Chair of Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission quits Canadian democracy promotion agency

Sima Samar, chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and an honourary officer of the Order of Canada, resigned Thursday from Rights and Democracy, an organization created by Canada’s Parliament in 1988 to promote and protect democracy abroad.

Samar blamed what she described as the undemocratic actions of the organization’s board of directors. Payam Akhavan, a McGill professor of international law, also quit the board.

Tension has been building at the organization for several months, with board members divided along what some members describe as ideological lines. The government appoints most members of the 13-person board. Two recent vacancies were filled by the appointments of David Matas, legal counsel for the conservative Jewish organization B’nai Brith Canada, and Michael Van Pelt, president of the Cardus, a think tank that describes itself as “inspired by … a long tradition of Christian social thought.”

The board also has three international members, including Samar, whose positions are approved by other board members. Yesterday, a majority voted against extending the term of international member Guido Riveros Franck from Bolivia, which triggered the walkouts by Samar and Akhavan. Both, however, say they had deeper and more longstanding problems with the current board of directors and the direction Samar and Akhavan say a slim majority of them want to take the organization.

I have so far spoken on the record with Samar and Akhavan. Others will almost certainly have a different take on what has transpired. The board’s chair, Aurel Braun, a professor of international relations and political science at the University of Toronto, and I have been trying to reach each other by phone since late yesterday afternoon. When we do connect, I will update this story.

UPDATE: Rémy Beauregard, president of Rights and Democracy, passed away last night (Thursday).

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