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Open Letter of Canadian MP Alexa McDonough to Prime Minister of Canada

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Mr. Prime Minister, you have avoided several explicit opportunities over the past year to address the unacceptability of Malalai Joya’s treatment.

Alexa McDonough, MP Halifax, May 5, 2008

Alexa McDonough

Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada
312S Centre Block, House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2

Dear Prime Minister,

I write to urge you and your ministers to finally break your silence on the quashing of Afghanistan MP Ms. Malalai Joya’s parliamentary rights and privileges.

As you know, a Canadian all-party delegation of nine MPs and Senators attended the 18th Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Assembly in South Africa from April 13-18, 2008. On its final day, the Assembly of 1700 delegates from 135 countries adopted, without a single dissenting voice, the Governing Council’s Report of the Human Rights of Parliamentarians Committee, expressing its deep concern “that Ms. Joya was suspended on account of outspoken remarks,” and “is also concerned at the discrepancy that while the remarks made by Ms. Joya have led to a serious punishment, her treatment by some fellow parliamentarians that she has publicly denounced has reportedly not drawn any response from Parliament.”

Mr. Prime Minister, you have avoided several explicit opportunities over the past year to address the unacceptability of Malalai Joya’s treatment. You were in Afghanistan on the day of her expulsion, yet raised no objection to the lack of fair parliamentary process. At the time, I wrote urging you to speak out on Ms. Joya’s behalf. The Foreign Affairs Minister’s only response was to invoke the “independence of Afghan lawmakers” as an excuse for Canada washing its hands of any responsibility.

The silence of other Conservative Ministers has been equally disappointing. On June 6 2007, the Ministers of Public Safety, Foreign Affairs, Defence, International Cooperation, and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs all ignored my pleas for Canada to intercede in this trampling of Ms. Joya’s parliamentary rights and privileges and the rights of those in her province who exercised their vote to be represented by her.

On May 21 2007, the House of the People suspended the parliamentary mandate of Malalai Joya, for her entire term of office, on the basis of a television interview in which she strongly criticized former warlords and other legislators charged with corruption, who are currently serving in the Afghan parliament.

The expulsion of Ms. Joya silences an elected representative of the Afghan people, and as the IPU statement makes clear, occurred without a time limit being set for the suspension. Contrary to the old and new Standing Orders of Parliament, the Administrative Board was not involved in the decision to expel her.

Ms. Joya has paid a price for her outspoken criticism. According to the IPU, Ms. Joya has survived four assassination attempts, and due to threats made against her, never spends two nights in the same place. Despite these dangers, the Afghan authorities apparently removed Ms. Joya’s security detail. According to the IPU Committee’s investigation, “members of parliament have regularly criticized one another, but… no one else had been suspended on such grounds, even when Ms. Joya was called a ‘prostitute’ or ‘whore’ by fellow parliamentarians.”

The continuing silence of you and your ministers is a damning indictment of your government’s unbalanced engagement in Afghanistan. Your weak commitment to Afghanistan’s parliamentary rules, and to the freedom of expression of its elected representatives, justified in the name of Afghan sovereignty, stands in stark contrast to your ongoing prosecution of a counter-insurgency campaign in Kandahar, fought in the name of democracy, human rights, rooting out corruption, and the safeguarding of women.

I urge you to publicly endorse the Governing Council of the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s resolution on Malalai Joya, and appeal to the appropriate Afghan authorities to work towards fair treatment for Malalai Joya, elected MP for Farah province.


Alexa McDonough
MP Halifax

Hon. Maxime Bernier
Hon. Peter MacKay
Hon. Bev Oda
Hon. Stockwell Day
Hon. Helena Guergis
Hon. Sharon Carstairs