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Irwin Cotler

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 Release of Jonathan Pollard Is a Matter of AP Photo/ Karl DeBlaker, File

The Release of Jonathan Pollard Is a Matter of Justice

With President Obama's call for a "pause" in the floundering if not failed Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, the U.S. gambit to use the promise of Jonathan Pollard's release as an incentive for talks has arguably now ended. The injection of Pollard's release -- the former U.S. naval intelligence analyst sentenced to life imprisonment in 1987 for passing secret documents to Israel -- as a bargaining chip should not have happened anyway and here is why.
04/25/2014 05:12 EDT
Conservative Mockery of the Charter of Rights: Let's Count the

Conservative Mockery of the Charter of Rights: Let's Count the Ways

This month marks the 32nd anniversary of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a landmark achievement in the promotion and protection of human rights, and which has served as a model for other countries drafting constitutions of their own. While Canadians have occasion and cause to celebrate this transformative constitutional document, silence is to be expected from Canada's Conservative government. The government's consistent refusal to fully acknowledge the Charter's importance is regrettable not only as a matter of symbolism, but as one of substance as well.
04/17/2014 06:23 EDT
The Worst Thing About the Rwanda Genocide Is That It Was ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Worst Thing About the Rwanda Genocide Is That It Was Preventable

An enduring lesson from the Rwandan genocide -- not unlike the Holocaust -- is that it occurred not only because of the machinery of death, but because of state-sanctioned incitement to hate and genocide. Indeed, as the Supreme Court of Canada recognized, and as echoed by the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda, the Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers -- it began with words. As the jurisprudence of the Rwandan tribunals demonstrates, these acts of genocide were preceded by -- and anchored in -- the state-orchestrated demonization and dehumanization of the minority Tutsi populations.
04/07/2014 07:35 EDT
Sochi Olympics: Remembering Sergei AFP via Getty Images

Sochi Olympics: Remembering Sergei Magnitsky

Thus, as the world prepares to gather in Russia in the Olympic spirit of unity and fellowship, those Russians who have been and still are victimized and persecuted by their own government must be front-of-mind. Indeed, their cause -- and that of Sergei Magnitksy -- must continue to burn brightly even after the extinguishing of Sochi's Olympic flame.
02/06/2014 06:10 EST
Quebec, Passing Bill 60 Will Send a Shameful Lucas Oleniuk via Getty Images

Quebec, Passing Bill 60 Will Send a Shameful Message

The Quebec Association of Health and Social Service Institutions has reported that none of its members have ever had any problem with staff who wear religious apparel, and the Bouchard-Taylor Commission found -- after examining 900 briefs and 13 academic studies -- that the supposed crisis of religious accommodation was largely a "crisis of perception."
11/19/2013 12:12 EST
Geneva, Don't Forget Iran's History of Negotiating in Bad AP

Geneva, Don't Forget Iran's History of Negotiating in Bad Faith

Amidst this hope there remains cause for concern given the Iranian regime's longstanding "3-D" negotiating strategy: denial, deception and delay. While the change in Iranian leadership may be seen as a sign of progress, it should be recalled that newly-elected President Hassan Rouhani had himself boasted about this strategy in earlier negotiations.
11/07/2013 05:26 EST
The PQ's Values Charter Suffers a Succession of CP

The PQ's Values Charter Suffers a Succession of Disapproval

Quebec's Human Rights Commission has taken the highly unusual step of commenting on a government proposal, delivering one of the most forceful rebukes yet to the Parti Québécois' Charter of Quebec Values. According to the Commission, the values charter would represent "a clear break" with Quebec's Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
10/18/2013 05:57 EDT
Testing Iran's Nuclear Charm AP

Testing Iran's Nuclear Charm Offensive

Negotiations about Iran's nuclear program are set to resume this week in Geneva between the P5 + 1 countries (USA, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany) and the new Iranian leadership -- arguably the most important diplomatic encounter in a decade. If a new round of negotiations is to effectively roll back the Iranian nuclear threat -- rather than create another "calm environment" enabling increased nuclear activity -- there are a series of specific undertakings that Iran must be called upon to do and prove it is doing. These undertakings are as follows.
10/15/2013 12:13 EDT
How to Judge Getty

How to Judge Judges?

