The “Three Amigos” need a human rights vision


By: Margaret Huang, Alex Neve, Perseo Quiroz and Béatrice Vaugrante

Prime Minister Trudeau is about to host his US and Mexican counterparts, President Obama and President Peña Nieto, at the “Three Amigos” North American Leaders’ Summit.  It is the tenth such Summit since George Bush, Vicente Fox and Paul Martin first gathered in Texas in 2005. 

Past Summits have been dominated by trade, given that the initial linkage among our three nations came through the North American Free Trade Agreement.  Security related matters, particularly with respect to border control and cross-border traffic, have also figured prominently; through the Security and Prosperity Partnership.

But a partnership built around trade, investment and security, without corresponding attention to human rights, has left a lop-sided North American relationship. 

There are so many human rights concerns that cross North American borders.  A major continental migration and refugee crisis has left thousands dead or missing. Human rights shortcomings permeate our industries, particularly in the extractive sector. National and public security strategies imperil the rights of many. Women and girls face staggering levels of violence.  The rights of Indigenous peoples are routinely ignored and violated in all three of our countries.

And during a decade of Summits, the human rights situation in Mexico has spiralled steadily downwards.

All this, yet leaders have yet to put human rights at the heart of their vision for North America.  That can and must change.

First, Canada, the United States and Mexico are among the most influential countries in a hemisphere facing numerous human rights problems.  But the key body for protecting rights in the Americas, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, faces a massive funding crisis.  Upholding human rights in North America requires strong human rights protection throughout the Americas.  Our three leaders should make concrete financial commitments to sustain the Commission’s vital work.

Next, the harrowing dangers and exploitation faced by refugees and migrants crossing North American borders needs real attention.  One concrete first step would be for each of our countries to announce an end to the practice of locking children up in immigration attention.  That should not even be up for debate.

A third pressing concern is the need to bring human rights into the heart of the North American trade agenda.  Both NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which all three countries are considering ratifying, need meaningful human rights impact assessments.

Indigenous peoples remain among the most marginalized groups within all three of our countries.  A joint North American pledge to uphold the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and implement the essential principle of free, prior and informed consent would go far.

Also of deep concern throughout North America is the prevalence of violence and discrimination against women and girls, including Indigenous women.  UN standards call on nations to adopt national action plans to end violence against women.  Our leaders should commit to have such plans in place by the time of their next Summit.

Sixth, human rights are consistently ignored, undermined and violated through public and national security laws, policies and operations.  That includes a nod and a wink to torture, a willing rush to use lethal force, and security practices that tolerate and fuel discrimination.  North America’s Security and Prosperity Partnership must be grounded in full compliance with international human rights obligations.

At the upcoming Summit we know that climate change is high on the agenda.  That is welcome news.  Going one step further leaders should agree that all of their actions to address climate change will comply with international human right norms, particularly with respect to the most marginalized sectors of society.

Finally, there is a disturbing worldwide trend of violence, restrictions and repression of human rights defenders.   Those concerns have played out in North America, most acutely in Mexico.   Leaders would send a strong message if the Summit’s Declaration emphasized that a strong North America requires human rights defenders to play their important role.

After ten years of Summits, the imperative is clear. Human rights must not only be on the North American agenda; it should in fact drive that agenda.     


This editorial was originally published online in The Hill Times. Margaret Huang is the Executive Director of Amnesty International USA; Alex Neve is the Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada (English); Perseo Quiroz is the Executive Director of Amnesty International Mexico; Béatrice Vaugrante is the Director General of Amnesty International Canada (Francophone). 

Follow Margaret Huang on Twitter @MargaretLHuang

Follow Alex Neve on Twitter @AlexNeveAmnesty

Follow Amnesty International Mexico on Twitter @aimexico

Follow Béatrice Vaugrante on Twitter @BeatriceVaugrante