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Should Canada have demanded more from UN execution proscription?

Sexual orientation reference removed from resolution

This young man was executed by Iranian officials in 2005 for homosexuality. The UN voted on Nov 16 to remove a specific reference to sexual orientation from its proscription on summary executions.

As Xtra reported on Nov 26, Canada voted against removing a 10-year-old specific reference to sexual orientation from the United Nations’ proscription on extra-judicial and summary executions. But subsequently, along with 165 other countries, Canada voted in favour of the execution proscription in its entirety. There were 10 abstentions on that vote. If the resolution had not passed, the old version, including the specific reference to sexual orientation, would have remained in force.

Should Canada have abstained too, or even voted against the resolution because it excluded sexual orientation as a prohibited ground for execution?

“Though Canada and other countries were unsuccessful in our advocacy for the continued inclusion of language referencing sexual orientation in the resolution on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Canada continues to support the principle of the resolution, which calls for action to ‘prevent, combat and eliminate’ the practice of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions,” a Foreign Affairs spokesperson wrote in an email to Xtra.

“As stated in the resolution, Canada believes the practice of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution is a violation of human rights and impacts negatively on the enjoyment of human rights, particularly the right to life.”

But Canada’s voice was conspicuously absent from the minutes of the debate on the removal of the sexual orientation reference. When asked why, the Foreign Affairs spokesperson dodged the question:

“Prior to the discussion and vote on the amendment, Canada worked with like-minded countries to retain the language on sexual orientation within the resolution. Canada further expressed our opposition to this amendment with our ‘No’ vote against the amendment.”

For the NDP’s foreign affairs critic, Paul Dewar, this simply isn’t good enough.

“Why did Canada remain silent during this debate?” Dewar asks. “If we believe that the language that existed should have remained, and that the amendment wasn’t something that was aligned with our policy – it certainly wasn’t aligned with the law of our land –  why is it that we remained on the sidelines and didn’t speak?

“I don’t know what’s more reprehensible – the vote, or the fact that we didn’t say anything.” Dewar says. “Why didn’t we abstain like others who had concerns? Albeit I would have preferred us to vote against it.”

The Foreign Affairs spokesperson writes that in voting for the final resolution, Canada expressed support for the resolution as a whole.

“By voting for the resolution, Canada recognized this importance and helped ensure that the issue will be considered again at a future session of the UN, as called for in the final paragraph of the resolution.”

Dewar says the rule of law as well as international conventions like the Hague conventions already condemn arbitrary and extrajudicial killings.

“The point is to be explicit about what you believe, and it matters what’s in the content of resolutions,” Dewar says. “Now, if there was some process to say that within six months at the maximum, we would review this to address this amendment, then maybe you could see a case for voting with – maybe. But in this case, it’s regressive. There’s no other way to look at it. When you start backpedalling on rights provisions, I don’t see how you can see that as progressive. It’s just retrograde.”

Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae has a more tempered position on the vote on the final wording. While hinting that the United States and Israel likely had other reasons to abstain from voting on the final wording other than the removal of sexual orientation, he nevertheless feels that Canada made the right decision.

“Canada’s unequivocal vote is the better approach,” says Rae. “I’m not happy at all about the exclusion of sexual orientation from the resolution, and I wish Canada had been more vocal about it, but to abstain on the vote would not be consistent with Canada’s commitment to human rights and the rule of law.”