Canada’s international human rights policy

Canada has been a consistently strong voice for the protection of human rights and the advancement of democratic values, from our central role in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1947-1948 to our work at the United Nations today. Canada is a party to seven major international human rights conventions, as well as many others, and encourages all countries which have not made these commitments to do so.

In formulating its international human rights policy, the Global Affairs Canada seeks the views of the public, consults with other government departments and non-governmental organisations, engages in dialogue with counterparts abroad, and closely follows the work of the Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Human Rights and International Development and the Senate Committee on Human Rights.

Human rights is a central theme of Canadian foreign policy for a number of reasons:

  • Canadians expect their government to be a leader in the field of human rights by reflecting and promoting Canadian values.
  • Canadians recognise that their interests are best served by a stable, rules-based international system. Countries which respect the rule of law tend to respect the rights of their citizens, are more likely to benefit from development, and are much less likely to experience crises requiring peacekeeping, emergency assistance or refugee resettlement missions.
  • The UN Charter and customary international law impose on all countries the responsibility to promote and protect human rights. This is not merely a question of values, but a mutual obligation of all members of the international community, as well as an obligation of a state towards its citizens.

The Canadian approach to advancing human rights

Canada relies on a range of bilateral and multilateral tools to advance human rights internationally.

Bilaterally, Canada helps other states to meet their human rights commitments through direct support for development of democratic institutions and practices, legal and administrative training, and the provision of technical assistance. Discussions of human rights issues occur frequently in the context of Ministerial and Prime Ministerial visits, as well as at a working level in Ottawa and abroad between Canadian officials and their foreign counterparts. Responses to specific situations depend upon a number of considerations, including a government’s relative commitment to human rights and the effectiveness of the means of influence at our disposal.

Multilateral fora also provide effective means for influencing other governments. Canada is recognized as a world leader for its efforts to promote and protect human rights at the United Nations, the CommonwealthLa Francophonie, and the Organization of American States (OAS), among others.