Chair of Raoul Wallenberg Human Rights Centre, Former Minister of Justice/Attorney General of Canada
Irwin Cotler is Chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, Emeritus Professor of Law at McGill University, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, and longtime Parliamentarian.
An international human rights lawyer, Professor Cotler has served as Counsel to prisoners of conscience including Andrei Sakharov & Nathan Sharansky (former Soviet Union), Nelson Mandela (South Africa), Jacobo Timmerman (Latin America), Prof. Saad Eddin Ibrahim (Egypt) and he was Chair of the International Commission of Inquiry into the Fate and Whereabouts of Raoul Wallenberg. He is a Member of the International Legal Team of Chinese Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo, and serves as international legal counsel to imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, imprisoned Venezuelan democratic opposition leader Leopoldo López, and imprisoned Baha'i leadership in Iran. A feature article on him in Canada’s national magazine – Maclean’s – referred to him as “Counsel for the Oppressed”, while the Oslo Freedom Forum characterized him as “Freedom’s Counsel.”
The White House statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day did not mention Jews or anti-Semitism. As Holocaust historian Professor Deborah Lipstadt put it, "what we saw from the White House was classic softcore denial. The Holocaust was de-Judaized."
Badawi has been languishing in a Saudi prison since his first arrest in 2012, and his subsequent sentencing in 2014 to 10 years imprisonment and 1000 lashes, itself constitutive of torture and a standing violation of international human rights law. Raif Badawi's "crime"? Establishing an online forum and exercising his right to freedom of expression.
When the Nobel Prize Committee awarded Elie the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 the choice was greeted with international acclaim, for it is difficult to imagine any other person in the world who had so commanded the respect of political leaders and the people themselves. As for myself, Elie has always been my teacher, mentor, role model, inspiration, and friend of 50 years - in a word, the most remarkable human being I have ever encountered.
The horror of the killing fields in Rwanda gave rise to the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine. In a word, if such mass atrocity crimes are being committed, and the state where these crimes are occurring is unwilling or unable to act -- or worse, is the author of such international crimes -- the Responsibility to Protect arises.
In July 1944, some 430,000 Hungarian Jews had been deported to Auschwitz in the space of 10 weeks -- the fastest, cruelest and most efficient mass murder of the Nazi genocide. Yet Wallenberg rescued some 100,000 Jews in six months in Hungary in 1944, demonstrating that one person with the courage to care, and the commitment to act, can confront evil and transform history.
Thus far, election discourse has been dominated by exchanges on the economy and related issues such as jobs, growth, taxes, and the like, and where the term "middle class" has become metaphor and message of that discourse. Accordingly, the Munk Debates on foreign policy are a welcome addition to the political discourse, particularly as foreign policy itself is not characterized as a salient issue for electoral purposes.
Few media outlets have mentioned the abuses that minorities in Bangladesh have endured since the country won its independence from Pakistan in 1971. Discrimination is particularly brutal against the indigenous peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts region, who have suffered horrific human rights violations at the hands of Bangladeshi settlers and the military forces supporting them. Canada is an aid donor to Bangladesh and must take action to end the ongoing human rights violations against religious minorities and indigenous peoples.
This year's theme for International Women's Day was "Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!" Picture it... Picture it, because despite all the efforts that have been made in Canada and around the world, despite all the progress, there is still (too) much that remains to be done.
What follows is an overview of some of the more serious human rights violations that continue in Iran -- and the corresponding Iranian defiance of its international commitments -- underpinned by an ongoing culture of impunity.
I write at an important moment of remembrance and reminder, of bearing witness, and of action. I write also in the immediate aftermath of anti-Semitic terror and killing in France, and in the midst of ongoing mass atrocities by Boko Haram in Nigeria, ethnic cleansing in Darfur and South Sudan, and killing fields in Syria and elsewhere. And so, at this important historical moment, we should ask ourselves: What have we learned in the last 70 years, and more importantly, what must we do?
In a word, Dr. Wang's and Dr. Liu's continuing detentions are case studies of the Chinese government's massive repression of human rights defenders and violations of their own undertakings to us to respect their domestic and international legal obligations. Regrettably, the Chinese government has succeeded in having the narrative focus on the regime's openness to trade, technology, and business, and away from justice, democracy, and human rights.
The government's motion in regards to ISIL about lacked clarity about what the strategic nature and limits of Canada's mission will be. In particular -- and this was reason enough for me not to support the motion -- I was deeply disturbed by the Prime Minister's statement that Canada would require the approval of the criminal Assad regime to carry out operations in Syria. To allow the perpetrator of war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and genocide to green-light Canadian intervention is to turn R2P on its head. Assad should be a criminal defendant, not a coalition partner.
While Iranian President Rouhani pledged to usher in a new era of human rights for Iranians, he continues to engage in massive repression. What follows is an overview of some of the serious human rights violations in Iran that serve as a litmus test for the authenticity of Rouhani's commitment to human rights for the Iranian people.
The notion that truth is the first casualty of war has found expression in the ongoing fog of the current Israel-Hamas conflict -- where truth is obscured or masked by oft-repeated clichés such as "cycle of violence," false moral equivalences, or unconscionable allegations of Israeli "genocide." If we want to prevent further tragedies in this conflict -- let alone frame the basis for its resolution -- then we have to go behind the daily headlines that cloud if not corrupt understanding, probe the real root causes of conflict, and finally travel the road not yet taken to its just resolution.
While Hamas has rejected cease-fires proposed by Egypt and the UN, including a humanitarian cease-fire, it has continued its relentless rocket assaults and tunnel invasions, the proximate triggers for this immediate conflict. If we want to prevent further tragedies, it is important to go beyond the "fog of war" -- to go behind the daily headlines that cloud understanding and the clichés (the "cycle of violence") that corrupt it -- and ask some fundamental questions about root causes and the basis for its resolution.
I will stand with those who support the right of peoples in the Middle East -- Israelis and Palestinians alike -- to live in peace and security, free from any threats or acts of force, a cornerstone of UN principle and Canadian foreign policy; and I will oppose all those, like Hamas and its patron Iran, who seek the destruction of any people or state in violation of the UN Charter.
The Government released a report on its consultations regarding Parliament's response to the Supreme Court decision last December striking down several prostitution-related offences in the Criminal Code. Regrettably, the information made available about the consultations raises more questions than it answers, and leads one to query whether an informed debate will occur.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani repeatedly touts his commitment to "constructive engagement" with the international community, particularly as he negotiates a comprehensive nuclear agreement. Yet, as nuclear talks resume this week, the systematic and widespread violations of human rights in Iran continue unabated.
In Monday's question period, much of the back-and-forth concerned the insinuations from the Prime Minister's Office of wrongdoing on the part of the Chief Justice in striking down Justice Nadon's appointment to the Supreme Court. What follows are eight questions that arise from this whole affair.
The same authoritarianism, revanchism, and criminality that have characterized the Putin regime's approach to human rights -- and that have gone unpunished, if not unnoticed, by the international community -- have characterized its actions in Ukraine, and in Georgia before it.