Canada on thin ice for human rights, says author Michael Byers
Description: UBC Professor Michael Byers discusses his latest book, War Law.
Date: 24 October 2005
Author: Chris Malmo
Source: The Ubyssey | Vol. LXXXVII, No. 14
UBC Professor Michael Byers discusses his latest book, War Law.
Canada has built a reputation as a nation that places a strong emphasis on human rights. But recent contributions to discussion are beginning to suggest this position could be tenuous.
”Canada is in possible violation of...the Geneva conventions,“ said UBC Canada Research Chair Michael Byers. The author of War Law: International Law and Armed Conflict, Byers said that although it is unlikely that Canadian forces are themselves engaged in human rights violations, Canada may be in ethical trouble because its armed forces are transferring prisoners to their American allies.
Canada has maintained an ongoing military presence in Afghanistan at the request of the Afghan government. Recently, the elite special forces unit joint Task-Force 2 has been working with American forces in the region and is transferring captured individuals over to US custody.
”US forces cannot be trusted in all instances to treat detainees properly,“ explained Byers. He said this is because of the documented instances of abuse at Abu Gharaib, Guatanamo Bay, and other prisons.
In his opinion, the more serious problem lies with the 1984 Torture Convention that said countries ratifying it cannot transfer individuals into the hands of foreign parties where there is any risk of torture occurring.
”That’s a clear obligation,“ said Byers.
For Byers, this is an obligation which Canada should uphold, or risk complicity in torture.
He thinks that in order to comply with international obligations, Canada should either make certain that prisoners it sends into US custody are treated properly, or refuse to transfer them altogether.
International law is under increasing pressure from a variety of sources, such as the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive war and also from terrorism, according to Byers. He contended, however, that maintaining international agreements is as important as ever, even with the developments of the pas few years: ”Take, for instance, the lead-up to the Iraq war. Colin Powell...spent eight weeks personally negotiating a resolution in the UN Security Council.“ Byers added that international law was ”at the center of the big decisions of history at the moment.“
In his new book, Byers documents recent trends in international law by looking at various instances where it has bee relevant, such as the Iraq war in 2003.
He has aimed the book at a general, intelligent public with an interest in international law but little technical knowledge – hoping to take the subject out of the academic ivory tower.
”People live and die, hundred of thousands of themĦbecause of these debates,“ said Byers. ”This is the stuff that I am passionate about...and I want to convey some of that excitement and passion to people, so they will become passionate about it too.“