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Rights Violations Pressed in Canada

September 3, 1999

MONCTON, New Brunswick (AP) _ Human rights groups pressed Thursday for a summit of French-speaking leaders to address reported human rights violations in some of their countries.

Amnesty International and Oxfam led a coalition of human rights groups that staged a parallel summit Thursday, ahead of the eighth Francophone summit, which gets under way Friday.

The Francophone summit gathers heads of state from the 52 members of La Francophonie, a loose organization of French-influenced countries from Belgium to Vietnam, for three days of talks on culture, politics and trade.

Most of the organization’s members are former French colonies in Africa, and 32 of them have been listed by Amnesty International as violating human rights.

Human rights, though, is not on the summit’s agenda.

``I think the issue of letting dictators and despots come to Canada ... has embarrassed Ottawa,″ said Bertrand Begin, a spokesman for the parallel summit and a member of the Canadian Labor Congress.

The parallel summit put forward a list of demands asking that such issues as poverty, torture, political executions, sexual mutilation of women and child labor be meaningfully discussed.

The French group Reporters Without Borders chastised the summit members for failing to respond to serious press rights violations in 15 of the 52 countries. The group called for all jailed journalists to be freed and for arbitrary arrests to end.

Beyond that, France has proposed that the Francophone organization, which has sent observers to monitor elections in Africa, officially oversee those elections to make sure international norms of human rights are respected.

The secretary general of La Francophonie, former U.N. chief Boutros Boutros-Ghali, said Wednesday that the will for such a role was there.

Don Boudria, Canada’s acting minister for the Francophonie, said the young organization needed time to tackle the sensitive issue of human rights. ``As a political organization, it has only met once before this. It needs time to adapt and grow,″ he said.

French President Jacques Chirac _ who is due to attend the opening ceremony Friday with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan _ was in the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec on Thursday for meetings with mayors of French-speaking cities.