The nomination of Judge Marc Nadon has raised important questions about the process used to select justices for the Supreme Court of Canada. Indeed, his appointment has led to charges of the politicization of the judiciary in the media, with some Canadians, rightly, wondering how our nomination process works.
10/02/2013 05:40 EDT
Six Questions About Iranian President Hassan AP

Six Questions About Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

What follows is a human rights index -- an inventory of serious human rights abuses and the corresponding actions required -- to turn Iran from a republic of fear to what Rouhani himself called a free Iran. Indeed, the queries below serve as a litmus test for the authenticity of Rouhani's commitment to justice and human rights.
09/24/2013 03:50 EDT
Popularity Does Not Equal Legitimacy: Debunking the PQ's Charter of Getty

Popularity Does Not Equal Legitimacy: Debunking the PQ's Charter of Myths

As expected, the provincial government's proposed Charter of Quebec Values contains a highly problematic ban on religious symbols or attire for all public sector employees. The Charter's supporters argue that it is necessary to protect the religious neutrality of the Quebec state, but that argument is based on a number of faulty premises, such as: The state cannot be religiously neutral if public employees wear religious items; religious identity can be "turned off" during business hours; religious symbols in the workplace undermine gender equality and that certain Catholic symbols in public institutions are cultural or historical, but faith-based accessories worn by public employees are religious.
09/13/2013 05:41 EDT
Obama Must Make a Stronger Case For Getty

Obama Must Make a Stronger Case For Syria

It is critical that the case be made -- and understood -- that Syrians needed our help prior to this most recent chemical weapons attack, and need it even more so now. Indeed, Obama may have to bear criticism that he should have acted earlier given the nature of atrocities committed thus far by the Assad regime.
09/11/2013 12:15 EDT
50 Years Later, MLK's Voice Still Getty

50 Years Later, MLK's Voice Still Resonates

I am proud to say that I was present in Washington on August 28, 1963. We all stood rapt with attention as King told of his dream of an America where his four little children would one day live in a nation where they would not be judged "by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character."
08/31/2013 01:48 EDT
Our Response to Syria Must Be Effective, But Also Getty

Our Response to Syria Must Be Effective, But Also Legal

The international community has not only failed to live up to its responsibility to protect civilians from mass atrocity crimes but its very inaction has encouraged escalating criminality by the Assad regime. With the crossing of the red line on chemical weapons use refocusing international attention on Syria, we risk losing credibility -- and more Syrians risk losing their lives -- should we not start now taking meaningful action to protect civilians in Syria. To that end, it is critically important that any intervention adhere to the requirements of international law.
08/30/2013 05:29 EDT
The PQ Wants to Force Religious Quebecers Into The Getty

The PQ Wants to Force Religious Quebecers Into The Closet

The so-called "charter of values" being contemplated by our provincial government would make a mockery of the free and open society that many of Quebec's nationalist leaders have been promoting for decades. It would force religious Quebecers "into the closet", and send the message that religious adherence is something to be ashamed of. Moreover, if religious symbols are barred from the public sphere, they and those who wear them will be rendered even more foreign and separate from the majority. Far from encouraging integration, therefore, such a ban would reinforce divisions based on religious affiliation.
08/23/2013 05:22 EDT
How Could the International Community Let This File/Getty

How Could the International Community Let This Happen?

In February 2012, amidst the then unfolding horror in Syria, British journalist Marie Colvin summed it up in one final poignant and painful dispatch before she herself was murdered in the assault on Homs: "In Baba Amr. Sickening. Cannot understand how the world can stand by... Feeling helpless... No one here can understand how the international community can let this happen."
07/22/2013 12:41 EDT
Why Europe Must List Hezbollah as a Terrorist

Why Europe Must List Hezbollah as a Terrorist Organization

Bulgarian authorities have confirmed and have transmitted evidence of Hezbollah terrorist complicity to European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels next Monday to determine whether Hezbollah should be designated as a terrorist organization.
07/20/2013 07:52 EDT
Not Criminally Responsible? The Conservatives Are Not Alamy

Not Criminally Responsible? The Conservatives Are Not Interested

Regrettably, the Government's approach to Bill C-54, the Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act -- and to the entire question of mentally ill accused -- has been a paragon of needlessly divisive legislating. The bill in question was proposed in response to several recent high-profile cases in which individuals were found not criminally responsible (NCR) of serious violent offences on account of mental disorder. Perhaps it would not have been possible to craft a bill that victims and mental health and legal professionals all agree will improve the NCR system and enhance public safety. However, it is clear that the Government did not even try.
06/27/2013 05:43 EDT
The Kind of Responsibility Canada Getty

The Kind of Responsibility Canada Needs

So I ask: How can the government champion one bill that promotes corporate accountability abroad while simultaneously opposing another, when both have the capacity to positively impact the way our companies conduct business? I cannot reconcile this disparity easily. Perhaps it lies with the simple fact that C-474 is not a Conservative bill.
06/20/2013 12:14 EDT