These four horsemen of our very own human-made apocalypse are indifference, absolutism, hypocrisy, and helplessness. Indifference has been the main foe of bringing Nazi war criminals in Canada to justice. When people themselves are victims or potential victims of human rights violations, it is easy to generate concern. Where the victims are others, all too many people, regrettably, just do nothing.
The lessons I have drawn from the Holocaust are the need to bring to justice mass murderers; to ban hate speech; to protect refugees; and never to accept in silence gross violations of human rights, wherever they occur.
My struggles to have effective hate speech laws have led me to battle with absolutism—the belief that one human right, the right to freedom of expression, trumps all others. Of all of the lessons to be learned from the Holocaust, there is none more important than the need to ban hate speech, because the banning of hate speech, if effective, prevents atrocities from occurring.
Hypocrisy, acceptance of human rights values in principle and violation in practice, is well illustrated in the refugee field. States accept refugee protection in principle. Yet, a variety of techniques, including a narrow application of the refugee definition, a denial of fairness in determination procedures, harsh treatment of those awaiting decisions, exaggerated scepticism, and interdiction all mean that a commitment to refugee protection in principle has often been coupled with denial of refugee protection in practice.
My fourth human rights nemesis is helplessness, the sense that human rights violations are so massive that nothing can be done about them. Yet, unless individuals promote respect for rights, these rights are bound to wither.
I have been spending a lot of time recently on combating the persecution of Falun Gong. This evening I am flying to Melbourne, Australia, to speak at a UN Conference next week on the subject.
Falun Gong is a simple set of exercises with a spiritual foundation that started in China in 1992 and was banned in 1999. David Kilgour and I have concluded (first in a report released in July 2006 and updated in January 2007, and then in a book titled Bloody Harvest released in November 2009) that Falun Gong have been killed in China in the tens of thousands so that their organs could be sold to transplant patients.
One reason I am active in combating human rights violations against Falun Gong practitioners is that I am not Chinese, not Falun Gong. I can say something similar about my involvement through Beyond Borders in combating international child sexual abuse. Children cannot be expected to combat their own abuse. It is adults who must speak for them. Standing up for human rights means breaking through barriers of language, culture, geography, religion, gender and age to affirm the humanity common to us all.
The lessons I had drawn from the Holocaust were, I naively thought, of value more to others than to the Jewish community, who, I believed, had already suffered all it possibly could. I was stunned and horrified to see in recent years the rise of attacks against the Jewish people worldwide.
The ideology of antisemitism has shifted. It has added new and potent element, Jews as a criminal population because of their perceived support for a mythical criminality of the Jewish state.
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