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Talking human rights, with Amnesty International Canada’s secretary general 

“We obviously still have a long way to go.”

Alex Neve is a Dalhousie graduate and Order of Canada recipient, recognized for his work seeking to protect human rights. - PAUL THOMPSON
  • Alex Neve is a Dalhousie graduate and Order of Canada recipient, recognized for his work seeking to protect human rights.
  • Paul Thompson

The Canadian branch of international human-rights organization Amnesty International will gather this weekend in Halifax for its annual general meeting. Secretary general Alex Neve spoke about the never-ending battle for human rights.

What will members of Amnesty International Canada be doing in Halifax?
The simple answer is we will be gathering for our annual general meeting. But the more meaningful answer is that Amnesty members from across Canada will come together to learn, to get inspired, to mobilize ourselves and strengthen our ability to take action to defend human rights in Canada, and around the world.

What’s the biggest human-rights crisis in the world today?
Sadly, I think it’s impossible to pick one crisis over many others. Obviously, we face a world of many crises right now. It feels, over the last year in particular, that almost every month there’s another corner, another country that has imploded in insecurity and civil war. One thinks of Yemen, Libya and Syria, of course. One of the things that’s very important about our annual general meeting is it gives us an opportunity to come together and renew our commitment to addressing those crises.

Regarding Syria, have there been any Amnesty International missions there recently?
There’s been several Amnesty missions over the course of the [ongoing civil war] in Syria. As you can imagine, that’s a very difficult and sensitive part of the world in which to conduct missions. The Syrian government doesn’t welcome outside investigators in, so we have to do it very carefully to make sure that our researchers and the people who we are working with are not put at risk. But we nonetheless feel it very important that Amnesty be on the ground as often as we can to document the serious range of grave abuses that are happening.

Human rights have been violated for generations. Will these abuses ever stop?
The very dream and aspiration of Amnesty International is that we can, and will, work towards a world in which universally guaranteed human rights are upheld for everyone. We obviously still have a long way to go, and sometimes it feels like there’s three steps forward, two steps back. But the progress nonetheless over the last several decades has solidly been in the direction of greater human-rights protection. It’s a longterm struggle, and it’s a struggle that requires all of us to become engaged—because human rights don’t just belong to a handful of us.

What portion of charitable donations goes to helping victims, and how much supports Amnesty’s internal administration?
Our devotion of resources to our human-rights work is very solid. Obviously, it does cost money to run an organization and it does cost money to raise the funds to do human-rights work, especially for an organization that does not take any money from government. We don’t take money from government in order to maintain our independence. We’re confident in saying that in the range of 70 to 75 percent of the money we raise goes directly to the work of investigating human-rights violations and campaigning to bring them to an end.

Interview conducted and edited by Michael Lightstone

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