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Surveillance, Security and Human Rights

    Security and Human Rights: Overview

     Perspective Security reform should protect our freedom (op-ed 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)

    Governments have not only the right, but the responsibility to respond to concerns about threats and attacks – including terrorism – and protect their citizens. But not at any cost. Government actions must conform with international human rights law including protections against torture, and arbitrary arrest and detention.

    “Acts of terror” threaten our human rights. They are human rights abuses. But real security must ultimately be based on advancing the human rights of everyone. We cannot pursue the security of some at the expense of others.

    Our work on Security and Human Rights focuses on these areas:

    Unlawful detention

    Many governments have responded to or exploited heightened concerns about terrorism before and after 9-11 by detaining people without the usual safeguards that are due to anyone deprived of their liberty. This serious violation of human rights can result in people languishing in prison for years without trial and without being able to see the evidence against them, with no way to challenge their detention. Some cases involve secret detention or enforced disappearance, where the person’s fate or whereabouts is concealed completely.

    Unlawful detention leaves people at heightened risk of torture and other ill-treatment. Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment are always wrong and are absolutely prohibited under international law.

    Accountability for abuses

    An increasing amount of evidence of abuses committed by governments in the context of the so-called “war on terror” is emerging. Yet with the exception of some low-ranking officials, few of those responsible have been identified and held to account.

    Victims, their families and society as a whole have the right to know the truth about human rights abuses committed, the identity of the perpetrators and what measures are being taken to seek accountability. This is essential for society to be able to learn lessons to prevent violations from being committed in the future, and so that victims of those violations can receive redress for their suffering.

    Victims of terrorism and other violence by armed groups

    The deliberate targeting of civilians for attack can never be justified and is always an abuse of human rights. Beyond the immediate harm they inflict, such attacks create a climate of fear in which entire communities live in terror.

    This suffering is often made worse by the failure of states to properly investigate and bring those responsible to justice, to expose the truth about what has happened or to provide survivors with access to justice or reparations.

    Canadians detained abroad

    Amnesty International has followed numerous cases of Canadian citizens detained abroad in conditions where their human rights are at grave risk. Several have been detained for lengthy periods of time without charge or trial, in abysmal prison conditions.  Several have also been subjected to severe torture.  Some face long sentences after unfair trials.

    In a number of these cases, Canadian law enforcement or security agencies may have played a role which contributed to the human rights concerns. In other cases, the government initially intervened robustly on behalf of their citizen, but now show little interest.

    Recommended links 

    Amnnesty International's concerns about changes to Canada's Citizenship Act

    You Don't Like The Truth: Four Days Inside Guantanamo (Documentary)

    Unlock the Truth: European government complicity in

    US-led secret detention and rendition

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