The Ottawa rally for rights in China, that we have encouraged Mon-trealers to support over the past few weeks, was held last Thursday and was a resounding success. Finally dubbed the “Human Dignity Rally”, it saw hundreds of demonstrators from Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto gather in front of the Chinese Embassy, a hulking grey-stone monolith on St. Patrick St., and demand an end to Chinese tyranny, oppression, expansionist ambitions and human rights violations. The rally was timed for the day before the official opening of the Beijing Games.
More than a dozen cultural communities—representing per-secuted regions, religions, ethnicities and individuals—came together in a veritable rainbow coalition.
Flags of the Vietnamese, Tibetan, Uyghur and Taiwanese communities were prominent. In addition, delegations of Falun Dafa, Burmese, Sudanese, Darfuris, Nepalese and even Byelorussians participated, among others.
Some 19 speakers brought the message to the door of the Chinese ambassador. The breadth of the coalition was exemplified by Mount Royal MP Irwin Cotler, Canada’s former Justice Minister, when he shouted “the whole world is watching! Le monde entier regard!” toward the end of his remarks. It seemed as if the whole world was represented under the brilliant sunshine of that Ottawa day.
Two busloads of Montrealers were part of the demonstration. Organized by the Canada-Tibet Committee and the Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal, the whole city was represented from the east end to the West Island. The demonstrators stretched the length of a block the size of Place Ville Marie. Ranging from five to eight deep in many places, and standing behind metal barriers erected by the city, the protesters looked like a military firing line. A firing line for freedom.
The day started with a press conference in the Parliamentary press gallery organized by Prof. Cotler. He presented an 11-part index of China’s human rights abuses together with suggested remedies that could be implemented at the national and international levels. Former Secretary of State for Asia/Pacific David Kilgour, international human rights activist Nazanin Afshin-Jam and I, in my capacity as President of the Institute for Public Affairs, also spoke. The four of us had helped organize the rally working in concert with national, cultural and advocacy groups, in particular the CTC and Reporters sans frontières. The CTC’s Dermod Travis and RSF’s Katherine Borlongan were instrumental to the rally’s success.
In his remarks Cotler sharply criticized China’s human rights record and called the awarding of the Games to Beijing a betrayal of the Olympic Charter. “What we are witnessing today … is a persistent and pervasive assault on human rights in China,” he said. “A betrayal of the Olympic Charter, the Olympic Games and China’s pledge to respect both.”
Among the concerns outlined in his report are the treatment of Tibetans, limits on freedom of expression and inaction in dealing with the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, where 400,000 people have died since 2003. Despite promises from the country’s Communist regime to improve its human rights record when the Games were awarded to China in 2001, abuses of human rights have escalated, said Cotler.
“China undertook, in their words, to respect human rights, to respect media freedom, and then they added, ‘we will translate these words into deeds,’” Prof. Cotler said at an interview following the press conference. “Yet seven years later, the deeds mock the words.” He urged foreign governments to “speak up and speak out” and in particular asked world leaders attending the Beijing Olympics to call publicly for the release of political prisoners.
David Kilgour was just as emphatic. He stated that, “unless the (Chinese) government moves quickly in a host of areas, the Beijing Games, for good reason, will be compared mostly with those of the 1936 games in Berlin. Democracies turn and twist, but totalitarian governments are like a billiard ball, solid as a rock, but then, one day, they just shatter and disappear. I think that will eventually happen to the government in China.”
Kilgour said he was “pleased” that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is not attending the Games. “That does send a message, regardless of the reason given.” The prime minister has blamed a scheduling conflict and has sent Foreign Affairs Minister David Emerson in his place.