The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, welcomed the decision last week by the United States Supreme Court in Boumediene vs. Bush that the U.S. Constitution extends to foreign detainees held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and that they have the right to challenge their detention by habeas corpus in the civilian courts.
Canada, by refusing to stand up for the legal rights of its own citizen under the Harper government, has been a profound failure on the international front. Perhaps having a Foreign Affairs Minister like Maxime Bernier did not help matters.
In her statement, Louise Arbour said, "The Supreme Court has sent a vitally important message that the protections afforded by fundamental human rights guarantees extend to these individuals and that effective remedies must be available to them. After up to six years in detention in Guantanamo Bay without satisfactory review of the reasons for their detention, these detainees have the right to prompt review in the civilian courts."
"I welcome the Courtâe(TM)s recognition that security and liberty are not trade-offs, but can be reconciled through the framework of the law, and that it is the courts that apply that law," she said. "This has long been the hallmark of American constitutionalism."
Hopefully this will result in an expedited scenario to assess the specific case of Omar Khadr. But only if the Canadian government is willing to forcefully stand up for the rights of its own citizen to have appropriate access to justice. Its ambivalence to intervene has been indicative of an immature foreign policy.
For Canada to allow a citizen to be detained at the age of 15, and who could face the death penalty at the U.S. military tribunal, is an embarrassing footnote to how much Canada's willingness to stand up for human rights has been diminished.
If Canada is unwilling to be consistent in its human rights efforts, its legitimacy as a defender of these rights will be questioned on the international stage.
The U.S., in establishing a framework for a victor's justice that flies in the face of international human rights standards, has once again shown brazen disregard for the system of human rights that does exist.
The unwillingness of Canada to stand up to its powerful southern neighbour for its own foreign policy interests brings in to disrepute the mythology of this nation as a defender of rights and principles.
The rhetoric of war and terror should not be a legitimate avenue to bypass due legal processes, whether guilt is proven or not.
We will never be taken seriously as a nation if we politicize rights or ascribe a value to an individual's citizenship irrespective of their affiliation or links with terrorist activities.
Either rights matter or they do not. Either rights exist or they do not. As citizens, we have the right to demand the highest standards of process. We have the right to reject the death penalty and believe in the possibility of rehabilitation for any criminal.
For the sake of our foreign policy, we have an obligation to believe in something.
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