February 4, 2005

Raoul Wallenberg International Human Rights Symposium, 2005

An international Human Rights symposium was held on January 17 & 18th, 2005, at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University. It was scheduled to coincide with Raoul Wallenberg Day. (Wallenberg, a renowned Swedish human rights activist, saved thousands of people from death during World War II, before his own disappearance in 1946).

Some of the world's foremost international human rights law experts came together to discuss pressing human rights issues and educate the next generation of law students. The Honourable Irwin Cotler, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada gave the opening and closing addresses. Media representatives included Tony Burman, Editor-in-Chief of the CBC (English Services Division), Edward Greenspon, Editor-in-Chief, Globe and Mail, and Robert Prichard, President & Chief Executive Officer, Torstar Corporation.

Topics for discussion included methods of combating mass atrocity, international and national response to and prevention of human rights violations, balancing national security interests with human rights, war and terrorism, war crimes tribunals, the International Criminal Court, and the role of the media.

Justice Minister Irwin Cotler's remarks closely reflected the concerns of Canadians Concerned About Violence in Entertainment (C-CAVE.) He spoke to the dangers involved in a State sanctioned "Culture of Hate" and how the ideology and pathology of hate begins with words.

Western democracies, he reminded us, are not immune from the catastrophic effects of racism. He referred to recent incidents in Canada such as the desecration of cemeteries, vandalism, and other hate crimes. He spoke of the need to balance security with human rights and the dangers of indifference and silence in the face of human rights abuses. Sadly, he was alone in stressing the urgency of protecting children from atrocities, whether these involve conscription and/or abduction of children as soldiers or for the purposes of sexual slavery.

Unfortunately, no mention was made of the encroachment of the Internet into the lives and safety of children, nor how popular culture, in a myriad of different forms-such as violent, misogynist and racist imagery in language and images in films, lyrics, and video games-contributes to a culture of hate.(I did discuss these connections with delegates during breaks and spoke to Cotler, among others, about the need for all provinces and territories in Canada to follow Quebec's lead with legislation banning advertising to children under 13 years).

On behalf of C-CAVE, I gave a copy of my book, Mind Abuse Media Violence In An Information Age to Bob Rae, former Premier of Ontario, who spoke on the prevention of racism and intolerance. Rae is currently conducting a review of post secondary education in the Province. I referred him to the book's 55 recommendations on how to address the harmful effects of media violence.

A flyer on C- CAVE member, Dr. Laura Westra's latest book, Ecoviolence and The Law: Supranational Normative Foundations of Ecocrime was distributed to the speakers. C-CAVE member, Westra, looks at the multiple environmental crises threatening the global community and contends that the current movement, in both ethics and the law, to separate human rights from environmental rights is profoundly misguided. She argues that they are not separate fields of study, but are closely interrelated principles. Access to clean air, water, and land capable of growing uncontaminated food, and a climate that fosters growth, are inherent human rights.

Rose Anne Dyson, Ed.D.
Chairperson, C-CAVE
Author of MIND ABUSE: Media Violence In An Information Age
Co-author of MEDIA, SEX, VIOLENCE and DRUGS in the GLOBAL VILLAGE and Terrorism, Globalization & Mass Communication