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Member Profile February 2015

Amnesty International Canada

 

BCCIC

Alex Neve, at La Puya resistance camp in Guatemala in September 2014. Amnesty International has been working to expose and address human rights violations associated with mining in Guatemala.

This month, CCIC met with Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada. Alex talked about why advancing women’s rights is crucial to Amnesty International Canada’s work, described their current campaign Stop Torture, and shared Amnesty’s view of the role of universality in the pursuit of social justice and human rights... among other things!

 

CCIC - As you know 2015 is a landmark year for women's rights and gender equality with the twentieth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. We will also be celebrating International Women's Day on March 8th. How important is prioritizing and advancing women's rights to Amnesty International Canada's work?

Alex Neve - Work to promote the protection of women’s human rights is a central priority for Amnesty International in Canada and around the world, and has been for many years.  That is reflective of the disgraceful fact that across the globe the full range of women’s and girls’ rights are gravely and cavalierly violated with astonishing frequency, distressing breadth and total impunity, every single day.  Amnesty International has, in fact, prioritized this work over the past ten years through two major global campaigns, a previous campaign to Stop Violence against Women and the current My Body, My Rights campaign focused on upholding sexual and reproductive rights.  Among the many ways that we take up the struggle for women’s human rights, one very important area of work for us is to do everything we can to ensure the safety of women’s human rights defenders, who strive to expose, campaign against, and mobilize in the face of violations of the rights of women and girls locally, nationally and internationally.  Human rights defenders face challenges and perils in their work in countries around the world.  The challenges and perils for women and girls defending human rights are almost always that much greater.

In Canada, Amnesty International has been campaigning on the issue of violence and discrimination against Indigenous women and girls since the release of our Stolen Sisters report in October, 2004.  We work closely with the families of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, with Indigenous women’s organizations and other partners to document and expose the violence and campaign for it to end.  We have been an outspoken voice pressing the government to establish a public inquiry that will lead to a comprehensive national action plan to address violence against Indigenous women.  We note that other than the federal government there is now virtually unanimous support for this at all levels of government, including municipalities, provinces and many of our closest allies.  We are calling for the upcoming National Roundtable on Violence against Indigenous Women to lead to the long-delayed effective national response that is so urgently required.

 

CCIC - Amnesty International is internationally renowned for its campaigns. Could you please highlight one current campaign that you are particularly excited about and why?

Alex Neve - We are in the midst of a major global campaign to Stop Torture.  Working to end torture has been at the heart of Amnesty International since our beginnings in the early 1960’s.  It is a human rights violation that is universally reviled and widely understood to be brutal and repugnant.  Yet it continues at alarming rates around the world.  We have documented torture in 140 countries over the past five years.  We have noted that torture in Mexico, to choose one example close to home, increased by 600% between 2003 and 2013.  We know that there are many ways that Canadian laws, policies and actions have led to or may facilitate complicity in torture in other countries.  And we know that the staggeringly high rate and duration of solitary confinement in Canadian prisons brings us face to face with the disturbing reality of extensive torture and ill-treatment in our own country. We have mounted concerted campaigns against torture in the past, because it has been so urgently necessary to do so.  A major campaign in the 1980’s for instance, was central to the UN adopting the important Convention against Torture.  It is time to bring the might of a global campaign to this harrowing human rights crisis once again.

The campaign is both urgent and exciting.  The excitement lies in the fact that we have given deliberate focus to countries and issues which are both pressing and where there is potential for real change.  Amnesty International Canada is focusing on Mexico, because of the close links between our countries. And already we are seeing results.  Mexican officials are engaging constructively with the recommendations for reform that Amnesty International has proposed. And individuals who have been subjected to torture in Mexico are seeing justice.  Angel Colon, a Honduran national, prisoner of conscience and torture survivor had been imprisoned in Mexico for over five years, without being brought to trial.  He was released five weeks after an Amnesty delegation that I was part of visited him in a maximum security prison in early September 2014.  Without a doubt extensive global campaigning by Amnesty played a central role in him gaining back his freedom.  The campaign is having results.  We won’t end there, we will join Angel Colon now in pressing for justice for the torture he endured.

And we are turning our attention to Canada.  Canada has inexplicably failed to ratify an important UN torture prevention treaty, the Option Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture, more than twelve years since its adoption.  The treaty sets up important national and international prison inspection teams that dig and probe, on the lookout for the conditions that breed torture.  Canada should have been on board long ago.  It would bring greater scrutiny to our own prisons; but even more importantly it would allow us to press other governments to sign on as well.  We have made the goal of Canadian ratification a top priority.  We are always looking for more signatures on our petition.

 

CCIC - 2015 will mark the beginning of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A major feature of these goals is that they will be universal in nature. How does Amnesty International Canada view the role of universality in the pursuit of social justice and human rights? What impact will this have on your work both within Canada and internationally?

Alex Neve - The universal nature of human rights protection is fundamental.  That is why, when governments crafted the first major international human rights instrument in 1948 they knew its title had to be the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.  Universality means all rights for all people, everywhere and equally.  It is the bedrock safeguard against the selectivity, bias and discrimination that otherwise narrowly defines whose rights are protected and enjoyed: only the rich, only the men, only the whites, only those with citizenship.  Amnesty International defends and insists on universality at every turn in our human rights work.
 

That means that here in Canada we work hard to campaign for human rights protection all around the world – in Colombia, Syria, South Sudan, Sri Lanka and the Ukraine – and  ‘all around the world’ most certainly includes Canada.  We do speak out loud and strong on a range of Canadian human rights concerns, including the rights of Indigenous peoples, refugees and migrants, national security, freedom of expression, gender equality and corporate accountability.  We must because we must.  When rights are violated or are inadequately protected in Canada, universality compels us to act.  Doing so is of international importance as well.  Canada’s voice on the world stage has, in the past, been widely respected and even celebrated as a strong human rights champion.  That has meant Canada is strong and credible when pressing other governments to improve their record.  As Canada’s record has slipped and been tarnished in recent years, that international voices has been diminished.  We are determined to turn that around.  Strong human rights protection in Canada is good for Canada and good for the world.

 

CCIC - Amnesty International Canada's website features a section called 'Good News'. Why is this important to showcase? Can you share a recent example of a 'Good News' story?

Alex Neve - There is more than enough bad news when it comes to human rights work.  Every day brings accounts of armed conflict, sexual violence, discrimination, torture, unjust imprisonment and deepening poverty.  That bad news fuels outrage and determination that propels human rights activists to work harder and with ever greater imagination and reach. There is always the risk, however, of wavering and losing hope in the face of so many tales on injustice.  That is why good news is so important.  Good new reminds us of what the struggle is all about.  Good news shows us what is achievable and possible.  Good news inspires and energizes to go on and to go further.

 

CCIC - Amnesty International Canada is an important CCIC member. In your opinion why is it important to be part of this community and its collective work?

Alex Neve - Being part of the CCIC brings us into community with so many other organizations that share our goals of justice, dignity and protecting human rights.  It bring us into solidarity and partnership as well with CCIC’s remarkable staff team.  In recent years that has included important collective work through the Americas Policy Group and in the leadership our two organizations have demonstrated in launching the Voices-Voix Coalition in response to the current crackdown on dissent and advocacy in Canada.  Standing with CCIC is of immeasurable value because if there is one truth in the struggle it is this, we are more powerful when we join our voices together.  That is what CCIC offers.  Amnesty International values and benefits from that collective force and vibrant partnership every day.

 

 

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