Initiative against arbitrary detention in state-to-state relations
Around the world, foreign nationals are being detained arbitrarily and used as bargaining chips in international relations. Such tactics expose citizens of all countries who travel, work and live abroad to greater risk. Not only is this practice contrary to international law, but it also undermines friendly relations between states, global cooperation, travel and trade.
Arbitrary detention violates established principles of human rights, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.
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Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations
Canada launched the Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations on February 15, 2021, in Ottawa.
The declaration aims to protect citizens of all countries who live, work and travel abroad through a concerted commitment to core principles of human rights, consular relations, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. These are universal values, firmly grounded in international law.
The declaration aims to raise awareness and stop the practice of arbitrary detention.
The declaration calls upon all states to take concrete steps to prevent and put an end to:
- harsh conditions in detention
- denial of access to legal counsel
- other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
Canada’s leadership in the fight against this practice is a natural extension of its steadfast commitment to upholding universal human rights and the rules-based international order.
Canada encourages all like-minded states to endorse the Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations to reaffirm grave concern about the use of arbitrary arrest or detention by States to exercise leverage over foreign governments, contrary to international law. This applies equally to individuals with dual citizenship.
“Throughout our history, Canada has defended the set of rules that guide our societies to be more fair and just. Canada helped to establish this rules-based international order and we will not stand by while others bend the rules for political expediency. The practice of arbitrary detention puts all citizens at risk, especially those who travel, work or live abroad. We must stand together to denounce all forms of coercive arbitrary detention. This is how we keep all our citizens safe.”
- Mélanie Joly, Minister of Foreign Affairs
“The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights made clear over 72 years ago that arbitrary detention in all its forms is to be abolished. Canada’s initiative against arbitrary detention in state-to-state relations, with support from every region of the world, is a welcome reaffirmation of these human rights principles. All states should abide by their obligations to end and deter arbitrary detention for diplomatic leverage, and all foreign nationals arbitrarily detained should be immediately released.”- Ban Ki-moon - Eighth secretary-general of the United Nations
The declaration reaffirms established principles of human rights, the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law, as outlined in the following international instruments:
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 9: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 9, Section 1: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.”
- The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, Article 36, Section 1(c): “Consular officers shall have the right to visit a national of the sending State who is in prison, custody or detention, to converse and correspond with him and to arrange for his legal representation. They shall also have the right to visit any national of the sending State who is in prison, custody or detention in their district in pursuance of a judgement.”
By endorsing the declaration, states agree to stand in solidarity against arbitrary arrest, detention or sentencing by other states seeking to exercise leverage over them. Many countries have endorsed and promoted this declaration reaffirming their commitment to its guiding principles and recognizing that their nationals could be vulnerable to this type of treatment.
Partnership Action Plan
The Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State relations now has over 70 endorsements and counting, from States in all corners of the world. Canada is committed to translating international solidarity opposing this practice into concrete action by leading the creation of the Partnership Action Plan to advance the Declaration.
All countries that are committed to human rights, judicial independence, the rule of law and the rules-based international order are welcome to join this common front and take action against arbitrary arrest, detention or sentencing for diplomatic leverage.
The Partnership Action Plan was announced on May 5, 2021, at the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ Meeting in London, United Kingdom. It will serve as a road map for consistent and principled cooperation on this issue, now and in the future.
The Plan outlines 6 areas of cooperation and engagement that states can support to deter arbitrary arrest, detention or sentencing in state-to-state relations and sustain momentum against those practices.
List of endorsements in the Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations
Status of endorsements 
Initial endorsements (as of February 15, 2021)
- Antigua & Barbuda
- Costa Rica
- the Netherlands
- New Zealand
- Saint Kitts and Nevis
- Saint Lucia
- Saint Vincent & the Grenadines
- San Marino
- the United Kingdom
- the United States
The European Union has also endorsed the declaration.
Additional endorsements (as of October 12, 2023)
- The Bahamas
- Cook Islands
- El Salvador
- Marshall Islands
- North Macedonia
- Republic of Korea
(Declaration remains open to endorsement)
Existing international frameworks
- Joint statement on the principles of the Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations
- Minister Joly to co-host dialogue on the Initiative against arbitrary detention in state-to-state relations with Costa Rica, Malawi, and the United States at UN General Assembly High Level Week
- Second anniversary of Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations
- First anniversary of Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations
- Parliamentary Secretary Oliphant delivers remarks at Governing Council of the Community of Democracies meeting
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