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
  • torture
  • 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.

“All cases of arbitrary detention, whether they target Canadian nationals, dual nationals, nationals of partners and other states, are unacceptable. We will continue the fight against arbitrary detention in state-to-state relations, now and for the future.”

- Marc Garneau, 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

Guiding principles

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.”

International response

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 60 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.

States endorsing the Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations

Status of endorsements [67]

Founding endorsers (as of February 15, 2021)

  1. Albania
  2. Andorra
  3. Antigua & Barbuda
  4. Australia
  5. Austria
  6. Belgium
  7. Belize
  8. Benin
  9. Bulgaria
  10. Canada
  11. Costa Rica
  12. Croatia
  13. Cyprus
  14. the Czech Republic
  15. Denmark
  16. Estonia
  17. Finland
  18. France
  19. Georgia
  20. Germany
  21. Greece
  22. Guyana
  23. Haiti
  24. Iceland
  25. Ireland
  26. Israel
  27. Italy
  28. Japan
  29. Latvia
  30. Lebanon
  31. Lithuania
  32. Liechtenstein
  33. Luxembourg
  34. Malawi
  35. Malta
  36. the Netherlands
  37. New Zealand
  38. Norway
  39. Panama
  40. Poland
  41. Portugal
  42. Romania
  43. Saint Kitts and Nevis
  44. Saint Lucia
  45. Saint Vincent & the Grenadines
  46. San Marino
  47. Slovakia
  48. Slovenia
  49. Spain
  50. Suriname
  51. Sweden
  52. Switzerland
  53. Tonga
  54. Tuvalu
  55. the United Kingdom
  56. Ukraine
  57. the United States

The European Union has also endorsed the declaration.

Additional endorsers (as of September 22, 2021)

  1. Philippines
  2. the Bahamas
  3. North Macedonia
  4. Nauru
  5. El Salvador
  6. Palau
  7. Marshall Islands
  8. Cook Islands
  9. Honduras

(Declaration remains open to endorsement)

Declaration also available in: عربي, По-русски, 中文, Español, Français

Existing international frameworks

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