Year end message 2017: a time to stand together

“I can’t believe there are this many people, from so many countries, standing with me and my family.” – Veronica Razo’s mother, Austreberta Casales

Late last month, at the end of a day of meetings in Mexico City, along with other Amnesty International leaders from across the Americas, I joined activists for a demonstration drawing attention to the case of Veronica Razo, who has been imprisoned for over six years now, on the basis of information obtained through torture and rape. We came to present the Attorney General’s office with the signatures of over 135,000 people from all over the world, demanding that she be freed.

With us were her son and her mother, both of whom were clearly moved by the signs of support from so many people the worldover. Veronica’s mother Austreberta told me that she could not believe there were this many people standing with her and her family; and that she felt tremendously strengthened by that support.

Her words stayed with me; as they so powerfully capture what has been so important and necessary in our human rights work during a turbulent and divisive year: standing together.

Standing together against atrocities during armed conflict

In 2017 we have stood together with people enduring terrible human rights violations in the face of armed conflict and widespread atrocities in a list of countries that has, sadly, continued to grow during the year.  Syria. South Sudan. Yemen. Libya. Iraq. Central African Republic.

Standing up for refugees

And we end the year with a devastating crisis of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity in Myanmar that has forced well over 600,000 Rohingya women, men and young people to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh, where their protection is precarious and strained. Long forgotten and overlooked by the international community, despite decades of entrenched discrimination that amounts to apartheid, Amnesty International will continue stand with the Rohingya people until they are safe and their rights are protected.  

In 2017 we have stood with refugees around the world, amidst the most serious refugee crisis the world has seen in generations. The measures pursued by governments to punish, penalize and restrict refugees far too often outstrip their efforts to protect, support and welcome refugees. Our global #RefugeesWelcome reminds us all that protecting refugees is a shared global responsibility.

Standing up to the Muslim Ban, discrimination and sexual harrassment

We have been deeply concerned about the rise of bigotry and demonization that has won elections and swept governments to power in so many countries around the world this year. We have stood with and stood up for the many groups targeted by Donald Trump’s cruel Executive Orders and tweets, including the Muslim Ban, the Wall and attempts to exclude transgender individuals from serving in the US military.

And we have made it clear that – in Donald Trump’s America and every corner of the world – we stand for women’s equality, women’s sexual and reproductive rights and women’s fundamental right to be safe from violence and harassment.   

The politics of hate have by no means been limited to the Trump White House. Amnesty International supporters around the world have stood with people demonized and targeted by governments in the Philippines, in Hungary, in Russia and many other countries. We have spoken out against hate in election campaigns, public debates and law-making whenever and wherever it rears its ugly head.

Standing together in Canada for reconciliation

Standing together, we have seen significant progress but still face serious challenges in protecting human rights here in Canada. 

We continue to hold the federal government to their commitment to a new relationship of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in Canada. Promises are encouraging, but what matters is action and change. 

We watch, supportive but with concern, as the crucial National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls faces challenges and setbacks, and we continue to press governments to take immediate steps now to begin to address the crisis of violence Indigenous women have faced in Canada for so long. Above all we stand with the families of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls who have campaigned for answers and for justice for many long years.

We are hopeful that promises to move beyond embracing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples towards putting in place a legislative framework for its implementation will truly take shape. At the same time we worry about the all too common disconnect between aspiration and reality. 

We continue to stand with First Nations communities in BC’s Peace Valley in the campaign to put a stop to the Site C dam, which stands to destroy their lands, traditions and way of life. And we stand with First Nations children still waiting for proof that the government is ready to protect their rights equal to the rights of all other children in Canada.

Standing for rights in Canada

Building on the remarkable Syrian refugee resettlement program in Canada in 2016 we continue to stand with refugees by pressing our government to return to and sustain that level of generosity, and to lift a restrictive treaty with the United States that limits the ability of refugees passing through the United States to turn to Canada for protection in the face of punitive Trump Administration refugee policies.  

We stand with communities in Canada and around the world who have suffered grave human rights harms associated with the operations of Canadian mining companies, including BC’s devastating Mount Polley mine disaster, and courageous individuals from Guatemala and Eritrea who have turned to Canadian courts for mining justice. We look ahead to 2018 with hope that a long campaign for an Extractive Sector Ombudsperson waged by Amnesty International and other concerned organizations may finally bear fruit.

2017 was a year of long-awaited human rights progress for transgender individuals in Canada, with the adoption of human rights and criminal law reforms prohibiting discrimination and protecting them from hate crimes. We have stood with inspiring transgender activists in that struggle, for well over a decade.

Standing together does mean standing together for the long run, with perseverance and a refusal to give up or turn away. We have long stood with Canadians who experienced wrenching human rights violations abroad as part of national security investigations for which Canadian agencies bore some responsibility. This year the long struggles of Omar Khadr, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El-Maati and Muayyed Nureddin came to a welcome end with apologies and compensation from the Canadian government for the terrible violations, including torture, they endured.

Standing for human rights defenders

We end 2017, across Canada and around the world, standing together with human rights defenders everywhere. The women, men and young people who take action to defend our rights should be among the most celebrated and cherished among us. Instead we live in a world where defending rights has become one of the most dangerous pursuits of all.  

That is even the harsh reality for Amnesty International’s own human rights defenders. Two leaders of Amnesty International’s section in Turkey – Director, Idil Eser; and Chair, Taner Kılıç – have spent many months behind bars, charged with terrorism-related offences that are entirely all about their vital human rights work. We have campaigned unceasingly for their freedom; and while Idil, and 9 other human rights defenders arrested alongside her have now been conditionally released while their trial proceeds, Taner remains locked up and marks his 7th month of imprisonment as 2017 comes to a close.

We will not stand for this.

In 2017, six resilient and courageous Indigenous rights activists and leaders from Canada were honoured as Amnesty International Ambassadors of Conscience, our highest global human rights honour.

Through our global #WeDefend #Brave campaign we are standing alongside human rights defenders everywhere. They must be free. They must be safe. They must be supported and protected in their important work. Their courageous and inspirational efforts are at the very heart of delivering the universal promise of human rights protection.

This is all about you. You stand up for human rights.

It is your support – when you donate to Amnesty, respond to petitions, sit down to send letters as part of our global #WriteForRights campaign, organize events in your community or raise human rights in conversations with friends and neighbours – that is the very essence of standing up for human rights. None of this would be possible without your concern and your commitment. 

Thank you for standing with Amnesty International and with human rights defenders around the world in 2017. We will stand strong, together, in the year to come.


Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada