How appropriate that the life of Nelson Mandela will be celebrated today, December 10, International Human Rights Day. He was a global symbol for the struggle for human rights and a highly respected champion of social justice.
The sight of Stephen Harper signing the book of condolences for Nelson Mandela and boarding the plane to fly to South Africa to attend the state funeral was disturbing, considering that at one time Harper, during his time with the right wing “Northern Foundation,” actively opposed Mandela’s release from prison, lobbied against the implementation of economic sanctions on the racist state andworked to maintain white settler rule and the future of the apartheid state.
Yet Harper’s condolence message stated that Canadians “mourn the loss of an example for us all.”
Since Harper’s 2006 election there is abundant evidence that Harper has totally rejected the example of Nelson Mandela. Unlike Mandela, who earned profound international respect, Harper cannot claim that he has sought to establish policy and practice in order to protect fundamental human rights for citizens domestically and certainly has not upheld the universal application of international standards of justice for those who cannot defend themselves against the rule of despots.
On this International Human Rights Day, let us remember Omar Khadr — for many Canadians one of the most shocking examples of this country’s callous disregard for human rights. Political interference by Harper in the judicial process left a young Omar Khadr — initially captured at the age of 15 by U.S. occupation forces in Afghanistan — abandoned for over a decade in Guantanamo, abused and tortured, subjected to an internationally vilified military commission process, which denied even the most fundamental legal practices and violated his human rights and Canadian Charter rights.
While the Supreme Court and House of Parliament called for Omar’s repatriation, Harper’s Conservatives consistently maintained their intention of keeping Omar locked away in Guantanamo, in keeping with their Islamaphobia and a distaste for both Canadian and international law.
Despite the intrinsic independence of the judiciary in a stable democracy, Harper and his henchmen have consistently interfered in the legal process in order to keep Omar Khadr — finally repatriated last year at the age of 26 — in a maximum security institution, denied educational resources, essential medical treatment and basic programs to which prison inmates are entitled.
If Harper meant what he wrote in the book of condolences that Mandela was “an example to us all,” he would have ensured that Khadr, a Canadian citizen, had not been subjected to, and continues to suffer from, such a gross miscarriage of justice.
Just as Harper, who not that long ago was a vocal supporter of South African apartheid, today he is the world’s most enthusiastic cheerleader for the apartheid policies of another state: Israel. Once again he has chosen to not follow the example of Nelson Mandela who in 2001 shared this view of Israel:
The responses made by South Africa to human rights abuses emanating from the removal policies and Apartheid policies respectively, shed light on what Israeli society must necessarily go through before one can speak of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East and an end to its Apartheid policies.
But just last month, Harper was feted by the Jewish National Fund — which under the guise of land conservation, is committed to the demolition of Palestinian homes, removing Palestinians from their land and replacing them with Jewish-only settlements — for his uncritical support of illegal settlement building, murderous assaults on Gaza — and a continuing brutal siege by land, sea and air — six decades of an illegal and internationally condemned occupation and the catastrophe of millions of people confined to refugee camps for generations.
If Harper really meant that Nelson Mandela “was an example for us all,” he should be committed to a world where human rights and justice are guaranteed.
In contrast to Harper’s record on human rights, tonight Dennis Edney QC who has defended Omar Khadr on a pro-bono basis for over a decade, will receive the Gerald L. Gall Human Rights Award. It is the highest honor one can receive from the John Humphrey Centre.
John Humphrey, a Canadian was the principal drafter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Dennis Edney, in his quest for justice and humanity, like Nelson Mandela, is an example to us all.
Kathleen Copps is a retired B.C. teacher and member of the Free Omar Khadr Now Campaign.