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Surveillance, Security and Human Rights

    October 19, 2016

    By Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada. 

    Human rights or security?  In Canada and around the world the debate rages on; but it is an utterly false debate.  We must, finally and firmly, reject the assumption and assertion that more of one necessarily leads to less of the other.  There is no security without human rights.

    A few years ago I was in West Africa with an Amnesty International research team looking into a range of human rights violations associated with counter-terrorism laws and operations in Mauritania.  The sister of an army officer who had “disappeared” while in prison summed up perfectly the absurdity of the notion that there is any sort of rights and security trade-off.  As she told me, “if they truly want us to feel more secure, they should start by stopping violating our rights.”

    September 02, 2015

    Work on Maher Arar’s case has been one of our most intensive campaigns for justice spanning well over a decade. Here are some of the highlights:

    September 01, 2015

    The following statement was read by Monia Mazigh, Maher Arar's wife, as a press conference earlier today.

    I welcome today's announcement by the RCMP to lay criminal charges against Colonel George Salloum who was directly responsible for my torture while I was detained at the Palestinian Branch of the Syrian Military Intelligence.

    Since I launched my complaint in 2005, I gave the RCMP investigating team, during the many interviews I had with them, the information they needed to advance their investigation. This lengthy international investigation took the officers overseas to gather evidence. As a result, they were able to better understand the nature of interrogations in Syrian detention centers. Upon their return, the investigators were able to pass on their knowledge to other RCMP staff. 

    I believe this is vital for the RCMP to grasp given the increased urge to share information even with regimes who don't respect our understanding of basic human rights.

    August 21, 2015

     

    Chelsea Manning is serving a 35-year prison sentence for leaking classified US government documents to the website WikiLeaks. Two years after she was first sentenced, Chelsea tells us why speaking out against injustice can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

     

    Q. Why did you decide to leak documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? 

    These documents were important because they relate to two connected counter-insurgency conflicts in real-time from the ground. Humanity has never had this complete and detailed a record of what modern warfare actually looks like. Once you realize that the co-ordinates represent a real place where people live; that the dates happened in our recent history; that the numbers are actually human lives – with all the love, hope, dreams, hatred, fear, and nightmares that come with them – then it’s difficult to ever forget how important these documents are.

    April 24, 2015

    UPDATE May 7, 2015: After a temporary stay while an Alberta court ruled on the government's unsuccessful attempt to seek an injunction, Omar Khadr was released today on strict bail conditions including electronic monitoring and a curfew. Omar Khadr spent over 12 years in prison following his capture by US forces in 2002, mostly in the notorious Guantanamo Bay facility. He was transferred to Canada in 2012. You can send a message to Omar here.

    By Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada. Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexNeveAmnesty

    It is easy to lose sight of the number of Canadian judges that have, over the past decade, ruled in favour of Omar Khadr.  It has truly become staggering and includes justices of the Supreme Court of Canada (not once, but twice), the Federal Court of Appeal and Federal Court numerous times, and the Alberta Court of Appeal. 

    March 18, 2015

    Your two-minute #UnfollowMe guide to how our governments are collecting and monitoring all our private data. (With thanks to Privacy International.)

    March 11, 2015

    Amnesty International USA has gone to court, represented by the ACLU, because in a world under threat of constant, all-encompassing surveillance, our work to protect human rights is made much harder.

    The U.S. surveillance machine is thwarting Amnesty International USA’s ability to protect people from human rights violations: including governments that torture, kidnap and extrajudiciallly kill people for their non-violent protest, dissent and activism.

    Here are 8 facts you need to know about how Amnesty International works – and why mass surveillance harms our ability to protect human rights:

    1. Amnesty International bears witness to brutality, violence and atrocities. We send researchers into conflict zones. We are on the ground in places throughout the world to collect evidence of human rights abuses.

    We ask people to tell us the horrors they saw – whether they are the witnesses or the lone survivors.

    March 10, 2015

    By Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada. Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexNeveAmnesty

    Want to feel more secure?  Bill C-51, which is being examined by a Parliamentary committee in  three weeks of truncated hearings, offers up criminal offences that infringe free expression, unprecedented intrusive intelligence powers, breathtakingly vast definitions of security, unbridled sharing of information and stunning levels of secrecy; all while doing nothing to enhance review, oversight and accountability of Canada’s national security agencies. 

    The message is that human rights have to give way to keep terrorism at bay.  The relationship between the two is seen as a zero-sum game.  More safety means fewer rights.  Stronger regard for rights leads to greater insecurity.

    It is time to turn that around.  Human rights do not stand in the way of security that is universal, durable and inclusive.  Human rights are in fact the very key.

    February 26, 2015

    By Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada. Follow Alex on Twitter: @AlexNeveAmnesty

    There is so much packed into the government’s current national security law reform, it is hard to know where to focus.  Bills C-44 and C-51, currently before Parliament, constitute the most substantial and controversial overhaul of Canada’s national security landscape since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

    The weeks to come will see much debate about the human rights consequences of CSIS’ unprecedented new powers to act to reduce security threats and to apply for Federal Court warrants authorizing Charter violations as part of that process. 

