María Isabel Rivero
IACHR Press and Communication Director
Tel: +1 (202) 370-9001
Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights presents today a report on missing and murdered indigenous women in British Columbia, Canada. The report analyzes the context in which indigenous women have been murdered and gone missing over the past several years and the response by the Canadian State. It also offers recommendations geared towards assisting the State in strengthening its efforts to protect and guarantee indigenous women’s rights.
The numbers of missing and murdered indigenous women are particularly concerning considering that indigenous people represent a small percentage of the total population of Canada. The disappearances and murders of indigenous women in Canada are part of a broader pattern of violence and discrimination against indigenous women in the country. During an on-site visit conducted by the IACHR in August 2013, the Canadian government indicated that indigenous women are significantly over-represented as victims of homicide and are also three times more likely to be victims of violence than non-indigenous women.
According to the information received, the police have failed to adequately prevent and protect indigenous women and girls from killings, disappearances and extreme forms of violence, and have failed to diligently and promptly investigate these acts. Family members of missing and murdered indigenous women have described dismissive attitudes from police officers working on their cases, a lack of adequate resources allocated to those cases, and a failure to investigate and recognize a pattern of violence. This situation in turn has perpetuated the violence, as the failure to ensure that there are consequences for these crimes has given rise to both real and perceived impunity.
Canadian authorities and civil society organizations largely agree on the root causes of this situation, which are related to a history of discrimination beginning with colonization. As a consequence of this historical discrimination, the IACHR understands that indigenous women and girls constitute one of the most disadvantaged groups in Canada. Poverty, inadequate housing, economic and social relegation, among other factors, contribute to their increased vulnerability to violence. In addition, prevalent attitudes of discrimination – mainly relating to gender and race – and the longstanding stereotypes to which they have been subjected, exacerbate their vulnerability.
The lack of due diligence in cases of violence against indigenous women is especially grave as it affects not only the victims, but also their families and the communities to which they belong. The IACHR stresses that addressing violence against indigenous women is not sufficient unless the underlying factors of racial and gender discrimination that originate and exacerbate that violence are also comprehensively addressed.
The IACHR acknowledges the State’s efforts to address the situation of missing and murdered indigenous women in British Columbia. The findings in the Missing Women’s Commission of Inquiry report regarding the irregularities in the handling of the investigations can serve as a starting point for reforms to the investigative function. This could help prevent irregularities in investigations of future disappearances or murders of indigenous women. The IACHR also stresses the importance of the right of families and relatives to know what happened to their loved ones.
The report issues a series of recommendations to the State of Canada. The IACHR notes the willingness and openness of the Canadian State, at both the federal and provincial levels, to discuss the situation, its causes, and how it can be further addressed. The IACHR also recognizes the steps already taken by the Canadian State, at both the federal and provincial levels, to address some of the particular problems and challenges that indigenous women and girls in Canada, and British Columbia specifically, must confront, a number of which have been identified in this report. In light of the State’s commitment to improve the rights and circumstances of indigenous women, the IACHR hopes that the conclusions and recommendations offered in this report will assist it in putting its commitment into practice.
The Commission would like to express its gratitude to the State of Canada for its excellent collaboration in the organization of the visit in August 2013 and for the valuable information it provided for the elaboration of this report. The Commission would also like to express its appreciation for the information provided by representatives from civil society, as well as by indigenous women, their families and communities.
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.