Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. It's a pleasure to be here before this committee, which I always regarded during my years in Parliament as an unsung hero of the Canadian parliamentary process, given the depth and breadth of the inquiries that have been undertaken over the years, the contribution it has made to the promotion and protection of human rights in general, and the protection of human rights defenders in particular.
We meet at a very interesting moment in our own history, when today it was decided that Viola Desmond, a human rights defender in her own right, and an African-American woman who became a human rights defender here and was imprisoned for that, will now adorn our $10 bill. This is a very historic day in that regard.
This accounts a bit for my lateness to the room. I just came from participating in a panel of human rights defenders organized by Scholars at Risk, which included Homa Hoodfar, who had recently been in prison in Iran, and Dr. Hanadi Ibrahim and Dr. Nael Yasri, both from Syria, who shared the horrors of being a human rights defender and a defender of academic freedom in Syria, and who are now here in Canada with us. They shared the assaults in particular on higher education, on academics, and on human rights defenders in countries like Syria as part of the resurgent authoritarianism that we are witnessing today around the world.
I'm also happy to have been the beneficiary of prior witnesses' testimony, which dealt specifically with the importance of gender-based violence and discrimination against women and the important responsibilities that we have in that regard. As someone who represented women human rights defenders and also saw the pain and suffering of women whose spouses were imprisoned, I think that gender sensibility is an important dimension of the work.
Let me just try to share with you some lessons learned from some 40 years' experience in representing human rights defenders, in particular those who became political prisoners in different parts of the world.
What I would like to do is share with you some common patterns of persecution and prosecution, of pain and suffering, of injustice that have attended political prisoners, whether that be in the former Soviet Union and South Africa—when I was involved then with Andrei Sakharov and Natan Sharansky in the former Soviet Union, and Nelson Mandela in South Africa—or presently in such places as Saudi Arabia, with my involvement now with Raif Badawi, or the Baha'i in Iran or Wang Bingzhang in China or Leopoldo López in Venezuela. There are certain common patterns, and I hope to share them with you.
The first is the criminalization of innocents, of people being persecuted and prosecuted not for what they do but for who they are or for who the authorities think they are. Homa Hoodfar testified to this in the panel just before I came here. She said that she was interrogated by nine different interrogators, just for doing nothing other than publishing a work on gender and identity, which was nothing even related to Iran. She became, as she put it, an “anthropologist of interrogation” by being victimized by so many of those interrogators.
Second is the criminalization of fundamental freedoms. Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia is a case study of that, as somebody affirming freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and then being persecuted and prosecuted and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment.
The third pattern is torture and detention, of which Badawi is also a case study.
A fourth is the denial of a fair trial, or the experience of show trials or sham trials.
The fifth is, really, suffering the worst of ignominy, which is either being disappeared or being assassinated.
This took place with Boris Nemtsov, the leader of the democratic opposition in Russia, who actually came to Canada, appeared with me at a joint press conference affirming justice for Sergei Magnitsky legislation, and then, less than three years after appearing here and elsewhere together in common cause, was assassinated.
Sixth is the harassment of the families of these human rights defenders, the particular pain and suffering they endure, and the attempt to extort false confessions not only through torture but through the intimidation and harassment of the families.
The seventh pattern is the assault on civil society, on those who come to defend the human rights defenders, whether they be journalists, academics, leaders of political groups, or leaders of indigenous groups. The people who come to the defence of human rights defenders end up being persecuted and prosecuted themselves.
The final pattern is the state-sanctioned character of this orchestrated assault on human rights defenders, and therefore the pattern of imprisonment and torture taking place amidst a culture of impunity, which underpins a resurgent authoritarianism. This is finding expression as we meet, in countries like Turkey, Egypt, Russia, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the like.
What then can we do?
Let me just give you snippets, almost one-liners, of an advocacy model I developed while defending political prisoners. It's an advocacy model developed for lawyers, but which parliamentarians can themselves engage in. I'll just give you some examples.