    There will be discussion of the vagueness of the new criminal offence of advocating or promoting the commission of terrorism offences in general and the certainty that this will both intrude on and chill free expression in the country. 

    February 25, 2015

    By Tanya O'Carroll, adviser in Amnesty International's Technology and Human Rights program. Follow her on Twitter @TanyaOCarroll

    'Every border you cross, every purchase you make, every call you dial, every cell phone tower you pass, friend you keep, article you write, site you visit… is in the hands of a system whose reach is unlimited but whose safeguards are not.'
    Edward Snowden, CITIZENFOUR

    In June 2013, Edward Snowden revealed the shocking extent of government spy networks across the world. The documents he released laid bare how governments are using illegal, mass surveillance to collect, store and analyse millions of people’s private communications around the world.

    It is almost two years since Snowden’s first disclosures. CITIZENFOUR, the powerful film directed by Laura Poitras, documents those tense days when the revelations first hit, with Snowden confined to his hotel room as the storm erupts. On Saturday the film was awarded an Oscar for best documentary 2014.

    February 23, 2015
    by Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada. This article was orginally published in Slaw, Canada's online legal magazine. Human rights violations are always most likely to occur when no one is watching over the police, soldiers and guards who have the power and potential to commit abuses. That is certainly even more the case when secrecy is prevalent; which obviously describes the world of national security investigations and operations. That is why human rights organizations, experts and bodies – national and international – have long stressed that effective review and oversight must be central to the imperative of ensuring that human rights protection is not sacrificed in any country’s rush to uphold national security.
    November 03, 2014

    By Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, John Packer, Director of the Human Rights Research and Education Centre at the University of Ottawa,and Roch Tassé, National Coordinator of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group.

    A timely conference on Wednesday reminded us that as debate swirls about new national security measures in Canada, vital lessons have emerged over the past decade about protecting human rights.

    In the wake of last week’s attack in Ottawa the government is rolling out proposed changes to Canada’s security laws and practices. We don’t yet know the full extent.

    On Wednesday, a remarkable group of judges, lawyers, journalists, activists, former diplomats, academics and community leaders came together in Ottawa. We were joined by individuals whose lives have been turned upside down by human rights violations associated with national security investigations, charges, arrest and imprisonment.

    October 28, 2014

    By Omar Khadr, former Guatanamo Bay detainee

    Ten years ago the Canadian government established a judicial inquiry into the case of Maher Arar. That inquiry, over the course of more than two years of ground-breaking work, examined how Canada’s post-Sept. 11 security practices led to serious human rights violations, including torture.

    At that same time, 10 years ago and far away from a Canadian hearing room, I was mired in a nightmare of injustice, insidiously linked to national security. I have not yet escaped from that nightmare.

    As Canada once again grapples with concerns about terrorism, my experience stands as a cautionary reminder. Security laws and practices that are excessive, misguided or tainted by prejudice can have a devastating human toll.

    A conference Wednesday in Ottawa, convened by Amnesty International, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group and the University of Ottawa, will reflect on these past 10 years of national security and human rights. I will be watching, hoping that an avenue opens to leave my decade of injustice behind.

    July 29, 2014
    By Donatella Rovera, Senior Crisis Response Adviser at Amnesty International.

    Marvin is a 27-year-old accountant. His life and that of his family were turned upside down last week, when members of the Islamic State (ISIS) turned up at their home in Mosul, northern Iraq.

    The ISIS militants who now control the city gave Marvin, his elderly parents and his brother and sister four stark choices: convert to Islam, pay jizya (a tax for non-Muslims), leave the city … or have their heads cut off. The militants then painted the Arabic letter “N” (for nasrani or Christian) on the house.

    For Marvin’s family, like many other Christian residents of Mosul, there was no choice. They took a few belongings and left the city early the following morning. “On our way out of Mosul, ISIS took our money and jewellery. Now we have no means to get out of Iraq and nothing to go back to in Mosul because our lives there have been destroyed,” Marvin told Amnesty International.

    In recent weeks, Marvin’s story has become tragically common among Christians and other civilians in Mosul.

    July 28, 2014

    Interview with a human rights fieldworker in Gaza

    This morning as I brushed my teeth I could hear the familiar buzzing of a drone circling above our building. I ignored the sound. Drones circle overhead all the time; you never know whether it’s just for surveillance or an impending missile launch. The uncertainty makes you feel helpless. What can anyone do?

    Five minutes later, a missile fired from what sounded like an F-16 fighter jet struck nearby. The loud boom sent the children running to me. They crowded in the bathroom, for comfort and safety. They looked so frightened and pale; their eyes red from lack of sleep. I am known for keeping a cool head, people say I have nerves of steel, so, typically, I just smiled at them – still clutching my toothbrush. The relief of seeing me smile made them break down in giggles; it’s one of those absurd reactions you have under extreme stress.

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