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Human rights must be a top priority during the North American Leaders’ Summit in Ottawa, said Amnesty International in an open letter to United States President Barack Obama, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The letter was shared with the leaders in advance of the June 29 summit, providing recommendations on the protection of human rights related to migrants and refugees, trade and investment, Indigenous peoples, women and girls, national and public security, climate change, and human rights defenders. 

“We have called on North American leaders to go beyond addressing human rights as just one topic among many in their discussions during the summit. Instead, we look to them to adopt a human rights-driven agenda that would place these issues where they belong, at the very core of our leaders’ work and a vision for North America,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada. “When the summit concludes, we hope to see evidence that the call of 2 million Amnesty International supporters throughout North America was heard. New measures are needed which substantively address the pressing human rights concerns that have been raised.”

In the open letter, Amnesty International called for “generous and concrete” commitments from North America to more equitably share the global responsibility to protect the rights of refugees around the world. The organization further called for a joint plan of action to protect migrants in the Americas, many of whom are fleeing circumstances so violent and dangerous they ought to be classified as refugees.  Amnesty International also demanded an immediate cessation of the current practice in all three countries of holding migrant and refugee children in detention facilities.   

“As the numbers of people fleeing violence and persecution continues to grow, protecting the human rights of migrants and refugees is imperative. Instead of increasing barriers for migrants and refugees and subjecting them to further hardship, our leaders should be reaching out to protect their rights, in North America and abroad,” said Margaret Huang, Interim Executive Director of Amnesty International USA. “As a crucial first step President Obama, President Peña Nieto and Prime Minister Trudeau must each definitively commit to ending detention of all migrant and refugee children.” 

Amnesty International also called for action to address violence and discrimination against women and girls, particularly the alarmingly heightened levels of such violence and discrimination experienced by Indigenous women and girls.  Indigenous women and girls in Canada face a significantly heightened risk of being subject to violence, including murder, stemming from deeply-rooted social and economic marginalization. In the United States, over one in three Indigenous women will be raped during her lifetime.  In Mexico, violence against women and girls, including femicides, disappearances, torture and sexual violence, remains endemic. The vast majority of cases are not investigated with due diligence and perpetrators of violence are seldom brought to justice, leaving women at constant risk.

“The heightened level of risk confronted by women and girls in North America, particularly Indigenous women and girls, must be an urgent priority for our leaders,” said Perseo Quiroz, Executive Director of Amnesty International Mexico. “We are calling on them to commit to develop national action plans to end violence against women that will address the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination they face throughout North America. Our leaders must also implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as one measure of protection to address particular risks confronted by Indigenous women and girls.”

 Among other recommendations, Amnesty International’s open letter also calls on the three leaders to:

  • address the funding crisis facing the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
  • put human rights first in all national and public security laws, policies and practices;
  • initiate comprehensive, independent, impartial, and transparent human rights impact assessments of both NAFTA and the TPP and address any detrimental impacts.
  • adopt laws and policies to ensure companies that have caused or contributed to human rights abuses are held accountable
  • ensure measures to address climate change comply with international human rights norms; and
  • publicly reiterate the important role played by human rights defenders.