OTTAWA – Today, NDP International Trade Critic Peter Julian (Burnaby-New Westminster) was joined by NDP Foreign Affairs Critic Paul Dewar (Ottawa Centre) and NDP Status of Women critic, Irene Mathyssen (London-Fanshawe), to voice their grave concerns about the Harper government’s trade negotiations with governments such as Saudi Arabia and Colombia that violate human rights. They called on the federal government to respect international human rights law and to consider the human rights impact of trade and investment policies for all bilateral trade negotiations.

“We need to ensure that international investment respects human rights and takes into account the dignity and interests of the people whose lives will be affected. Our federal government sends troops to Afghanistan, supposedly to protect women’s rights, and then it sends Minister Emerson to Saudi Arabia to negotiate privileged trade relations with a country that is committing egregious human rights abuses against women,” said Julian. “This is sheer hypocrisy. Does the government think the life and dignity of a woman in Saudi Arabia is worth less than that of an Afghan woman?”

In the latest of a series of human rights abuses, a nineteen-year-old woman in Al-Qatif was sentenced to 90 lashes for having been in the company of an man who was not a relative shortly before she and her companion were brutally gang raped by seven men. Through the appeal process, the court increased her sentence to 200 lashes and six months of imprisonment because of “her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media.” Furthermore, her lawyer’s licence to practice has been revoked. Despite international outcry, the Ministry of Justice in Saudi Arabia has defended the decision.

"This government needs to act in cases like this to protect women and protect the integrity of international trade," said Mathyssen. "Instead, our government is tacitly supporting this sentence aimed at silencing women.”

“Saudi Arabia is Canada’s second largest customer in arms trade,” said Dewar. “Business as usual with this country undermines Canada’s credibility on democracy building and human rights.”

The minister of international trade, David Emerson, went to the Middle East this month to help foster closer economic ties between Canada and the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Saudi Arabia, and the Harper government is fast-tracking a bilateral free trade deal with the Colombian government with no democratic consultation, despite Colombia’s disastrous human rights record.