Michael Levitt - Speech before the opening session of the 2019 Geneva Summit

April 2, 2019

By: Michael Levitt

Member of Parliament for York Centre
Chair, Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development

 

Good afternoon everyone.

 

Some very quick background on me: my name is Michael Levitt.

 

I'm a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons of Canada, and chair of its Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.

 

Prior to that role, I served as Chair of that Committee's Subcommittee on International Human Rights.

 

In both roles, human rights are front and centre to everything we do.

 

Just three months ago, we celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 

After the horrors of the second world war, which impacted peoples from every corner of the globe, the declaration responded to the need to maintain international peace and stability through a framework of principles and standards.

 

Fundamental to that declaration is that human rights are universal rights.

 

There are no eastern or western rights, only the fundamental rights and freedoms that every person, regardless of race, religion, creed, or background is equally entitled to.

 

No matter where we're from, whatever our different backgrounds, we all have the same aspirations for the rights and freedoms that too few of us are privileged to enjoy.

 

Unfortunately though, we are seeing a resurgence of gross human rights violations across the world.

 

There are the most obvious cases of arbitrary arrests, torture, and executions, of state-sanctioned discrimination based on gender or sexuality or religion or political beliefs or any number of factors.

 

There is the subtler but no less insidious criminalization of political dissent and peaceful assembly, where countries like Iran and Venezuela come directly to mind.

 

But we also face a dangerous attempt to undermine universal human rights by denying their universality.

 

These are the cases where economic development is prized over democratic development, where governments use economic records to paper over abysmal rights records.

 

No one can deny that the number of people lifted out of poverty in recent decades has been incredible.

 

But we cannot excuse the denial of rights simply because there's a growing middle-class.

 

Especially internationally, we have to confront abuses, not ignore them. There is no country that has a perfect record or history.

 

My own country has had shameful moments that we are still recognizing and reconciling, not least of all our mistreatment of indigenous peoples.

 

But there are examples we can follow.

 

In the case of the Lima Group, we've seen a group of countries from across the Americas that has been vocal, active, and effective in standing up for the rights of Venezuelans.

 

Nearly 10% of Venezuelans have fled their country under the malicious mismanagement of the Maduro regime.

 

And as Venezuelans have risen to say "Enough of the hardship, of the chronic shortages of food and medicine, of the disproportionate use of force to deny us our democratic rights," we must support and join them.

 

This isn't a denial of economic or political realities, rather it's an admission that we cannot take the path of least resistance in confronting human rights abuses.

 

We cannot accept crimes against humanity as inevitable; human rights abuses should not be papered over in pursuit of economic prosperity.

 

That isn't a repudiation of the international order, it's an embrace of it.

 

Upholding the international framework on human rights is essential to our own national interests.

 

The UDHR recognized crucially that human rights and the rule of law are necessary conditions to the peace and stability in which countries can prosper.

 

By promoting human rights, by addressing abuses and effecting accountability, we not only work to improve the conditions of those suffering most, but to our own benefit in building a safer, more stable and prosperous world.

 

We cannot abandon that advocacy and abdicate these ideals to those who would rather we talk about anything else.

 

As we begin this summit and listen to the voices of the human rights defenders who every day stand up for the ideals enumerated in the UDHR, we must bear that in mind.

 

We should be forever grateful for their and their forebears' work, and never stop supporting them.

 

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