The first was something that was taught to me early on by one of the people I represented, the distinguished Soviet dissident and scientist Andrei Sakharov, sometimes referred to as the father of modern dissidence. He talked about the importance of the mobilization of shame against the human rights violator and the importance of unmasking and exposing the human rights violator for violations of their own legal system.
Whether making representations in the former Soviet Union or today, whether in Saudi Arabia or in Iran, the idea is not to say that they violated Canada's legal system: they violated their own legal system, their own constitution, their own code of criminal procedure. That's part of the mobilization of shame and the naming and shaming of the human rights violator.
Regrettably, we recently witnessed yet again the election of some of these human rights violators who are imprisoning the very people I'm representing. Saudi Arabia, Cuba, China, and others were elected to the human rights council, which is intended to promote and protect human rights. We have a situation that I believe parliamentarians—from Canada as well—have a role to combat, when we elect human rights violators to a body that is supposed to promote and protect human rights.
The second thing I found to be important is invoking one's own government and Parliament in the defence of human rights defenders. Canada has an excellent and exemplary record of coming to the defence of human rights defenders. When it does so, it has played an important role in helping to bring about the release of these human rights defenders. Time does not permit me to go into it now, but I'll give one example at the end.
The third important thing is the internationalization of advocacy. In other words, it's not only Canada but Canada in concert with the U.S. and European parliaments and the like.
The fourth is using the UN system. While I'm critical of things that take place in the UN, I also know it's important. I'll give as an example the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. It engages with human rights defenders, does excellent investigative inquiries, and, consequent to those inquiries, calls for the release of those defenders. That is part of the mobilization of shame. I would also say that the special procedures and special rapporteurs are very helpful, as is the use of media and public opinion in that regard.
I just want to say that the advent of social media.... As I am speaking to you, we've just concluded a kind of social media campaign on behalf of Raif Badawi. We now have some 1,400,000 people in different parts of the world who call for the release of Raif Badawi, and that includes the whole European Parliament, MPs from Australia to the U.S. and here, Canada's civil society organizations, and others, building up the two things that are necessary for the release of political prisoners: a critical mass of public advocacy and a critical mass of private diplomacy. It's the convergence of the two that brings about the release of political prisoners.
I'll close with one Canadian example in that regard.
I was involved in Anatoly Shcharansky's defence while he served eight and a half years in a former Soviet prison. Some six months after Gorbachev became president of the former Soviet Union, Shcharansky was released, and I always wondered what role Gorbachev played.
By happenstance, we were on a panel sometime after that, and I put the question to him: how was it that Shcharansky was released some six months after you became president? I wondered what might have been his role in it. He told me a fascinating story—and with this, I close—that has a particular Canadian dimension to it.
He said, “You know, I was the secretary of agriculture at the time, in the former Soviet Union, in 1984. You may not believe it, sir, but I had never heard of Anatoly Shcharansky. I know he was a co-celeb in Canada and the U.S.; I just hadn't heard of him. Well, I came to Canada to appear before a Canadian parliamentary committee on agriculture. After a few questions on agriculture, they began to ask me questions about this guy Shcharansky. I had never heard of him, as I said. I then left the Parliament Buildings, and there was this demonstration on behalf of this guy Anatoly Shcharansky. I was then hosted by your Minister of Agriculture, Eugene Whelan, and after we talked about agriculture, he began to bring up the question of Anatoly Shcharansky. I went to the U.S., and I found the same thing. A year later, I became president of the Soviet Union. I ordered up the file of this guy Shcharansky. Yes, I will give you that he was a troublemaker, but he wasn't really a criminal. The important thing is that keeping him in prison was costing us economically and politically and in terms of our legitimacy, so I ordered his release in our self-interest.”
In other words, you may not get the human rights violator to release somebody because they have been violating their own law—although that's one of the reasons of naming and shaming and the like—but you may get them to do it when they realize it's in their own self-interest, and they may come to the point of realizing that it's in their own self-interest because of the convergence of a critical mass of public advocacy on the one hand and critical, effective private diplomacy on the other.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.