February 24, 2016 2:08 pm
Updated: February 24, 2016 3:31 pm

Amnesty International says human rights improving under Trudeau gov’t, but many concerns remain

WATCH: Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty discusses growing concerns about human rights around the world and the release of the organization's annual report.


A report issued by Amnesty International has mixed reviews on Canada’s human rights record. The report, released Wednesday, lauds Canada’s acceptance of 25,000 Syrian refugees — a goal the newly elected Liberal government expects to reach in the coming week.

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But it also raised concerns about shortcomings on the human rights front under the former Conservative government.

READ MORE: Canada on track to meet refugee deadline: officials

The report, which was compiled at the end of 2015, pointed to moves by the Conservative government to suspend the processing of Syrian refugees last summer and plans to prioritize refugees from who came from specific religious or ethnic communities.

Amnesty was also concerned by the cuts the Conservative government made to refugee health care, something Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to reverse — a promise that was fulfilled last week with an aim to fully restore those benefits by April 1.

READ MORE: Refugee health care’s coming back. Will doctors get the memo?

But according to its review of human rights in Canada, Amnesty says a lot of work still needs to be done.

While the group mentioned the government’s plan for an inquiry into Canada’s missing and murdered indigenous women and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission‘s recommendations, Amnesty pointed to two resource projects that are going ahead despite concerns about the impact on indigenous communities.

Both projects, the Site C Dam and the Northern Gateway Pipeline project, have faced stiff opposition from indigenous communities and environmentalists in British Columbia.

READ MORE: David Suzuki, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip lend support to Site C protesters

The impact of two major trade deals on human rights abroad — the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement and the signed-but-not-ratified Trans-Pacific Partnership — were also highlighted in the report. Both deals, Amnesty says, fail to take human rights concerns and safeguards into consideration.

‘Your human rights are in jeopardy’

Globally, Amnesty warns of a “creeping trend” that is putting human rights at risk as well as the laws and systems that are meant to enshrine them.

“More than 70 years of hard work and human progress lies at risk,” Salil Shelty, secretary general of the London-based human rights group, says.

“Your rights are in jeopardy: they are being treated with utter contempt by many governments around the world.”

Of particular concern to Amnesty were the horrors of the five-year-long civil war in Syria, which is among the 19 countries where the organization says war crimes and other violations of the laws of war have been committed.

Amnesty also singled out Russia for its involvement in the Syrian civil war, calling the Russian government “shameful” for refusing to own up to civilian victims in its bombing campaign in support of President Bashar al-Assad and his loyalists.

READ MORE: US, Russia agree on Syria cease-fire plan; questions remain

Amnesty also singles out the tiny East African nation of Burundi as another where war crimes have been committed. The cites the “systematic killing and other widespread violent tactics” carried on a crackdown on protesters in Burundi since last April, when demonstrators responded to President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid to seek a third term in office.

The group also criticized Israel for the ongoing blockade of the Gaza Strip and what it calls the “collective punishment of the 1.8 million inhabitants.” Amnesty also slammed the Israeli government for not allowing the UN to conduct investigations into alleged war crimes carried out during the 50-day conflict with Palestinian militant groups in the summer of 2014.

But as much as Amnesty rebuked many governments, it was also critical of the UN.

“The UN was set up to ‘save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’ and to ‘reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights’ but it is more vulnerable than it ever has been in the face of enormous challenges,” Shetty says. The report goes on to say the “systematic failure of the UN” contributed to “catastrophic human consequences” in Syria.

“UN member states have an historic opportunity this year to reinvigorate the organization by supporting a strong candidate for Secretary General with the commitment, personal fortitude and vision needed to push back against any states bent on undermining human rights at home and internationally,” Shetty says.

You can look through the full annual report below.

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