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GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO THE THIRD REPORT OF THE
STANDING COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT ENTITLED “THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN VENEZUELA”

The Government of Canada has carefully considered the Third Report of Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development entitled “The Situation of Human Rights in Venezuela”.

The Government would like to thank the members of the Committee for their efforts in preparing this report and welcomes their continuing interest on the issues of Venezuela and Human rights.   

Below is the Government's response to recommendations made by the Committee. The Government of Canada agrees with many of the recommendations, and will undertake to implement them to the best of its abilities. The recommendations and their responses are as follows

Recommendation 1

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to engage, bilaterally and multilaterally, with the Government of Venezuela on human rights issues by using a balanced approach, thereby acknowledging the administration’s positive achievements while continuing to urge the Government of Venezuela to uphold the rule of law and ensure equal protection for all human rights, including civil and political rights.

Recommendation 2

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to directly engage, bilaterally and multilaterally, with all governments in the Americas with respect to their human rights records and obligations.

The Government of Canada will continue to engage, bilaterally and multilaterally, with the Government of Venezuela on human rights issues, raising concerns and acknowledging achievements, as appropriate. Canada’s permanent mission at the OAS in Washington, raises human rights issues publically where appropriate, including those pertinent to Venezuela. Through Canada’s work with the OAS, in particular in its support for the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, Canada has supported freedom of expression in the region and specifically in Venezuela.

As an example of this commitment, in February 2010 Canada placed the situation of freedom of expression in Venezuela on the Permanent Council agenda at Organization of American States.

The Embassy of Canada in Caracas has limited opportunities to interact with government officials but does take advantage of these to raise human rights issues with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  During meetings with the Deputy Foreign Minister and another with then-Director for North America, the Ambassador raised a number of issues, including our continued support for civil society. Our Embassy in Caracas will continue to look for opportunities such as these going forward.

Canada’s Embassy in Caracas will continue to work with like-minded countries, and the diplomatic community in Caracas, to protect human rights in Venezuela by organizing regular meetings with civil society and diplomatic missions, and public events to show our support.

Further to Canada's Strategy for Engagement in the Americas, the Government of Canada will attempt to sustain and build on relationships in the region in order to promote democracy and human rights. We will continue to directly engage, bilaterally and multilaterally, with all governments in the Americas on human rights issues.

Recommendation 3

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada use its leverage as a commercial partner to remind the Government of Venezuela to respect its own constitution as well as the democratic standards of the regional and international human rights organizations to which it is party.

The Government of Canada will continue to use relationships and contacts developed by the full range of Canadian programs in Venezuela to pursue Canadian interests and values, including the promotion of and respect for human rights.

Recommendation 4

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to financially support and work closely with Venezuelan human rights defenders and non-governmental organizations in order to enhance their ability to share information, thereby fostering open dialogue on human rights issues in the country and enabling these organizations to bring forward their concerns and proposals to their own government.

Recommendation 12

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada, in addition to awarding the Human Rights Prize of the Embassy of Canada in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela each year, ensure that the profile of each recipient is listed on the Embassy’s website with regular updates on the recipient’s work and well-being, provided this would be in the best interests of the person in question.

The Government of Canada will continue to support and work closely with Venezuelan human rights defenders and non-governmental organizations in a transparent fashion. The Embassy spent over half of its annual Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI) and Public Diplomacy allocations on projects supporting human rights.  In the last year, the Embassy in Caracas has also held several forums bringing together academics and experts from opposite sides of the political divide to discuss controversial issues such as community governance in a respectful and open manner. These forums are unique in a polarized society and both sides were unanimous in their appreciation for the opportunity to have their views heard and to listen to the other perspective. 

The Government of Canada will continue to award the Canadian Embassy Human Rights Prize in Venezuela and will look at ways to profile and update information on recipients. The Government of Canada webpage on the award will be updated and access to it will be made more user-friendly. Continued financial support from DFAIT will help ensure this well-respected and recognized program continues.

Recommendation 5

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada urge the Government of Venezuela to conduct an independent investigation into the 2004, 2007 and 2009 attacks on synagogues and Jewish community centres in the country with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice.

Recommendation 6

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to monitor, with the utmost attention, the situation facing Venezuela’s Jewish community and intervene, when appropriate, when violent acts are committed against the community and when anti-Semitic comments are made publicly either by members of the media or by government officials.

The Government of Canada will continue, as it did during its contribution to Venezuela's Universal Periodic Review in 2010, to raise concerns about accountability in Venezuela, including for attacks on synagogues and Jewish community centres. The Embassy maintains close contact with Jewish community leaders.

The Government of Canada will continue to monitor and intervene, when appropriate, with regard to violent attacks or anti-Semitic comments against the Jewish community in Venezuela. As an example, in 2011 an offensive article which appeared on a Government website was removed following an intervention by the Embassy of Canada. The Canadian Embassy has encouraged and continues to encourage the Venezuelan government to follow through on its commitment to reject and combat anti-Semitism and to do its utmost to ensure the security of the Jewish community and its religious and cultural centres.

Canada currently represents Israel’s consular interests in Venezuela, in accordance with the Vienna convention. The Canadian Embassy in Caracas currently hosts one local employee who assists with the applications for Israeli visas and passports. 

The soon-to-be-created Office of Religious Freedom, a foreign policy priority, may be a source of assistance in ensuring the Venezuelan Jewish community is respected and protected.

