It is a rare occurrence when a top government official comes out – on the record – to attack a human rights group. But that is what happened last week when Canada's Immigration Minister ripped into Amnesty International after it criticized Canada's plan to crack down on alleged war criminals hiding out in Canada.
Earlier this month, the secretaries general of Amnesty International's Canadian branches, Alex Neve and Béatrice Vaugrante, wrote an open letter to Canadian government ministers Vic Toews and Jason Kenney to express outrage over Canada's recent outing of 30 men residing in Canada – all of whom who are accused of war crimes.
Their names were published on a government website, asking for people to help find them. All were missing inside Canada's borders (six have since been arrested) and are wanted for deportation.
The men the Canadian government wishes to deport are not Canadian citizens. And they are not merely accused of war crimes: a quasi-judicial panel found there were reasonable grounds to believe the men were complicit in genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes -- and in some cases, there were voluntary admissions to these.
Cutting through the preachy jargon, the point Amnesty is making in its letter is that if Canada deports these immigrants, they probably will not face any further investigation or criminal charges;and that by deporting them, Canada may be violating its "international human rights obligations if they face the possibility of serious human rights violations." Read: If Canada sends them home, they may be persecuted in their native countries.
Kenney's response was fierce, taking the group to task on a number of fronts and rightly calling into question Amnesty's decision to single out the Canadians for scorn.
"Our primary duty as a government is to protect Canada and Canadians," wrote Kenney. "Deporting these men discharges this duty and ensures Canada will not become a sanctuary for international war criminals and serious human rights abusers."
Amnesty's preferred course of action – to prosecute these men in Canada – would cost taxpayers millions to try these men for crimes committed in other countries, often eons ago. Such a move would clog criminal courts even further than they are now. And it would give war criminals an extra incentive to try immigrating to Canada in the hopes of having a trial there, thus being able to stay longer while they wait and launch appeals.
Kenney's larger point is the key: Why is Amnesty attacking Canada? Amnesty's attack has the effect of lumping Canada in with some of the most repulsive countries Amnesty attacks, even though Canada has one of the most generous immigration systems in the world. Why focus such a disproportionate amount of energy on Canada and other free countries when there are so many unspeakable human rights violations taking place on a daily basis in unfree countries?
A quick check of the group's website shows that in the past year, Amnesty had 151 mentions of human rights issues in the United States, and yet only 140 for Iran, 20 for Cuba -- and a whopping 6 for North Korea. Perhaps Canada should aspire to be more like North Korea?
The Western democracies are paying a price for being transparent. Amnesty does not focus its energy on the biggest human rights abusers, but rather on documenting what it can to produce improvements and heighten public awareness. This is not conjecture: Amnesty confirmed in February 2007 that it reports disproportionately on more democratic and open countries with access to information rather than on worthier targets.
It must be strange to be an Amnesty donor and to see money being used to fund operations used principally to criticize one's own governments, while the organization remains relatively quiet on blood-curdling human rights abusers.
Amnesty is also lining its wallets. Earlier this year, the British newspapers revealed the salaries and bonuses given to senior Amnesty staff. Secretary General Irene Khan was paid £132,490 (USD $217,284) and received a severance package of four times that. As British parliamentarian Philip Davies noted, "I am sure people making donations to Amnesty, in the belief they are alleviating poverty, never dreamed they were subsidizing a fat cat payout. This will disillusion many benefactors."
Given this, plus its false outrage over Canada's recent move, plus Amnesty's long-standing hypocrisy in turning a blind eye to some of the most horrific human rights violators, it seems almost impossible to take Amnesty International seriously anymore.