1st Session, 41st Parliament,
Volume 150, Issue 34

Tuesday, November 29, 2011
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

The Senate

Motion to Recognize December 10 of Each Year as Human Rights Day—Debate Continued

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Jaffer, seconded by the Honourable Senator Chaput:

That the Senate of Canada recognize the 10th of December of each year as Human Rights Day as has been established by the United Nations General Assembly on the 4th of December, 1950.

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak on the motion requesting that the Senate of Canada recognize December 10 of each year as Human Rights Day, as was established by the United Nations General Assembly on December 4, 1950.

This is not a new motion. I brought up the same motion in early December 2010, with the hope that it would be adopted in time for the December 10 Human Rights Day. However, this did not occur. For a number of reasons, this motion was delayed and eventually died on the Order Paper.


Now, with a new Parliament and a new session, I believe the recognition of Human Rights Day by the Senate is more crucial today than it was when it was first introduced last year.

The reality is that throughout history, human rights violations have always been a common practice. Individuals from every country in the world have had their basic rights violated and many of these types of violations continue to this day. The creators of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights understood this. However, what they aimed to do through the creation of the groundbreaking document in 1948 was to create a system that, first, acknowledged our flawed framework and, second, made an ongoing effort to fix it.

We, as Canadians, are very proud of this document, as it was drafted by a Canadian: John Peters Humphrey. The intention was that one day in the future we would be closer to a world where, both in theory and practice, respect and dignity of all human beings would prevail over a world where violations were a daily norm or common practice.

I believe that since 1948 we, as an international community, have made great strides toward this more equal world. The recognition of December 10 as Human Rights Day is an example of one of these strides. In 1950, two years after the UDHR was produced, the United Nations General Assembly established that December 10 would be recognized as the day the international community would acknowledge and celebrate the basic rights of all.

Since then, many countries, including our very own, have taken steps to do their part in recognizing this phenomenon as well. By participating in this common global process, nation-states have emphasized how vital an international rights framework really is. In my original speech on the motion at hand, I made reference to Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese human rights defender who is currently serving an 11-year prison term for his work to bring freedom and justice to the people of China. Liu Xiaobo’s years of commitment to human rights was recognized last year by the international community when he was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. At the time of my speech, just a few days before the awards ceremony, it was unclear if the Chinese government would allow Xiaobo to leave prison to claim his prize. However, on December 10, as the world watched the awards ceremony, the answer was evidently clear. The empty chair for Liu Xiaobo spoke volumes about the lacking commitment some of the world still has to human rights in the 21st century.

Honourable senators, we know that human rights must be recognized and acknowledged at every single level. They must be recognized and acknowledged now more than ever. If anything, the recent events in the Middle East have emphasized this. The Arab Spring has raised a lot of questions of human rights for people. The democratic revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and now Libya have shown the world how far people are willing to go to attain their fundamental rights and freedoms.

For too long, people in these countries have lived in a system where their human dignities were neither respected nor promoted. They lived in a system that does not provide the necessities that are guaranteed. They lived in a system that has inhibited their overall well-being and potential.

However, change, as we saw, came from citizens in the Arab Spring. Citizens of those countries realized that as human beings they had basic inalienable rights that no one could take away from them, and thus they decided to fight for them. They decided to fight for their lives, their children’s lives and their future grandchildren’s lives, all in the name of human rights. As we saw, many were ultimately successful in their fight.

The events in the Middle East over the last few months have truly exemplified what profound power people can have, especially when they are fighting for their basic freedoms.

Now my biggest concern is what will happen to the women living in these countries. Yes, there has been an Arab Spring, but we have to remain vigilant and ensure that the success of the Arab Spring is not at the cost of women’s rights. All too often a woman’s concern for supporting their husbands and families takes priority over their own personal human rights. We can no longer sit back and watch women make such sacrifices. We should not let a woman’s concern for ensuring that her family has access to food, water, shelter and other basic necessities comes at cost of her own rights and freedoms.

Honourable senators, I believe we have to support these women. We were there for the people of Libya and helped them get rid of Gadhafi. We now have to help them pick up the pieces. We cannot walk away from Libya. We must be there to ensure the human rights of all, especially women, are respected.

This past June I rose before you and spoke of a remarkable woman named Jenni Williams. Jenni Williams is a civil rights activist and founder of Women of Zimbabwe Arise!, also known as WOZA. It is an organization that helps both men and women in Zimbabwe mobilize in defence of their human rights.

Over the past nine years, WOZA has mobilized over 80,000 men and women in Zimbabwe, peacefully sparking dignity, protest and bravery in the name of human rights.

Honourable senators, Jenni Williams and her team work diligently because they believe in a world where every person — regardless of their race, religion, or creed — is treated fairly and justly because of a single truth: they are human beings.

Honourable senators, the motion I have brought forward is very relevant in today’s world and in today’s politics.

The recognition of December 10 as Human Rights Day is essential as it contributes to the creation of a world where all human beings are respected and treated with dignity. By simply recognizing the concept itself, we are standing with billions of people around the world in committing ourselves to a collective set of principles that promote righteousness and justice.

In June 2010, during the G8 Summit which Canada hosted, we went one step further. Through the Muskoka Initiative, Canada told the world that maternal health and the right to safe child birth was also a human right. We, as a country, demonstrated that we want to protect those who are most vulnerable. I believe this is commendable. However honourable senators, by recognizing December 10 as Human Rights Day, we will have a day where we can all reflect on what more we can do.

How can we further expand human rights?

The unfortunate reality today is that we do not live in a world where every person has full and equal access to their basic freedoms. However, I believe that we can get there one day. This will require hard work and a commitment from all countries and peoples of the world. I believe that Canada and Canadians can play a leading role in this process.

Honourable senators, I urge you to adopt this motion which recognizes December 10 as Human Rights Day. The simple acknowledgment of this motion will mean we accept the UN General Assembly’s commitment to human rights, something which the international community and Canada as nation has already done. In adopting this motion, the Senate of Canada would be reaffirming our commitment to human rights and freedoms for all peoples of the world.

Honourable senators, let us not delay in this process. Let us act quickly so we can have an immediate effect. We have already waited for too long. Let us, the Senate of Canada, recognize December 10 of each year as Human Rights Day.

(On motion of Senator Tardif, debate adjourned.)