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Irwin Cotler lauded as “human rights hero”

MP Irwin Cotler was lauded as a human rights hero on the 20th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide. On Apr. 23, he received the inaugural Roméo Dallaire Human Rights Leadership Award from Concordia University’s Montreal Institute on Genocide Studies (MIGS).

Cotler gave the keynote address “Lessons of the Rwandan Genocide For Our Time,” highlighting the importance of remembrance and combatting state-sanctioned incitement to genocide. He talked about the responsibility to prevent genocide, and lamented the indifference and inaction of the international community that made the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide possible.

“What makes the Rwandan genocide so unspeakable is not only the horror of the genocide itself, but that this genocide was preventable. Nobody can say

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we did not know - we knew, but we did not act.”

Cotler is a former minister of justice, attorney general of Canada and Emeritus Professor of Law at McGill University. He left

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his law professorship at McGill and his human rights work to run for Parliament because of Rwanda. “If such atrocities were ever to break out again, I wanted to be there to combat it and bring the perpetrators to justice.”

As it happened, he became the founding chair of the Save Darfur Parliamentary Coalition when mass atrocities broke out in Darfur. As minister of justice and attorney general of Canada he presided over the deportation of Leon Mugesera to Rwanda for his incitement to genocide.

Cotler also initiated the first prosecution (the Desire Munyaneza case) under Canada’s War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity Act, which he had spearheaded through Parliament as an MP to fight war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Rwanda.

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Courtesy photo © Tristan Brand

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