ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there is no reason to shield the truth from friends.
The remark provoked some laughter from the audience at the opening ceremonies of the International Organization of La Francophonie summit in Antananarivo, Madagascar, but then Trudeau launched into some frank talk about how people in the room were violating human rights.
"Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities suffer in too many countries, including certain members of la Francophonie who are here today," Trudeau said.
"We owe them the same respect, the same rights and the same dignity as all other members of our society."
The global group of 80 governments and states from mainly French-speaking nations includes many countries — including nearly a dozen in Africa — where sexual acts between same-sex couples are illegal, while in some others, including Madagascar, homosexuality is intolerated.
Still, the remarks drew applause from the room, although not nearly as much as his proclamation that he is a feminist and proud to say so, which also had some people cheering.
Trudeau said it is important for everyone — including men — to champion the empowerment of women and girls, which is at the heart of the international development strategy the Liberal government is showcasing at the summit.
Trudeau lamented that the rights of women and girls are too often flouted.
"Women and girls are victims of physical and sexual violence. They are married, often in infancy, without their consent. They do not have access to abortion in a free and safe manner. They are subjected to genital mutilation," he said.
"Enough!" Trudeau said. "There no longer exists any excuse for such practices, for such violations of their fundamental rights."
The fault lines that exist at la Francophonie on human rights, however, became obvious behind closed doors as delegates discussed a bid by Saudia Arabia — no bastion of feminism — to gain observer status at la Francophonie.
The bid by Ontario, which had the backing of Canada, Quebec and New Brunswick, was accepted.
An ad hoc committee had found the application by Saudia Arabia to be incomplete and recommended further research, which would punt a decision on the thorny issue, which must be made by consensus, to another time.
As leaders gathered for a plenary session Saturday, according to a source who was in the room, Morocco intervened to say that Saudia Arabia should be accepted right now, a position that was backed by some others including Senegal.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, who had earlier left the door open to the idea, told reporters Saturday he had in fact always been against the effort by Saudi Arabia. However, he intervened at the plenary session to say this was a matter of values, not of culture, and that he supported the decision of the ad hoc committee to study the situation in the Middle Eastern country.
Trudeau and French President Francois Hollande, among others, supported that compromise and, following further interventions about respecting the process by Michaelle Jean, the secretary-general of la Francophonie and Hery Rajaonarimampianina, the president of Madagascar, the decision was deferred.
There was some irony in Trudeau choosing to focus so strongly on the issue of human rights in his speech, as he began his remarks with a warm tribute to former Cuban president Fidel Castro, whose record on human rights has come under great scrutiny over his decades in power.
His father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, was the first NATO leader to visit Cuba when he met the leader of Cuba's communist revolution — and long-time antagonist of the United States — in 1976, and Castro came to Montreal to attend his funeral nearly a quarter-century later.
International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau dismissed the suggestion of a contradiction.
"There is a long history between Canada and Cuba and it's not limited on some specific things," Bibeau told reporters at the summit Saturday.
The fact that so many of the countries gathered at la Francophonie have been victims — and sources — of violent extremism in recent years was a common theme among the speeches at the summit's opening ceremonies.
"We are targets because French is the language of reason, of liberty, of immense passion," said Hollande, who noted terrorism has hit Mali, Belgium, Tunisia, Chad, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and so many others.
Trudeau also spoke of the need to fight violent extremism and urged la Francophonie to put prevention strategies in place that focus on the argument that marginalization of youth breeds radicalization.
"This includes the creation of a society where diversity is celebrated and where we maintain an ongoing dialogue with members of minority communities," he said.
Trudeau said it also involves employment opportunities, which the Liberal government backed up with some $22 million in funding commitments aimed at skills training and job creation for women and youth in developing countries that are part of la Francophonie.
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