Doctorate debated on East Coast
By Mark Brown
The Technical University of Nova Scotia's decision to award an honorary degree to an Indonesian minister has attracted some criticism about the university's position on the abuse of human rights.
Earlier this week, the honorary doctorate of engineering was awarded to the Indonesian Trade Minister Tunky Ariwibowo, said Laura Addicott, director of alumni affairs at the university.
Ariwibowo was actually nominated by the alumni association for the honorary degree two years ago, said Ted Rhodes, president of Halifax's Technical University of Nova Scotia.
"He was a graduate from the school in 1960," Rhodes added.
This was the first opportunity Ariwibowo had to claim his honorary degree as he was recently on a trade mission in Canada, Addicott said.
Questioning the university's motives in awarding the degree are members of the East Timor Action Network.
The network is a group that lobbies governments around the world to condemn the Indonesian government for their history of human rights abuse and for the annexation of East Timor since 1975.
"I think that they should not have done it and I think that is why they kept it secret [for the last two years]," said Brooks Kind, a spokesman for the East Timor Action Network in Halifax, N.S. The public would not support the university's decision, he added.
Rhodes said the university did not attempt to withhold information about the nomination of the honorary degree to Ariwibowo.
Still, Kind argued the university is condoning the actions taken by the Indonesian government by honouring Ariwibowo. "[They are] awarding such an honour to a country that is notorious for carrying out some of the worst crimes against humanity in the modern era," he said.
He added Indonesia is in direct violation of international law by occupying East Timor. The government is responsible for the deaths of 200,000 people since Dec. 7, 1975, he said.
Rhodes said his university is still obeying Canadian laws in its decision to award the degree to the Ariwidowo.
Similar to the Technical University of Nova Scotia, Western does not have any specific policy regarding Indonesia or any other country.
Jan VanFleet, secretary of Western's Board of Governors, said the current policy at Western is to follow the direction of the government of Canada with respect to foreign relations.
She added the last time Western had a policy of not dealing with a country was South Africa in the 1980s.