The following remarks were delivered by Arig al Shaibah, Associate Vice-President, Equity and Inclusion, on December 13, 2022 at the SFU Goldcorp Center for the Arts as part of a Women, Life, Freedom event. This community-led event was organized in response to the human rights situation and events taking place in Iran.
Thank you, Dr. Tamir Moustafa.
Good evening, friends and collegues,
First, let me start by acknowledging and honoring the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations on whose unceded and ancestral territories we are gathering this evening.
This evening we will hear from distinguished guests who will speak on the subject of human rights in the context of the events taking place in Iran, however, the principles compelling us to gather here transcend nations – globally and locally. These are the principles advocated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. That is, to say that every human on this planet should be entitled to dignity, equality, and freedom.
And, furthermore, that the notions of choice and self-determination are core human rights principals.
I reject the cultural relativism argument that says universal human rights are irrelevant because they do not account for cultural differences. I believe that, while the international human rights system is imperfect, the cultural relativism argument can easily be misused to dismiss the notion that fundamental rights and freedoms must extend to women, ethnically minoritized groups, and members of marginalized gender identity and sexual orientation communities – no matter their cultural background or faith.
As a Racialized, Muslim, Queer, Woman and member of the Yemeni Diaspora in Canada, I know on a visceral level the psychic and physical harms, as well as the looming threat of lethal violence, that accompanies extreme misogynistic and homophobic attitudes and beliefs. I am keenly aware of the ways that Islamic doctrines are, in my view, distorted, in ways that facilitate state sanctions gender inequity and gender-based violence.
I feel a sense of humility and gratitude towards the peoples of Iran, and particularly women, who are relentlessly protesting against the regime there, in the face of violence. These efforts inspire and empower others in the region.
Having worked in academia for the past 20 years, I am attuned to the importance of teaching, research, and service in the areas of human rights, and the mission of higher education to influence social betterment and social justice locally, nationally, and globally. Universities Canada, the collective voice of Canadian universities has released a statement condemning the Iranian regime’s violence on university campuses as a profound challenge to the free exchange of ideas which is an essential component of human rights.
With that, I’ll introduce the for distinguished panelists and tonight’s moderator who will engage us in a free exchange of ideas:
Nazanin Afshin-jam MacKay
Nazanin is an international human rights and democracy activist, author, public speaker and President and co-founder of “Stop Child Executions” organization. She holds a B.A. in International Relations and Political Science from UBC, holds top honors in her Master’s Degree in Diplomacy with a concentration in International Conflict Management at Norwich University in Vermont and in 2016 the University of Western Ontario conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws. In 2006 Nazanin successfully ran an international campaign to save the life of a juvenile sentenced to death in Iran for stabbing a man in self defense that tried to rape her. From that experience, she authored The Tale of Two Nazanins published in 2012 by Harper Collins and since published in several languages around the world.
Ava Homa is an award-winning novelist, a seasoned journalist, and a human rights activist. Her bylines have appeared in publications such as the Globe and Mail, Literary Hub, Toronto Star, Literary Review of Canada and more. She has spoken about human rights across North America and Europe, including at the United Nations, Geneva. Her debut novel Daughters of Smoke and Fire, the story of a Kurdish woman’s search for justice and freedom, won the 2020 Nautilus Book Award.
Elle is an Iranian-American cross platform journalist. She currently serves as the Co-Chair of the Society of Professional Journalists’ International Community, that works diligently to address the safety of journalists, advocating for press freedom globally and providing training for journalists within their network. Her investigative work can be seen on NY Times, BBC and various media outlets.
Over the past 15 years Soushiant has been involved in organizing several human and civic rights advocacy initiatives that gained national and international recognition and the support of the highest elected officials in Canada. He has worked with Article19, Freedom House, United4Iran, as well as global human rights leaders including Dr. Ahmad Shaheed (The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran), Dr. Shirin Ebadi, and others, writing reports highlighting the role of foreign companies in aiding internet censorship in Iran, and delivering capacity building workshops to citizen journalists to safely get critical information out of Iran.
Also, we are pleased to have Negar Mojtahedi join us as the moderator on tonight’s panel.
Negar Mojtahedi is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and journalist at Global News. Her first documentary ‘My dream goes all the way to Iran’ is a powerful portrait of the Iranian expatriate, an immigrant population that is often misunderstood and misrepresented.
And now, I turn things over to Negar.
WOMEN, LIFE, FREEDOM
(ZAN, ZENDEGI, AZADI)