Showing Up for Human Rights in 2019


“This is one of those times; one of those moments in history.  
You either show up or you prepare to face your conscience.”

That was how an over-stretched immigration lawyer — who moved to Brownsville, Texas to join volunteers responding to Donald Trump’s assault on the rights of refugees and migrants — described to me why she was there. 

  Amnesty investigators at the USA/Mexico border

Will you show up for human rights in 2020?


Her words powerfully capture the vital human rights struggle playing out at the US/Mexico border. I’ve been along that border two times this year with other Amnesty International leaders from around the world. Show up, we must! There is and could be no other choice.  

Her words also profoundly frame the wider challenge and responsibility of defending human rights in our world today. A world that is overflowing with harrowing levels of conflict, division and inequality; while also witnessing an unstoppable tide of resistance, protest, compassion and courage.

Indeed, we either show up or face our conscience.

As we look back on 2019 and ahead to the considerable challenges we know we will face in 2020, I believe it is more imperative than ever that Amnesty International continues to show up — to bring the light of our research, the collective force of our activism, and the sustaining power of our solidarity to the pressing human rights struggles of our time.

We are showing up to face the global climate crisis. 

  Greta Thunberg named Ambassador of Conscience

In September the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, spoke about the rapidly worsening global climate crisis, starkly noting that, “the world has never seen a threat to human rights of this scope.”  So true. This is by no means an environmental issue alone. The causes, the impact and the solutions are all about human rights.

Amnesty International has shown up, across Canada and around the world, insisting on urgent action to protect human rights as the climate crisis mounts. That is why we honoured Greta Thunberg and the #FridaysforFuture movement with our highest global honour, the Ambassadors of Conscience Award. And that is why we are bringing our human rights demands for climate action to the streets, to companies and governments, to courtrooms and to UN conferences.  

We are showing up to expose the horrors of conflict and mass human rights violations.

Too many corners of our world face the grim toll of war, conflict and mass abuses of human rights. The unending agony of Syria, the world’s gaze shamefully averted from Yemen, the chaos of Libya, entrenched suffering in the open-air prison that is Gaza, the betrayed promise of freedom in South Sudan, abuses that have provoked a staggering refugee exodus from Venezuela and the disgraceful abandonment of the Rohingya people. 

With your support we have showed up to expose the truth of human rights abuse amidst conflict and turmoil. Our research and activism pushes for justice, arms control, safety for civilians and refugee protection. At every turn we show our solidarity and make it clear that no one, in any of these corners of our world, is or will be forgotten.

We are showing up to confront inequality and discrimination.

  More than 1 million families forcibly separated in Xinjiang, China

Will you show up for human rights in 2020?


Whether it is violence against women, discrimination against Indigenous peoples, or confronting anti-Black racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, we show up.

We have pressed for an end to the chilling mass incarceration of Uighurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang, China, forced and coerced sterilization of Indigenous women in Canada, and practices such as carding, which fuel racial profiling in policing. And we have actively supported efforts to end decades of discrimination against Indigenous children in Canada. 

We are showing up to change the channel on hate and division.

Everywhere, hate, fear and racism have increasingly been normalized in politics, fueled by the toxic and dramatically under-regulated world of social media. Leaders in the United States, Brazil, Hungary, Turkey, India, the Philippines and far too many other countries now openly inflame bigotry and demonize marginalized groups. It has steadily crept into Canadian political discourse as well.

Around the world and in Canada, we have shown up to reject the politics of hate and intolerance. Our Amnesty Canada francophone colleagues are challenging Bill 21 in Quebec and we worked closely with partners to bring positive messages about refugee protection into our recent federal election.

We are showing up in solidarity with frontline human rights defenders.

Sadly, in 2019 it is increasingly perilous to defend human rights. Governments bring absurd charges of terrorism and espionage against human rights defenders and turn their back when defenders are threatened, attacked and even killed. Those at greatest risk include women human rights defenders and defenders concerned about land and the environment.  

