Indigenous women and girls facing what a Canadian inquiry has declared a ‘genocide’ have found an influential ally outside Canada.
Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States has written a letter to Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland asking her to immediately form a group of experts to examine the genocide of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in her country. Canada is one of 35 members of the OAS, which is headquartered in Washington, D.C.
On Monday, a national inquiry declared that the disappearances and murders of thousands of Indigenous women, girls, and LGBTQ and two-spirit people in Canada amounted to genocide. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed to a national action plan, and accepted the inquiry’s conclusion: “We accept their findings, including that what happened amounts to genocide,” he said Tuesday.
Almagro’s letter states that the rights of Indigenous peoples in the Americas is “one of the main concerns” of the Inter-American Human Rights System, which monitors, promotes and protects human rights in 35 countries of the Americas that are OAS members. The system is one of Luis’ top priorities in his role.
Almagro points out in his letter that Canada has used its “powerful voice” to raise concern for human rights issues in Venezuela and Nicaragua. He suggested Canada must also be concerned about its own human rights issues, and should therefore convene a group of experts to “clarify these allegations” of genocide.
“Given that your country has always sided with scrutiny and international investigation in situations where human rights are violated in different countries, I am expecting to receive a favorable response to this request,” he wrote. If Canada agrees, he said he’ll start finding experts right away.
Canada hasn’t responded yet. Government spokesperson Brittany Fletcher said they had received the letter and will provide a response “soon.” “Our government is committed to ending the ongoing national tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ and two-spirit people,” she wrote in an email.
Almagro isn’t some random diplomat; he carries a lot of influence. He’s got 1.2 million followers on Twitter (for comparison, Freeland has 138,000 and Trudeau has 4.5 million).
He served for five years as Uruguay’s minister of foreign affairs under President José Mujica, who was jailed in the 1970s for being a member of a leftist guerilla organization. Almagro was part of the executive committee that made cannabis legal in Uruguay—the first country in the world to do so in 2013. He was listed as one of Foreign Policy magazine’s top global thinkers in 2014 for welcoming Syrian refugees to Uruguay.
In his letter, Almagro referred to “public support to the findings” of the MMIWG report, but that’s debatable. Several prominent Canadian news outlets ran editorials this week questioning the word “genocide” and even declaring it inaccurate. There haven’t been any public polls on the topic yet.
Giving their reasons for using the word “genocide,” the authors of the report explained that colonial violence has become “embedded in everyday life.” Canadian institutions like the healthcare, child welfare and justice systems, and also external sources like Canadian media, reinforce this colonial violence, the authors said. “The result has been that many Indigenous people have grown up normalized to violence, while Canadian society shows an appalling apathy to addressing the issue,” the report states.