of man.” The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (“IACHR”) and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (both organs of the OAS) are responsible for overseeing compliance with the Convention.
In addition to an individual or group petition complaint process, the IACHR also monitors the general human rights situations in member-states and publishes country-specific human rights reports where it determines these are necessary. The reports also contain recommendations to countries that are intended to improve their human rights situation. The Report on Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women in British Columbia, Canada is one such report (“Report”).
The Report was prepared after a working visit to Canada in August 2013 to collect information from individuals, government, and civil society sources, among others. The Report notes that although indigenous people represent a small percentage of Canada’s total population, the number of missing and murdered indigenous women is particularly concerning, especially in British Columbia (concentrated near Prince George and in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver). The Executive Summary states:
- The disappearances and murders are part of a broader pattern of violence and discrimination against indigenous women across Canada.
- Submissions indicate that police have failed to adequately prevent and protect indigenous women from killings and disappearances, and have failed to properly and promptly investigate these cases.
- Canadians largely agree that the root causes of the high levels of violence are related to the history of discrimination from colonization and the unjust laws and policies such as the Indian Act and forced enrolment in residential schools that continue to affect indigenous peoples in Canada.
- The historical discrimination has resulted in indigenous women and girls being one of the most disadvantaged groups in Canada.
- Poverty, inadequate housing, and economic and social relegation contribute to the increased vulnerability to violence.
- IACHR strongly indicates, however, that addressing violence against indigenous women is not enough unless the racial and gender discrimination that cause and exacerbate the violence are also addressed comprehensively.
- While there have been efforts to address the situation of missing and murdered indigenous women in British Columbia, there needs to be a coordinated and consultative response to address the discrimination and violence against indigenous women and girls in order to create successful response mechanisms for responses to the problem.
The Report concludes with a series of recommendations for Canada. These recommendations will be discussed in the next issue of LawNow.