Canada, Human Rights Act and Pretoria’s pressure

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Past bans have been used against reporters and students

US authorities may have had an innocuous reason for their recent decision to reinstate entry restrictions on Canadians: under pressure from Pretoria.

But the subsequent re-imposed ban on officials from Canada could get the full backing of Canada’s new government.

Authorities in Canada announced last week that they had ordered all US citizens, including high-level government officials, to leave the country.

This follows a ban on travellers from South Africa imposed by the Trump administration earlier this year in a bid to block alleged human rights abusers from entering the US.

Canada is a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and has a reputation for human rights and anti-racist activism.

Both the US and Canada banned travel for Africans whose alleged crimes against humanity were registered in countries such as South Africa and Zimbabwe.

In 2014, about three dozen African heads of state and several government officials including Ethiopia’s prime minister, have been forced to leave Canada because of restrictions imposed in retaliation.

Last year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited South Africa where a campaign was mounted to convince him to scrap the travel ban imposed by his predecessor, John Kerry.

However, South Africa’s government defended the move, claiming it was necessary for US authorities to avoid having to prosecute African figures who had, in the past, claimed South African abuses and blamed the country for them.

The Trump administration argued that such charges raised “serious due process concerns”.

While the ban has caused some embarrassment for South Africa and other countries listed on the list, Canada’s decision means the full impact has so far been limited.

According to reports, the US still does not want Canadian officials – including officials from the Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA) – to travel to South Africa under any circumstances.

An official told the Canadian Press news agency that US authorities are believed to be worried that suspected human rights violators may attempt to obtain entrance to the US.

While this appears to be a credible concern, it does not explain why the North American country is going against its strong human rights record by banning its nationals.

Canada has already stood up for human rights against US efforts at the ICC. Its ban on visits to the tribunal in 2017 came shortly after the US did not recognise a call by the ICC to arrest and extradite former Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir, who is accused of genocide.

Ultimately, it is possible that the Trump administration is politically driven and has not even thought the matter through.

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