Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Fear of torture too common among too many...another 'canary in the coal mine"?

Whenever we hear the words, "human rights" some of us glaze over with that askance look of an encounter with another legal brief. Embedded in language of lawyers and/or the detachment of some far-off prison in some far-off land where the legal justice system has either never truly been established or has fallen into the hands of unscrupulous operators whose only interest is their pursuit of personal power at the expense of innocent victims, human rights seems an issue open only to those with a legal background, and occasionally, when the abuses are most dramatic, a few journalists, in order to keep the issue on the front pages.
However, as the world "turns" today, there is growing evidence that human rights may well be in danger in too many places in the world, so that rather than seeming to be aberrant and exceptional, perhaps the abuse of human rights is becoming closer to normal. Those unscrupulous among us, and they live in all countries, in all religions, in all languages and cultures, will find encouragement from the latest report from Amnesty International, the organization with the barbed wire in its logo, the organization that for decades has been taking up the causes of imprisoned without cause, in every country in the world, and the organization that ahead of all others, has compiled the most complete data bank of abuses of human rights.
This issue of human rights is not merely about legalese, and a matter for only the legal-beagles among us. It is a matter for everyone to consider, when forming attitudes about how power is being executed in every quarter of the world. Human rights, in countries like Canada, have for centuries been taken for granted, not as something exceptional and only for the privileged, but as a matter of equal access to justice for all. One of our most beloved Prime Ministers, Pierre Trudeau, made his lasting reputation by writing and passing the "Charter of Rights and Freedoms" a document that the courts have ruled on now for over thirty years, and one that has become a sine qua non of Canadian public life, not to mention a guarantee for every immigrant who steps ashore on our land. And Canadians of all political stripes are extremely proud of our long record on human rights, with the glaring exception of how our political class, and consequently our culture generally, has treated our First Nations people.
Unforunately, there are a disproportionate number of aboriginal people in our prisons,  compared with the numbers in our population. And that is a black mark on our human rights record.
However, unlike too many people in the world, Canadians do not travel abroad worrying about whether they might be tortured if imprisoned or arrested.
And that is not the case for many, according to the Amnesty International Report.
Nearly half of people around the world fear becoming a victim of torture if taken into custody, a poll for human rights organisation Amnesty International showed on Tuesday.
Concern about torture is highest in Brazil and Mexico, where 80 percent and 64 percent of people respectively said they would not feel safe from torture if arrested, and lowest in Australia and Britain, at 16 and 15 percent each, the poll showed.
“Although governments have prohibited this dehumanising practice in law and have recognised global disgust at its existence, many of them are carrying out torture or facilitating it in practice,” Amnesty said in a new report.
Of the more than 21,000 people in 21 countries surveyed for Amnesty by GlobeScan, 44 percent said they would not feel safe from torture if arrested in their home country.
Four out of five wanted clear laws to prevent torture and 60 percent overall supported the idea that torture is not justified under any circumstances - though a majority of people surveyed in China and India felt it could sometimes be justified.
Amnesty said 155 countries have ratified the 30-year-old United Nation Convention Against Torture which was started 30 years ago but many governments were still “betraying their responsibility”. “Three decades from the convention and more than 65 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights torture is not just alive and well. It is flourishing,” read Amnesty’s report “Torture in 2014 - 30 Years of Broken Promises”.
(Reuters, in The Nation, May 14, 2014)

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