We show up to bring solidarity and protection in the face of these mounting threats against human rights defenders. That includes being vigilant here at home, where we have highlighted growing attacks on environmentalists and Indigenous rights defenders campaigning for climate action in Alberta.

We are showing up to defend the space for protest.

  Protesters in Hong Kong face brutal police crackdown

Will you show up for human rights in 2020?


What a remarkable year of courageous street protest.  Hong Kong. Chile. Lebanon. Algeria. Ecuador. Sudan. In the face of unrelenting public pressure, cruel leaders have been toppled and officials have abandoned plans for law reform and other measures that undermine rights.  

But governments have also responded with brutal force, leading to hundreds of deaths of protesters and many hundreds more seriously injured in Iran and in Iraq.

Amnesty has, in some instances, literally showed up and joined protesters. We have amplified their demands for reform. We have documented and campaigned for an end to security force abuses. And we will continue to show up, everywhere.  

We are showing up to call for freedom.

Around the world we have amplified the calls for freedom, for individuals locked up because of who they are, what they believe or because they dare to defend human rights. This year Canadian permanent resident Saeed Malekpour was freed after 11 years of unjust imprisonment in Iran and Maryam Mombeini returned home to her family in Vancouver after more than 18 months of being refused permission to leave Iran.  

Those moments of celebration remind us how crucial it is to persevere in our efforts to win freedom for others, including Canadian citizen Huseyin Celil, a Uighur leader locked up in China since 2006; and for Loujain al-Hathloul and other imprisoned women’s human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia.

We are insisting that Canada show up and embrace human rights.

In a world full of leaders enthusiastically sacrificing human rights to further their own agendas, it is more important than ever that Canada show up and lead. We have been clear that leadership begins at home and that there is still much to be done on that front.

We joined Indigenous and civil society partners this year in a concerted push to have Parliament pass landmark legislation, establishing a framework for implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. We came so close, only to have final adoption blocked by a handful of Senators. The government has promised to bring new legislation forward in 2020. We will once again show up; to push for its passage.

The historic final report from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was released in June. We now move on to ensure that the Inquiry’s 231 Calls to Justice are taken seriously, with a well-resourced implementation plan.

With the launch of this year’s Write for Rights, we worked with the formidable youth of Grassy Narrows First Nation to take their 50 year fight for mercury justice global. Over the next year we’ll continue to mobilize Amnesty activists in Canada and around the world to help pressure the federal government to finally turn promises into concrete actions.”

As Donald Trump strips away rights protection for refugees, we have demanded an end to the Canada/US Safe Third Country Agreement, which turns refugee claimants away from protection in Canada. The Agreement maintains the appalling fiction that the US meets international standards of refugee protection. And thus, the Canadian government stays silent, no matter how egregious the measures adopted by the Trump Administration. We showed up in Federal Court, challenging the STCA, and will continue to show up, anywhere and everywhere, until this shameful agreement is scrapped.

Canada joined the Arms Trade Treaty this year, something Amnesty has been calling for since the treaty was adopted by the UN in 2013. That commitment must now be matched by ending the reprehensible deal to sell $15billion worth of light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia at a time when Saudi military forces are responsible for extensive war crimes in Yemen.

We welcomed the long-awaited announcement in April of the first-ever Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise, to ensure the accountability of Canadian mining and other companies for human rights abuses abroad. But there is more work ahead, to ensure that the Ombudsperson will be granted the powers needed to effectively investigate alleged abuses.

And we will show up in 2020.

We showed up for human rights in 2019, even though the going was tough.  

We showed up for human rights in 2019, because the going was tough.  

We showed up for human rights in 2019, because you showed up.  

And with your determination and passion behind us we will most certainly show up in 2020.  

As 2019 comes to an end and we look ahead to 2020 I hope that you will be able to provide generous support to our human rights work. “This is one of those times.”