Introduction for Professor Irwin Cotler with Brandon Silver

Brandon Silver, Director of Policy and Projects at the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights, addresses the 11th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.

Introducing Professor Irwin Cotler:

“Professor Cotler has not only served as an academic and theoretician on as diverse areas of law as comparative constitutionalism, peace law, human rights, but has put this into practice as a lawyer in the great human rights struggles of our era – whether serving as counsel to Nelson Mandela and helping to free him from the prisons of apartheid South Africa or Andrei Sakharov and Natan Sharansky from the gulags of the Soviet Union.”

“He uses his platform to make the pursuit of international justice a top government priority in Canada and around the world.”

Full Remarks

Firstly, thank you, Ambassador Arria, Félix, Juan Carlos for your very compelling and moving remarks which speak to the broader participation here, the courageous human rights leaders who are putting not only their livelihoods but their very lives on the line in the struggle for global human rights.

It is why our Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights is so proud to bear witness and stand in solidarity with you as a longtime co-sponsor of this Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy that Hillel has put on. Indeed the founder of our Human Rights Center, Professor Irwin Cotler, has spoken here every year since the summit’s founding in its past 11 years and has said that Hillel was amongst the very best of his students when he served as a professor at McGill University and an expert in international humanitarian law. 

Professor Cotler has not only served as an academic and theoretician on as diverse areas of law as comparative constitutionalism, peace law, human rights, but has put this into practice as a lawyer in the great human rights struggles of our era – whether serving as counsel to Nelson Mandela and helping to free him from the prisons of apartheid South Africa or Andrei Sakharov and Natan Sharansky from the gulags of the Soviet Union. He had helped these cases and causes and then later went on to a career as a long-time parliamentarian and Minister of Justice and Attorney General in Canada, where he uses his platform to make the pursuit of international justice a top government priority in Canada and around the world. 

After leaving politics he now continues this work today through the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights, where, for example, he challenges the resurgent global authoritarianism and illiberal populism and the sort of democracies in a retreat that Hillel and James had spoken to earlier. Trying to mobilize a critical mass of advocacy, a constituency of conscience to challenge this impunity and immunity that we are witnessing at the United Nations. He did so for example through spearheading Canada’s unanimous adoption of global Magnitsky sanctions with Michael Levitt, who’s here today, was a crucial parliamentary leader, or something that Ambassador Arria had referenced – Professor Cotler helped spearhead the first-ever joint referral under their own statute to the International Criminal Court where the chief prosecutor has now opened a preliminary examination into mass atrocity crimes in Venezuela.

Equally – and you’ll hear from some of them today, including the family of Raif Badawi for which professor Cotler serves as international legal counsel – and helps to advocate on behalf of political prisoners whose cases and causes represent the larger policy issues and human rights abuses that underpin these dictatorial regimes such as the Badawi case or Nasrin Sotoudeh who just recently was sentenced for being a human rights lawyer and women’s rights leader in Iran to 148 lashes and 38 years in prison – basically subject to the torments of the regime’s torturers in Tehran to try to shine a spotlight on these cases. 

Professor Cotler very much regrets that for the first time he can’t be with us here today but he will be speaking through video on these political prisoner cases and causes as a looking glass into the resurgent authoritarianism and how working in common cause we can combat it.

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