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Human rights at risk amid rise of 'fear and disunity': Amnesty International

Amnesty International is calling on countries to do more to protect the vulnerable and warning that a rise in "narratives of blame, fear and scapegoating" in the political sphere is putting human rights at risk.

Canada's work with refugees praised, but Amnesty says more needs to be done on Indigenous rights

Amnesty International's most recent report on human rights cites attacks on the Syrian city of Aleppo, saying parts of the key city were 'pounded to dust by airstrikes and street battles. The fighting in Syria forced many, including this child, to flee the city. (Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images)

Amnesty International is calling on countries to do more to protect the vulnerable and warning that a rise in "narratives of blame, fear and scapegoating" in the political sphere is putting human rights at risk.

The London-based organization has released its annual report on the state of human rights around the world. The 408-page report looks at issues in 159 countries — including Canada. 

Tirana Hassan, Amnesty's director of crisis response, said that in 2016 "we have seen world leaders begin to essentially scapegoat some of the most vulnerable communities," including refugees.

The lengthy report takes aim at U.S. President Donald Trump, saying his "poisonous campaign rhetoric exemplifies a global trend towards angrier and more divisive politics." 

Hassan cited Trump's recent executive order that prohibited citizens of seven majority Muslim countries from travelling to the U.S. as an example of a policy Amnesty is worried will be repeated elsewhere.

The Amnesty report says more than five years of fighting in Syria has sparked the ‘biggest human-made humanitarian crisis of our time.’ (Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty)

"What we are very concerned about is that we'll see other countries using these examples and rationalizing the same sort of restrictive measures," Hassan told CBC News.

The Trump travel ban was blocked by U.S. courts, but the president is reportedly planning to issue a revised executive order on immigration, perhaps as early as this week, CNN reported.

Amnesty also warned of a twofold risk in affected countries: a rollback of domestic human rights and a weakened response to mass atrocities abroad.

"Across the world, leaders and politicians wagered their future power on narratives of fear and disunity, pinning blame on the 'other' for the real or manufactured grievances of the electorate," the report reads. 

Spotlight on Canada

The 2016 report highlighted Canada's recent record on treatment of refugees, noting that at least 38,000 Syrians were resettled in the country.

Canada "has gone against the trend and showed a high degree of responsibility by welcoming refugees," Hassan said.

The group is urging Canada to assume a greater leadership role on the world stage.

Alex Neve, Amnesty International Canada's secretary general, said in a statement that leaders in Canada "should serve as a contrary example to those seeking to build political support on the back of xenophobic sentiment and 'us versus them' mentalities." 

But the report on Canada was not all praise, with authors expressing concern about a range of issues, including how Indigenous people's rights are respected when it comes to economic development projects.  

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, has been a leading critic of the federal government's policies around First Nations child welfare. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The authors also noted mounting concern about the "extensive use of solitary confinement" after the story of Adam Capay, an Indigenous man who spent years in solitary, came to light.

It's time Canada addressed "our own continuing shortcomings," Neve said in his statement.

Amnesty's report also notes the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal's 2016 ruling that the federal government fails to provide adequate child welfare services on reserves.

"The government accepted the ruling," Amnesty writes, "but failed to bring an end to the discrimination."

About the Author

Thomas Daigle

Senior Technology Reporter

While in CBC's London, U.K. bureau, Thomas reported on everything from the Royal Family and European politics to terrorism. He filed stories from Quebec for several years and reported for Radio-Canada in his native New Brunswick. Thomas is now based in Toronto and focuses on technology-related news. He can be reached by email at thomas.daigle@cbc.ca.