Amnesty International Canada secretary general speaks in Moose Jaw
In early 2013, while Alex Neve was in Geneva to witness a report from the United Nations, he was taken aback by the words of a German diplomat.
© Justin Crann
Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, discussed Canada's about-face on human rights under the Harper regime at Zion United Church in Moose Jaw Saturday.
“He looked at me very seriously and said, ‘I can’t imagine why you found that the least bit surprising,’” said Neve.
“‘I have to tell you, what would have been the surprise for me, would have been to hear something constructive from your government in that room.’”
The diplomat’s comments were in response to Neve’s shock and disappointment, he said, about Canada’s response to the report delivered to the UN by its special rapporteur on the right to food, who condemned its track record on the topic.
But Neve said it illustrated the greater picture of Canada’s quickly decaying reputation on the international stage with respect to global human rights.
“It has been many years now since the Canadian government — any Canadian government — devoted substantial, high-level political and diplomatic energy and resources to an international initiative responding to either human rights concerns in a particular country, or intending to address some big, pressing, necessary global human rights challenge,” he said.
“In 1957, then Secretary of State for External Affairs Lester Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize for (his) peacekeeping initiatives,” Neve added. “In 1986, Canada was awarded the UN’s Nansen Medal for exemplary service to refugees — the only time in the history of that medal that it’s ever gone to a nation.
“But that’s 1957 and 1986. None of that is yesterday.”
In his speech, given at Zion United Church as part of Amnesty’s second annual Saskatchewan Regional Conference, Neve issued a scathing indictment of Canada’s recent track record on human rights.
He spoke of the unfolding situation with Omar Khadr.
He spoke of Canada’s refusal to sign or ratify with the UN’s treaty to crack down on the illegal arms trade — a treaty the United States has signed.
He spoke of the federal government’s continued resistance to instituting a “national action plan” responding to violence against indigenous women.
“It’s almost as if the longer the list of authoritative voices calling for Canada to do this becomes, the more insistent and defiant we are that we will not do so,” he said. “(But) I am increasingly convinced we are reaching a tipping point on this.”
Not everything Neve highlighted was negative, however.
In his speech, he briefly highlighted the country’s positions on reproductive rights, sexuality and in dealing with Iran’s human rights violations.
The grander picture, though, appeared to be a troublesome one.
“I know it paints a rather bleak picture. How can it not? … We need to be putting all of those pieces together,” said Neve.
“It doesn’t end with that glum state of affairs. It can’t, and I know it won’t, because there is far too much human rights commitment, talent, determination and passion across the country,” he added.
“The changes in recent years do have enormous consequences, but know this: they were not inevitable. They absolutely are not irreversible. And that is what lies in our hands.”