Recommendation 7

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to promote opportunities for Venezuelans to attend Canadian universities and/or to participate in existing Canadian studies programs in Venezuelan universities.

Venezuelan students are accepted under the Emerging Leaders in the Americas Program (ELAP) Scholarships, which provide students with short-term exchange opportunities for study or research at the college, undergraduate and graduate levels. Additionally, the Government of Canada will continue to promote, within the limitations of available funds, opportunities for Venezuelans to attend Canadian universities.

Recommendation 8

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada express its willingness to provide additional technical assistance and expertise to Venezuela to assist the Government of Venezuela with police reform and in addition, urge the Government of Venezuela to provide human rights training to all state security forces.

Recommendation 10

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada call upon the Government of Venezuela to take concrete steps to reduce the circulation and number of arms in the hands of its civilian population and in particular, urge the Government of Venezuela to disband and disarm the civilian militias.

The Government of Canada offers expertise to Venezuela on policing issues, as appropriate and within budget constraints, and encourages the incorporation of human rights training to security forces at all levels.

The Government of Canada will continue to raise concerns about the levels of violence in Venezuela, recognizing on-going efforts by Venezuelan authorities to carry out police reform and to reduce the circulation and number of arms in the hands of the civilian population.

Recommendation 9

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada urge the Governments of Venezuela and Colombia to work cooperatively in order to combat cross-border criminality which contributes to human rights abuses, violations and citizen insecurity in both countries.

The Government of Canada will, when appropriate, encourage on-going efforts by the Governments of Venezuela and Colombia to explore cooperation on cross-border criminality.

Recommendation 11

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to fund programs that help members of the media address, and receive training on, professional standards and journalistic independence

The Government of Canada will continue to promote freedom of expression and other democratic values in Venezuela.

Recommendation 13

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada further strengthen its support for the Organization of American States’ (OAS) ability to promote human rights in Venezuela by urging the OAS to provide more technical assistance to help empower Venezuela’s civil society.

Recommendation 14

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada urge the OAS to allow not only the Venezuelan executive, but also the legislative and judicial branches of government, to engage in discussions on human rights issues with the OAS and its affiliated bodies.

Recommendation 16

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada

    • provide strong support to diplomatic regional human rights institutions, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Inter-American Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and other special rapporteurships and expert bodies; and,
    • advocate for the creation of a special rapporteur on democracy and democratic governance at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights whose mandate would be hemisphere-wide and whose reports would be made public.

Recommendation 17

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to defend rulings of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and, when appropriate, urge the Government of Venezuela to do the same.

The Government of Canada will continue to provide strong support to diplomatic regional human rights institutions. Canada, through CIDA, recently contributed C$3.2 million over four years (2008-2012) to support the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ work (notably in reducing its backlog of cases). Canada also helped facilitate a technical meeting in Ottawa, in March 2011, aimed at assisting the Commission to put itself on a more sustainable, coordinated financial footing.

Throughout 2011, in the lead up to and at the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, Canada pushed for a focus on the "practice" of democracy in the Americas. Support was heard for several ideas such as a Special Rapporteur, a peer review mechanism on democracy of some sort and the development at the OAS of a regional compendium of best democratic practices. While there was little support for a Special Rapporteur at this stage, Canada will try to focus on pushing this idea of a compendium of best practices initially at the OAS, in the hope that it may eventually serve as a platform for other more robust initiatives such as a Special Rapporteur. 

The Government of Canada will continue to promote respect for Inter-American human rights instruments, including the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and seek opportunities to raise these issues with the Venezuelan Government. Given certain issues surrounding Canada’s domestic legislation and policies, Canada is not a state party to the American Convention on Human Rights and is not subject to the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. However, as a member of the Organization of American States, Canada is subject to the IACHR’s procedures and has obligations under the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man. Canada remains dedicated to the system and supportive of the central role played by both the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights and Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Canada intends to continue vigorously defending the integrity, independence and credibility of these human rights institutions, particularly in the face of efforts to weaken and discredit these important bodies.

The Government of Canada will continue to work through the OAS to promote human rights in the hemisphere, including in Venezuela. Canada regularly voices its support for civil society participation in OAS affairs and lobbies for approaches that are as inclusive as possible across the spectrum of OAS activities.

The Government of Canada will continue to encourage the OAS to engage with Venezuela at various levels and branches of government.

Recommendation 15

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada call on the Government of Venezuela to immediately release, and guarantee in all circumstances, the physical and psychological safety and integrity of Judge María Lourdes Afiuni, and to immediately halt the harassment and intimidation of the lawyers and activists who have taken up her cause.

The Government of Canada will continue to demonstrate support for human rights defenders in Venezuela and individuals with whom they work such as Judge Afiuni. 

Recommendation 18

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada, in company with other nations, urge the Government of Venezuela to allow independent, international election observers into the country for the October 7, 2012 elections.

The Government of Canada worked with others to encourage the Government of Venezuela to allow independent, international election observation for the October 2012 elections. Previously, Canada has supported OAS international election observation missions in the region through Canadian International Development Agency funding. The Government of Venezuela did not request an international observation mission for 2012’s presidential elections and an OAS election observation mission cannot proceed without an official invitation from the host government.

Recommendation 19

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada strongly remind the Government of Venezuela that all members of the international community have an obligation to enforce the international sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council against the Government of Iran as a result of its nuclear weapons program.

The Government of Canada will continue to emphasize the importance that all states, including Venezuela, respect the international sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council against the Government of Iran as a result of its nuclear weapons program.