Recent public statements against Amnesty International Canada

Re: Recent public statements against Amnesty International Canada

To: The Honourable Jason Kenney, P.C., M.P.

From: Catherine Morris, B.A., L.L.B., L.L.M.; Gail Davidson, Executive Director, LRWC

Date: 2011-08-21

Dear Minister,

Lawyers Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) is a committee of lawyers who promote human rights and the rule of law internationally by protecting advocacy rights. LRWC campaigns for advocates under threat because of their human rights advocacy, engages in research and education, and works in cooperation with other human rights organizations. LRWC has Special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations and regularly conducts advocacy to uphold international human rights and the rule of law in countries on all continents.

Canada is not an exception. LRWC is troubled by your recent public statements against Amnesty International Canada. You suggested that Amnesty International Canada is “squandering its moral authority” by critiquing the human rights performance of the Canadian government. You implied that Amnesty International should not criticize the Canadian government’s “innoxious” processes and should limit its focus to the behaviours of “brutal regimes.” You suggested Amnesty International Canada is “wasting its time and resources,” and you characterized Amnesty International as “ostentatious,” “naive,” “sloppy” and “irresponsible” in its criticisms.

This attack on a Canadian human rights organization has led us to review Amnesty International’s statements, and yours, in light of international human rights norms and principles. We find that the substance of Amnesty International’s concerns is quite far from your suggestion that Amnesty International is sympathetic with war criminals. We also find that Amnesty International statements have been professionally researched and written in accordance with well-established international human rights law binding on Canada.

We reiterate Amnesty International’s concern that persons suspected of war crimes should be prosecuted pursuant to Canada’s international law obligations. Canada has the international legal obligation to prevent and punish international crimes such as genocide, torture, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Canada has a duty to deny safe haven to those suspected of such crimes and to refuse to admit them into Canada under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (s. 35). If a suspect does end up in the country, Canada has the international legal obligation to ensure proper investigation and prosecution in accordance with international legal standards. Canada may prosecute war criminals in Canada or extradite them to jurisdictions able and willing to prosecute them in accordance with international human rights standards.

With respect, immigration proceedings are not intended to take the place of criminal proceedings. Immigration proceedings are not designed for and do not result in determinations of guilt or criminal accountability. Further, we respectfully suggest that it is not at all innoxious that Canada deport suspected war criminals to places where they may face no criminal prosecution at all or alternately to places where they may face torture, capital punishment or extrajudicial killing. We remind you that no persons, no matter what evils they have committed or are suspected of having committed, are to be removed from Canada to any place where there are substantial grounds for believing they would be in danger of facing torture. This is an absolute prohibition in international law; no exceptional circumstances whatsoever may be invoked as justification. Also absolutely prohibited are expulsion, return or extradition of any person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture. (Convention Against Torture, Articles 2,3)

Informed public debate about government policies and actions is important. States, including Canada, also have the obligation to make the public aware of international human rights laws to ensure universal respect for human rights within the country, and to ensure that public opinion cannot easily be roused to favour internationally unlawful actions.

Human rights organizations have the responsibility and right to warn about actual or potential international human rights violations and to insist that Canada adhere to established international human rights norms. We draw your attention to the UN General Assembly Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Human rights defenders have the right

“to submit to governmental bodies and agencies and organizations concerned with public affairs criticism and proposals for improving their functioning and to draw attention to any aspect of their work that may hinder or impede the promotion, protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” (Article 8)

Article 12 articulates the responsibility of States to ensure “the protection of human rights defenders from threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights” to conduct their human rights work. We consider that Ministerial mischaracterization of the statements of a human rights organization, and particularly the implication that Amnesty International Canada has no right to criticize the Canadian government is in violation of this Declaration.

We request that you, as a Minister, demonstrate respect for the work of all independent human rights organizations in Canada and elsewhere, and that you cease and desist from any attacks on the right of Amnesty International and other organization working to uphold internationally recognized human rights principles and practices in Canada.

We hope you will provide us with an early response to this letter.