Skip to main content
Start of content

Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development – Ceremony honouring Human Rights Defenders

Members of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights, distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen, I would so much have liked to be able to welcome you in person. However, I am delighted to meet you virtually.

I greatly appreciate the subcommittee's invitation to participate in this recognition ceremony.

I am proud to introduce tonight's honourees: Nasrin Sotoudeh, Loujain al-Hathloul and Tamara Adrián.

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “We declare that human rights are for all of us, all the time: whoever we are and wherever we are from; no matter our class, our opinions, our sexual orientation.”

The women we are honouring this evening have dedicated themselves to the principle that everyone has the right to live freely, fully and openly. Their struggles are different, their challenges are unique, but their goal is the same: to achieve true equality for all in their respective societies.

Despite the obstacles, these three remarkable women are continuing their efforts to create a better world. We are forever in their debt.

The exceptional women I have the privilege to introduce are the embodiment of courage, compassion and determination. As has been well documented, each of these human rights defenders has faced a unique set of challenges. Each has persevered in the face of discrimination, threats and physical harm, even imprisonment, to improve the lives of their fellow citizens.

Nasrin Sotoudeh has worked as a lawyer in Iran, specializing in human rights cases, for the past three decades. She represents political dissidents and women protesting the compulsory hijab. She was first arrested for her work in 2010 and was held in detention for three years. She was ultimately released, but in March 2019 was again arrested and sentenced to corporal punishment and 38 years in prison. She has staged numerous hunger strikes from prison to draw attention to the plight of political prisoners in Iran.

Ms. Sotoudeh has been the recipient of numerous awards for her activism, and made the BBC's list of the 100 most inspiring women in 2020.

A graduate of the University of British Columbia, Loujain al-Hathloul has been a prominent women’s rights activist in Saudi Arabia since 2013 when she participated in the “Women to Drive” movement. She was also a leader in the movement to end male guardianship and helped establish a shelter for women fleeing domestic violence. She was arrested in Saudi Arabia in May 2018 for her active campaigning for women’s right to drive and was detained in prison, subject to solitary confinement, torture and physical abuse.

On December 28, 2020, she was convicted by Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court of “seeking to change the Saudi political system [and] harming national security”. She was sentenced to five years and eight months’ imprisonment. However, because two years and 10 months of the sentence were suspended and her time in pre-trial confinement counted as time served, she was released less than a month ago, on February 10, 2021.

Tamara Adrián was elected to the Venezuelan National Assembly in 2015 as a member of the Popular Will, or Voluntad Popular, party, and was the first transgender legislator ever elected in Venezuela. She was not re-elected in the election held in December 2020.

She has been a human rights activist in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex community in Venezuela and Latin America for decades. She has served as a board member for numerous international LGBTQI organizations, including the committee of the international day against homophobia and transphobia and the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.

While in the National Assembly, Ms. Adrián drafted and submitted a gender identity law, a civil partnership law, a non-discrimination law and a civil registry law for the National Assembly, though none were ever discussed.

These three women, who have suffered persecution and mistreatment for their championing of human rights, are deserving of our admiration and our gratitude. This event is one way of demonstrating our solidarity with them and recognizing their invaluable contribution to the defence of human rights. I hope that we will amplify their call to create a more equitable world for all.