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At the Global Town Hall Human Rights in Canada-Are we Living up to our Reputation? panelists included Bill Schabas, Director, Centre for Human Rights, Ireland; MP Irwin Cotler; Rev. Lois Wilson, Toronto School of Theology; and President Lloyd Axworthy.

e-dition - March 9, 2007

At the Global Town Hall Human Rights in Canada-Are we Living up to our Reputation? panelists included Bill Schabas, Director, Centre for Human Rights, Ireland; MP Irwin Cotler; Rev. Lois Wilson, Toronto School of Theology; and President Lloyd Axworthy. 

Human Rights & Social Justice Conference:

Speaking Out to Fight Injustice

By Vivian Belik

“Speaking out is the only way to fight injustice; it is the only way to build our future,” emphasized Monia Mazigh, wife and outspoken defender of Maher Arar, in a speech to a packed room of students and human rights activists gathered for UWinnipeg’s Human Rights & Social Justice Conference, hosted by Global College. 

Mazigh, along with 40 other eminent and influential global leaders converged at The University of Winnipeg from February 23 to 25, 2007 to map out a series of human rights-related recommendations conveyed by both participants and speakers.

Monia Mazigh

Monia Mazigh, defender and champion of the campaign to clear her husband Maher Arar's name, gave a compelling keynote address, Taking a Stand, at the conference.












More than 325 people joined together over the weekend to dialogue, discuss and share stories and ideas surrounding human rights injustices occurring here in Canada and abroad.

“This was an unprecedented opportunity for students, academics, activists and ordinary citizens to become engaged and have their voices heard,” said University of Winnipeg President Lloyd Axworthy.

UN Human Rights Council
The Human Rights & Social Justice Conference kicked off early February 23 with a keynote address by Paul Meyer, Canada's Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Ambassador Paul Meyer at keynote

Paul Meyer, Canada's Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council opened the conference with a fascinating keynote address on The Human Rights Council - The Story so Far and Future Challenges.

“Canada is very much interested in creating a Human Rights Council that is worthy of its name, ” said Meyer, who explained in detail the structure of the newly formed UN Human Rights Council to a roomful of interested participants. “It is up to all of us here in Canada to ensure that the Human Rights Council lives up to the lofty goals we have set up for it”.

Meyer is in charge of delivering the series of recommendations originating from the conference to the the UN Human Rights Council.  These recommendations include solutions and action ideas surrounding issues of war-affected children, gender rights and the rights of indigenous people globally.

Individuals Empowered
“This conference acknowledges that individuals can be empowered to take action on what they find to be important and often overlooked in politics,” said fourth-year Sociology student, Tammy Andrejowich.

This message was echoed by many of the speakers at the Conference including retired Lieutenant-General of the Armed Forces, Romeo Dallaire; Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch, Marianne Mollman; Co-Founder and Director of Journalists for Human Rights, Ben Peterson; and most prominently, high school students involved in the Human Rights Council High School Round Table.

Educating Youth
“By failing to educate young people we are allowing our ignorance to silence our voices. Education is critical for fostering respect for human rights,” said Nicholas Kotoulas, a Grade 12 student at The Collegiate.

“In striving towards human rights, the young should not be overlooked and should be viewed as a powerful and integral source for both actions and ideas,” added Hannah Robb a high school student from Springfield Collegiate who spoke at the conference February 24.

Kotoulas was one of four high school students who presented the findings from the Human Rights Council High School Round Table, a round table discussion on engaging youth in human rights issues that occurred earlier in the week at UWinnipeg. More than 75 students, from across Winnipeg and around the province, participated in the afternoon-long workshop with President Lloyd Axworthy, Collegiate Associate Dean Lloyd Kornelsen and Collegiate instructor Charlotte Arnold. These students-members of their high school social justice committees-collectively agreed that educating young people to be global-minded citizens as well as engaging in open, honest discussion with friends, parents, and teachers are the most effective ways that society can fight social injustices.

Alt

A workshop on rights of Indigenous Peoples featured Ovide Mercredi, Chief Grand Rapids First Nation; Celeste McKay, Consultant, Native Women's Assocation of Canada; Larry Chartrand, Director, UWinnipeg Aboriginal Governance Program; and UVic Professor of Indigenous Governance Program Jeff Corntassel.

Making Change at the Grass-roots Level
Educating others, living by example, and representing those who cannot represent themselves were recurrent themes among speakers and participants at the Human Rights Conference who sought to act globally in a local context.  On the last day of the conference, participants chose to put their words into actions by signing a petition that strongly urged Canadian Members of Parliament to review the anti-terrorist legislation that so memorably undermined the rights, and freedoms, of Maher Arar.

“This conference is a good educational opportunity, but the actual change will happen if people start making changes at the community level,” concluded local Winnipegger, Shannon Dikkema.

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