Amnesty International puts human rights on Americas Summit agenda

An Amnesty International delegation has arrived in Trinidad and Tobago to take part in the Summit of the Americas. At the four-yearly meeting 34 heads of state and government will discuss some of the key challenges facing the Americas region.

The summit – the fifth such regional encounter bringing together governments from every country in the Americas, except for Cuba – will discuss three principal issues: human prosperity, energy security and environmental sustainability.

The Amnesty International delegates will participate in the Civil Society forum to urge governments to put human rights at the centre of their discussions and the Declaration to be adopted at the Summit. The organization’s delegates will also participate in the parallel People’s Summit, where social and human rights movements, trade unions, Indigenous Peoples, women’s and environmental organizations will discuss their recommendations to governments.

“We are not convinced governments in the region have paid enough attention to human rights in the past. It is now time to bring human rights to the forefront and to stop leaving them as a second-class issue in the background,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International’s Canadian section, who is leading the organization’s three-person team in Trinidad and Tobago.

In particular, Amnesty International will emphasize the following points:

Public security laws and practices, including those dealing with terrorism and organized crime, should comply fully with human rights obligations, such as the right not to be arbitrarily detained, extrajudicially executed, tortured or subjected to enforced disappearance.
Governments should make an explicit commitment that all measures taken in response to the global economic crisis should protect the most vulnerable sectors of society from the impact of the crisis.
The negative impact of energy projects on people’s right to health, housing, food and livelihood and particularly on the land rights of the hemisphere’s Indigenous Peoples.
The need for strong legislation to hold corporations to account for their potentially negative impact on human rights.
The need for policies that put human rights considerations at the centre of both reversing and mitigating climate change.

When asked about his expectations for the Summit, Alex Neve said: ” We believe there will be some results on human rights but the question is: will there be enough? We need governments to make very concrete commitments to improve human rights in the Americas for any real change to take place.

Talking about the importance and possible long-term impact of the Summit, Amnesty International’s Americas Director Susan Lee said:

“The rights of people living in slums, of Indigenous Peoples facing dislocation from their land, and of people caught-up in abusive public security laws must be unequivocally recognized and firmly protected. Human rights provide the blueprint for the ‘secure future’ the Declaration envisions for citizens of the Americas.”

Cuba is the only country in the western hemisphere not invited to attend the Fifth Summit of the Americas. Amnesty International considers that its exclusion from the Summit is not helpful in achieving improved respect for human rights in Cuba. The organization has called on the USA to lift its economic embargo against Cuba, which is preventing Cubans from enjoying human rights such as adequate healthcare, education and housing and has called on the Cuban government to free prisoners of conscience and to respect the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly.