Taha Ghayyur is the executive director of Justice for All Canada, a non-profit human rights and advocacy organization based in Toronto dedicated to preventing genocide.
Canada is bidding for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council 14 years after it last acted as a member, but it will likely face scrutiny over its global human-rights advocacy track record in the process.
While Canada has been vocal in condemning atrocities in Ukraine and recognizing the genocides of the Rohingya and Uyghur populations (in Myanmar and China, respectively), critics point out that the country’s human-rights policies are often linked to issues that do not harm its economic or political interests. Canada’s silence on human-rights violations by India, Israel, Egypt and Tunisia, among others, has drawn particular criticism, with even its positioning on Saudi Arabia being called hypocritical owing to its arms sales to the kingdom.
Canada’s human-rights record has come under some scrutiny, especially concerning its relationship with India, as the Canadian government has continued to increase and prioritize its trading relationship with India despite the country’s continuing human-rights violations against Muslim communities. In fact, Canada’s federal Minister of International Trade, Mary Ng, recently invited India’s Minister of Commerce and Industry, Piyush Goyal, to co-chair the sixth India-Canada Ministerial Dialogue on Trade and Investment in Ottawa earlier this month, raising further questions about Canada’s priorities when it comes to human rights.
According to a recent report by my organization, Justice For All Canada, India’s political sphere and society are undergoing an alarming process of totalitarian transformation, not unlike that seen in Germany prior to the Second World War. The persecution and dehumanization of Muslim communities in India has reached critical levels, with over 200 million Muslims facing the threat of genocide. Our report reveals that the tactics employed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a paramilitary group in India, and its political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is driven by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindutva ideology, bear striking resemblance to the ideology and practices of the Nazi regime that led to the Holocaust.
For instance, India’s Citizenship Amendment Act and its National Register of Citizens are pieces of legislation that intend to leave millions of Muslims stateless by revoking their citizenship, drawing disturbing comparisons to the Reich Citizenship Law that excluded Jews from German citizenship. Like the Nazi Party’s boycott of Jewish businesses, India has seen similar boycotts and the destruction of Muslim-owned businesses, including the closing of more than 50,000 halal meat shops in a single state.
Furthermore, the RSS paramilitary organization runs the country’s largest private school network, indoctrinating children with Hindutva ideology – just as the Hitler Youth was designed to indoctrinate children with Nazi ideology. And similar to the Nazi Party’s destruction of synagogues, India has seen the vandalism and destruction of thousands of mosques.
Despite the severity of the situation, Canada has yet to make a public statement condemning the Indian government’s actions, nor has it implemented any human-rights conditions as it works toward a trade agreement.
Canada’s announcement that it plans to run for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council is likely to be viewed with skepticism because of the country’s lack of progress since its last evaluation by the council in 2018. At that time, the council had determined that Ottawa had failed to uphold its own human-rights obligations.
It is essential that Canada prioritizes human rights in all of its foreign policy decisions and holds other countries accountable for their human-rights violations. This means speaking out against atrocities and taking tangible action to prevent them. It also means ensuring that economic and political interests do not take precedence over the fundamental rights of people around the world.
If Canada is to be taken seriously as a candidate for the UN Human Rights Council, it must demonstrate a true commitment to human rights, both in word and in deed.