National Post…Gay McDougall, the UN’s chief monitor of the way governments treat minorities, is tasked with entering countries to expose discrimination and abuse.
So surely the prime targets of her investigative talents are the world’s worst human rights abuser states? Places like China, Cuba, Libya and Saudi Arabia come to mind — to name a few of Freedom House’s “worst of the worst.”
Yet McDougall arrived in Canada this week after picking the country as her eighth investigative destination since her 2005 appointment as the UN’s first Independent Expert on minority issues.
Her previous “targets” were three European Union members, France, Greece and Hungary; as well as Dominican Republic, Guyana, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan.
In other words, half of her investigative efforts have been focused on advanced democracies.
It’s not hard to find commentators who say the UN’s priorities are upside down.
“The reality is that every would-be immigrant in the world knows that Canada ranks at the top in its treatment of minorities, thanks to its constitutional guarantees, independent judiciary, elected parliament, vigorous civil society and free press-that all can speak for affected minorities and provide remedies where needed,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch in Geneva, the host city of the UN’s main human rights branches.
“But there is not a single domestic institution that will speak for the two million black African migrants persecuted in Libya, the ethnic minorities oppressed in Tibet, or the women subjugated in Saudi Arabia. That is precisely where an international voice would be vital.”
But the irony does not rest there. The UN statement announcing McDougall’s Canadian probe includes a reference to the term “visible minorities,” which the UN’s anti-racism watchdog told Ottawa to stop using two years ago.
The statement cites Canadian census data that reveals “visible minorities” represented 16.2 per cent of the Canadian population in 2006.
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination told Canada in 2007 that Ottawa’s use of the term in literature “may not be in accordance with the aims and objectives” of UN’s anti-racism convention.
McDougall, a U.S. national, is visiting Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal in a 10-day tour that ends Oct. 23. The UN says she will meet with senior federal and provincial government officials, representatives of activist groups, community members, academics, and others working to promote “equality and non-discrimination.”
“This mission will enable me to talk directly to people in minority communities about their issues and the challenges facing them,” McDougall said ahead of her visit.
“It will also allow me to learn about the positive experiences of Canada as a vibrant and richly multicultural society.”
Brace yourselves for criticism. McDougall’s visit to France resulted in a report that said there was “serious discrimination … targeted at those ‘visible’ minorities of immigrant heritage.” She accused Greece of living in the past by having a “historical understanding” of minorities, created in part by “the dissolution of empires.” For Hungary, she advised that “Roma issues require urgent and focused attention.”
But of Ethiopia, a country torn apart by ethnic strife, McDougall’s observations begin with praise for its “comprehensive foundation for rights, freedoms and equality.”
Democracies such as Canada generally offer a standing invitation to UN investigators in a bid to set a transparent example to less open societies.
New York- and Washington-based Freedom House lists 21 states and regions as the “worst of the worst.” Beyond those mentioned, they include Belarus, Burma, Chinese-ruled Tibet, South Ossetia in Georgia, Chechnya in Russia, and Zimbabwe.