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Dr. Cotler joins Blitz editor’s defense

Dr. Cotler joins Blitz editor’s defense

Srabanti Majumder

Professor Irwin Cotler, member of Canadian Parliament who is also internationally known as a champion human rights defendor has now undertaken to defend Weekly Blitz editor Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury.

Irwin Cotler is Member of Parliament for Mount Royal, where he was first elected in a by-election in November 1999 with 92% of the vote, in what was characterized as “the most stunning electoral victory in this century by any standard”. He was re-elected in the general elections of November 2000, June 2004, and January 2006, with the highest Liberal majority in the country.

On December 12, 2003, the Prime Minister appointed him Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. He was reappointed following the General Election of June 28, 2004, and served as a member of the following Cabinet Committees: Aboriginal Affairs; Domestic Affairs; Global Affairs; Canada-U.S Relations; and Security, Public Health and Emergencies. He is currently official opposition critic for Public Safety, and is a member of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, and of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.

As Minister of Justice and Attorney General until the General Election of January 2006, he helped transform the face of the judiciary through the appointment of two outstanding women justices to the Supreme Court of Canada –Mesdames Justices Rosalie Abella and Louise Charron– making the Supreme Court of Canada the most gender representative Supreme Court in the world, while appointing the first ever visible minority and aboriginal justices to appellate courts. He also initiated legislation for the Protection of Children and other Vulnerable Persons; the first ever legislation to criminalize trafficking in persons; made the pursuit of international justice a priority, including, in particular, the combating of mass atrocity and genocides; and quashed more wrongful convictions in a single year than any prior Minister.

An M.P. since 1999, he has made a distinctive mark as Chair of the Parliamentarians for Global Action (Canada); founder of the all-party Save Darfur Parliamentary Coalition; Co-Chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, the first ever all-party joint House-Senate human rights caucus; Executive Member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union; and Honorary Member of the Liberal Women’s Caucus. A leading public advocate in and out of Parliament for the Human Rights Agenda, he headed the Canadian Delegation to the Stockholm International Forum on the Prevention of Genocide.

Mr. Cotler is currently on leave as a Professor of Law at McGill University, where he is Director of its Human Rights Program, and Chair of InterAmicus, the McGill-based International Human Rights Advocacy Centre. He has been a Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow at Yale Law School, and is the recipient of eight Honorary Doctorates, including one from York University, whose citation referred to him as “a scholar and advocate of international stature”.

One of the founders of the “Poverty Law” movement in Canada and the Pointe Saint-Charles Legal Aid Clinic some thirty-five years ago, he was also one of the founders of “Project Genesis” –a community service storefront office– in the Mount Royal riding and one of the original architects of what has become a Quebec and nation-wide legal services program.

An international human rights lawyer, Professor Cotler served as Counsel to former prisoners of conscience in the Soviet Union (Andrei Sakharov), South Africa (Nelson Mandela), Latin America (Jacobo Timmerman), and Asia (Muchtar Pakpahan). He later served as international legal counsel to imprisoned Russian environmentalist Aleksandr Nikitin; Nigerian playwright and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka; the Chilean-Canadian group Vérité et justice in the Pinochet case; and Chinese-Canadian political prisoner, Professor KunLun Zhang. More recently, he served as Counsel to Professor Saad Edin Ibrahim, the leading democracy advocate in the Arab world. In the words of his students on the occasion of his receiving an Honorary Doctorate, “A pioneer in the area of international human rights law and advocacy, Irwin Cotler’s legal briefs have emerged as models for the new ‘genre’ of advocacy… his initiatives have broken new ground in this area, and he has achieved international renown for his defense of political prisoners.”   A feature article on him in Maclean’s magazine referred to him as “Counsel for the Oppressed”.

A constitutional and comparative law scholar, he litigated every section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including landmark cases in the areas of free speech, freedom of religion, women's rights, minority rights, war crimes justice, prisoners’ rights, and peace law. He has testified as an expert witness on human rights before Parliamentary Committees in Canada, the United States, Russia, Sweden, Norway, and Israel, and has lectured at major international academic and professional gatherings in America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

A noted peace activist, he has been a leader in the movement for arms control, and helped develop “Peace Law” as an area of both academic inquiry and legal advocacy; as well, Professor Cotler has been engaged –both as scholar and participant observer– in the search for peace in the Middle East. He has lectured in both Arab countries and Israel for over thirty years, and has been an active participant in rapprochement dialogues between Israelis and Palestinians. He was the first Government Minister to visit the Middle East –promoted a common justice agenda in the region– and secured agreement among the Justice Ministers of Egypt, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority to participate in the first ever joint Justice Forum.

