Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Time for Justice on Rights Abuses

There does not seem to be much publicity re any compensation for Almalki et al. There is even less publicity about any accountability or punishment for anyone involved in mislabeling either in the Arar case or the Almalki et al cases. In fact this is one of the few articles I have seen that even brings up the issue of accountability for staff who are indirectly responsible for the horrible torture and mistreatment that was inflicted on these Canadians. We have untouchables in our midst who go on with their jobs or are even promoted when they ought to receive some punishment for what they have done. The sign that we are giving to our intelligence operatives is that they can get away with reckless labeling with no proper grounds for their assessments and yet not suffer at all. This can only result in more human rights violations.

Time for justice on rights abuses

Ahmad Abou-Elmaati. Abdullah Almalki. Muayyed Nureddin. Maher Arar. These four Canadians of Arab and Muslim origin were locked up in the same Syrian jail cells and brutalized by the same torturers. What was the role of Canadian officials in their chilling tales? Did officials strive to protect their rights? Turn their back? Set them up?
For five years — since Maher Arar’s return to Canada — Canadians have grappled with these questions. Fundamental issues are at stake. Foremost is justice for the men themselves. But there are also wider concerns: the equality of all Canadians, respect for the rule of law, accountability, the effectiveness of our national security agencies, and the place of human rights in a post 9/11 world.
The effort to get to the bottom of these concerns has been unprecedented. Two inquiries have been convened, headed by highly respected jurists. Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Dennis O’Connor spent 2 6½7 years examining Maher Arar’s case, issuing two reports in 2006. Former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Frank Iacobucci spent close to two years probing the other three cases, and issued his report last month.
As a result, we now know a great deal about what went wrong in these cases. We know about the inflammatory labels that Canadian officials used to describe these men in exchanges with other governments, such as “Islamic extremists” and “imminent threats.” Both judges conclude that the labels were inaccurate and without foundation.
We know about the ways that Canadian action contributed to the imprisonment and torture of these four men. They sent information that led to their detention. They sent questions used in their interrogations under torture. We know also of the multiple failures to act to defend their rights. We know all of this and more.
So now what? The government responded, in part, to the Arar inquiry. Maher Arar rightfully received an official apology and compensation. Beyond that we know very little. Former public safety minister Stockwell Day said the Arar recommendations have been implemented, but there has been no public reporting to back up that claim. Justice O’Connor’s proposal for a comprehensive oversight mechanism for reviewing the national security activities of the RCMP, CSIS and other agencies has not been implemented. Day said there would be an announcement on that front soon.
Our organizations were involved in both of these inquiries. With Commissioner Iacobucci’s work now complete, it is clear to us that the government must act in five key areas.
There must be redress. As with Maher Arar, the government must officially apologize to Ahmad Abou-Elmaati, Abdullah Almalki, Muayyed Nureddin and their families. The government should also launch negotiations toward fair compensation.
There must be accountability. No Canadian official has faced consequences for the wrongdoing that led to the human rights violations endured by Maher Arar. Many have been promoted. That cannot stand; and it cannot be the response to the other three cases. An impartial body must determine appropriate accountability — disciplinary, criminal or other measures — for the abuses suffered by all four of these men. Other governments are implicated as well, including Syria, Egypt, and the United States. Individuals who carried out or ordered torture, authorized rendition and committed other human rights violations in those countries must be held to account. Charges can be laid under the Canadian Criminal Code. And the Canadian government must stop blocking the efforts of these men to launch lawsuits against Syria and Egypt in Canadian courts.
There must be reform. These four men all eloquently stress that they are not only seeking justice for themselves. They want to be sure that others do not suffer the same fate. That is why the Arar inquiry recommendations, bolstered now by Iacobucci’s findings, need action. We need more than blithe assertions that has happened. We need detailed public reporting on progress. We certainly cannot wait any longer for reform of national security oversight. O’Connor put a comprehensive proposal in front of the government two years ago. It is time for implementation.
There must be leadership. Canadian officials have been responsible for a series of vicious leaks about each of these men. Through two judicial inquiries they have now been subject to levels of scrutiny that few Canadians have ever faced. Yet they continue to face vilification in some quarters. The Prime Minister and responsible ministers must show leadership in discouraging hate and racism, and be clear that ongoing attempts by some commentators to smear these men is unacceptable.
Finally there must be global action. Two judges have documented the brutal torture of four Canadians in Syria and Egypt. This must become a catalyst for Canada to become a global champion of the struggle to end torture in those two countries and worldwide. That means action to end Canadian complicity in torture. That means forceful efforts to press other governments to end torture. That means principled leadership at the UN and other world bodies to strengthen global initiatives to eradicate torture.
Canadians are looking to their government to respond meaningfully to these very serious human rights concerns. The way forward is clear: redress, accountability, reform, leadership and global action. After the years of injustice, now is the time for justice.
Alex Neve is secretary general of Amnesty International Canada; Khaled Mouammar is president of the Canadian Arab Federation; Sameer Zuberi is human rights co-ordinator at the Canadian Council on American Islamic Relations; Faisal Kutty is general counsel for the Canadian Muslim Civil Liberties Association; Nehal Bhuta is special adviser on counterterrorism for Human Rights Watch; and Warren Allmand is counsel for the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group.

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