Montreal hosted a fantastic annual human rights conference this week, which the Jeanne Sauvé Foundation was very pleased to participate in.

Organized by the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS) at Concordia University, the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, Amnistie internationale Canada Francophone and the Comité unifié des organisations arméniennes du Québec, the aim of this large-scale event was to discuss and celebrate the role of Montreal in advancing human rights.

The conference brought us around the world with sessions focusing on different regions. Lawyers, journalists, civil society activists, academics, and politicians joined together for an inspiring day of exchange and reflection about the state of human rights around the globe.

In the morning, we were particularly touched by the words of Rebiya Kadeer, former President of the World Uyghur Congress and spiritual leader of the Uyghurs. She spoke of a genocide of Uyghurs in China and called on the international community to take action and condemn the Chinese government. Speaking later in the day, Irwin Cotler, former Canadian Minister of Justice, expressed that the greatest “unspeakable” tragedy with many genocides is that often they are preventable. “We knew, we know, but we do not act!”, he said.

Many people called on democracies needing to come together collectively to gain bargaining power and stand up against widespread human rights abuses. The President of Freedom House, Michael J. Abramowitz, spoke about a general recession in human rights around the world, including in many democratic countries that have traditionally upheld higher standards of civil liberties and freedoms. Attention was drawn in particular at the end of the day to the violence and discrimination anglophones are facing in Cameroon. But, despite this recession, the conference finished on an optimistic note. Kyle Matthews, the Executive Director of MIGS, pointed out that many countries have improved significantly over the last year, such as Ethiopia. He also stressed that it is positive to see so many engaged actors come together to discuss these pressing issues of our time – showing there is concern and people are indeed speaking and acting to promote change.

Thank you very much to all the organizers for this incredible conference. We look forward to next year!