A leader in the struggle against impunity and the development of international humanitarian law, Professor Cotler served as Counsel to the Deschênes Commission of Inquiry in the matter of bringing Nazi war criminals to justice; filed amicus briefs before the International Criminal Tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda; and was leading advocate for the establishment of an International Criminal Court.

A long-time advocate in the international struggle against racism and discrimination of any kind, Professor Cotler was at the forefront of the international struggle against apartheid, as well as the architect of legal remedies against racism in Canada and beyond, both in his capacity as Minister of Justice and formerly as legal counsel for national and international NGOs.

Professor Cotler’s efforts have resulted in his chairing, or being a member of, a number of governmental and citizens' Commissions of Inquiry –including being Chair of the International Commission of Inquiry into the Fate and Whereabouts of Raoul Wallenberg; Chair of the Commission on Economic Coercion and Discrimination; member of the Commission of Inquiry on the Crime of Apartheid.

Professor Cotler was appointed in 1992 as an Officer of the Order of Canada, where he was cited for his “extraordinary contribution to the cause of human rights”. He is the only Canadian elected to the Paris-based Académie universelle des cultures (1993), and the first recipient of the Justice Walter Tarnopolsky Memorial Medal awarded jointly by the Canadian Bar Association, the Canadian Judges Association, the Canadian Association of Law Teachers, and the International Commission of Jurists (1994). In September 1999, Professor Cotler became the first academic ever to receive The Medal of the Bar of Montreal in recognition of his “outstanding contribution to the cause of justice”; and, more recently, he became the first recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr., Humanitarian Award; the recipient of the first F.R. Scott Distinguished Service Medal of the Faculty of Law of the McGill University for Leadership and Community Service; the first recipient of the Honorary Frederick Johnson Award in recognition of his leadership in the struggle against racism; the recipient of the Philippe Pinel Award for his work on behalf of the oppressed all over the world; and of the Dr. Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award from the Tufts University in recognition of a “lifelong passion and concern for human rights… for a distinguished career of integrity in international law and in the administration of justice”.

On December 7, 2006 Cotler made a statement to the Canadian Parliament about Weekly Blitz editor and his case. He said, “Mr. Speaker, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, a Muslim Bangladesh journalist and editor of a daily Bangladesh publication, is standing trial on charges of treason, sedition and blasphemy for promoting Muslim, Christian and Jewish dialogue, peace with Israel and seeking to attend a conference in Israel for the promotion of peace.
Mr. Choudhury has also been personally beaten, his life threatened and his office vandalized while none of the perpetrators have been brought to justice and a former Bangladesh home minister has indicated that there is no basis for the charges.
As counsel for Mr. Choudhury and as one who, while as minister of justice, was engaged in a joint Canada-Bangladesh rule of law project, I call upon the Bangladesh authorities to respect the rule of law, to review and, as appears just and appropriate, to drop the charges while working to apprehend those who have violated Mr. Choudhury's rights.

The Canadian Member of Parliament Irwin Cotler, former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General during the last Liberal government, is a heroic figure of international human rights law. As his Wikipedia mini-bio sums up this dimension of his career; Dr. Irwin Cotler has served on the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and its sub-Committee on Human Rights and International Development, as well as on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. In 2000, Dr. Cotler was appointed special advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs on the International Criminal Court.
Dr. Irwin Cotler is considered an expert on international law and human rights law. As an international human rights lawyer, Cotler served as counsel to former prisoners of conscience Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Jacobo Timerman in Latin America, Muchtar Pakpahan in Asia, as well as other well known political prisoners and dissidents. Cotler represented Natan Sharansky, who was imprisoned in the Soviet gulag for Jewish activism. After his release, Sharansky went on to become Israeli Deputy Prime Minister.

Weekly Blitz editor Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury has been facing persecution for years, including physical attacks and death threats as well as criminal prosecution, for his 'crimes' of criticizing Islamist radicalism and advocating reconciliation with Christians, Jews, and Israel. He is now on trial facing a trumped-up charge of treason with a possible death penalty.
Posted on 14 Dec 2006 by Root

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