Ottawa (December 10, 2010): The World Sikh Organization of Canada and Canadian Sikhs join the rest of the world in marking International Human Rights Day 2010. 62 years ago on this day, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees amongst other rights, the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to be free from torture.
International Human Rights Day and the this year’s theme of “Human Rights Defenders who act to end discrimination” is particularly poignant for the Sikh community as it falls at a time when Sikhs across the world remember the sacrifice of their ninth Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur. Guru Tegh Bahadur was put to death by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1675 for defending freedom of religion by standing for the rights of Hindus to freely practice their religion, despite having many fundamental differences with their beliefs.
Over the past 40 years since the passing of the Declaration of Human Rights, there have been significant improvements in the protection of human rights across the world. At the same time, much work remains to be done. As developing nations such as China and India emerge as economic powerhouses, it is essential that Canada and other developed countries demand accountability for their human rights records. While the Canadian Government and Prime Minister Stephen Harper have consistently raised the issue of China’s troubling human rights abuses, there has been a deafening silence when it comes to addressing human rights abuses in India.
Despite being the “largest democracy in the world”, India continues to ignore widespread human rights abuses being committed by its security forces. When Canadian officials denied Indian security officials, particularly members of the Border Security Force, visas to Canada, loud Indian protests resulted in Canada offering a ‘groveling’ apology and vowing to review the visa system. Such a reaction may be in the interest of promoting trade but it certainly was not in the interest of human rights. Just yesterday, Human Rights Watch released a report entitled “Trigger Happy’: Excessive Use of Force by Indian Troops at the Bangladesh Border,” on human rights violations by the Indian Border Security Force and implicated the Force in acts of torture and indiscriminate killings.
The Sikh community continues to await justice for the 1984 anti-Sikh genocide which saw government officials direct the killings of thousands of innocent Sikhs across India. Many of the politicians implicated in the killings continue to serve in high offices of the Indian Government. Police officials implicated in the torture and killings of Sikhs in Punjab also continue to be immune from prosecution.
Canada has been seen as a champion of human rights on the international stage. As we mark International Human Rights Day 2010, Canada must ensure that it continues to play a constructive role in promoting human rights across the world. Turning a blind eye to human rights abuses in the interest of trade is not in the interest of citizens of emerging economies and it is certainly not in the interest of our cherished Canadian values.
The World Sikh Organization (WSO) is a non-profit international organization with a mandate to promote and protect the interests of the Sikh Diaspora, as well as to promote and advocate for the protection of human rights for all individuals, irrespective of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, and social and economic status.- 30 -
For more information, please contact
Gian Singh Sandhu
Senior Policy Advisor