An era of ‘disappointment’

Event discusses Canada’s role in global human rights issues

Alex Neve, Canadian Secretary General for Amnesty International, spoke to students about Canadian human rights activism.
Alex Neve, Canadian Secretary General for Amnesty International, spoke to students about Canadian human rights activism.
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Canada has been regressive with human rights in recent decades, says the Canadian Secretary General for Amnesty International.

Alex Neve spoke on campus at an event hosted by the Queen’s chapter of Amnesty International on Nov. 27.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the human rights organization.

Neve said Canada had earned a reputation as a human rights champion by participating in peacekeeping missions and ending the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Unfortunately after 50 years of progress there are still challenges that need to be addressed, he said.

“The laurels grow distant,” he told the crowd of over 25 people in Dunning Hall. “If the past has been an era of leadership, sadly I have to say that we have now moved into the era of, to say the least, disappointment.”

Neve said one example is Canada’s role in dealing with matters concerning the Middle East.

“For several years now we have voted consistently against any and every UN resolution that in any way criticizes Israel’s human rights record,” Neve said. “Sometimes we have been the only country to vote no, isolated even from our traditional European allies.”

Neve said one of the challenges Amnesty International currently faces is motivating people to act on important human rights issues.

“A hallmark of Amnesty’s activism always has been, and even in this era continues to be, trying to make it as human and personal as possible,” he said. “It’s crucial to come back to people with good news.”

Neve joined Amnesty International in the mid-1980s while attending law school at Dalhousie University. He said human rights in Canada has changed over the years.

“You might argue that as a human rights organization you don’t want longevity,” Neve said. “But 50 years has been a time of considerable ups and downs within human rights activism.”

Amnesty International was founded in 1961 after British lawyer Peter Benenson started a campaign in response to the arrest of two Portuguese students advocating for freedom in Lisbon.

“He was confident that there would be millions of people around the world that would feel exactly that same sense of outrage [that he was feeling],” Neve said. “If you could gather up that collective outrage ... wouldn’t it become a tremendous and irresistible force for change and for justice?”

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