Liberals' Ignatieff speaks at Western

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Michael Ignatieff

Michael Ignatieff, deputy leader of the Liberal Party, visited Western Tuesday night to speak about international human rights.

Ignatieff began by discussing Canada’s human rights history, noting that the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade was “ground zero” for our understanding of what human rights are and reiterating Canada’s abolitionist past.

Ignatieff also discussed Canada’s part in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and creating the International Criminal Court.

Ignatieff said Canada has recognized there are moments when defending human rights requires force.

“When a state is unwilling or unable to protect its citizens from massacre or ethnic cleansing, other states in the international community have a responsibility to protect those citizens,” he said. “This was really a Canadian idea. Canada led the fight in the UN to make this part of customary international law.”

Ignatieff said the world has a long way to go before this idea is accepted, adding the United Nations is a “bit of a disaster on human rights.”

“The Human Rights Council is doing a bad job,” he said. “One of the challenges for Canada is to remain committed to multilateral approaches to the UN but remain unafraid to stand up when the UN lets human rights down.”

Ignatieff said Canada must guide human rights policies to become a human rights leader.

“The first priority in international human rights is to get our own house in order. We can’t be a human rights leader if the whole world is holding up Aboriginal Canada as a negative example.

“The world is dealing with the challenge of terrorism. They look to countries like Canada and ask, ‘Are you getting it right?’”

Ignatieff feels another Canadian priority should be “speaking truth to power.”

He said Canada should stand up to the U.S. and say Guantanamo Bay and other such sites must close.

“We cannot have a situation... as a respected ally, where citizens of our country go into the U.S. and are subjected to extraordinary scrutiny, extraordinary difficulty at the border, simply because they were born in Baghdad or Cairo.”

Canada needs to speak delicately to states like China, Russia and Iran as well, Ignatieff said, and use South Africa to help fix Zimbabwe.

“Instead of sitting by in a terrified silence, Canada has to be one of those countries that talks to South Africa,” he said. “We can change human rights outcomes dramatically.

“We cannot lead unless we practise what we preach. We cannot lead unless we match talk with action.”

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