Minister Cannon Presents First Annual John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights and Freedom Award

(No. 95 - March 10, 2011 - 11:30 a.m. ET) The Honourable Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs, today presented the first annual John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights and Freedom Award to the Rev. Benjamin H. Yoon representing the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights and Asma Jahangir of Pakistan in recognition of their outstanding courage and leadership in defending human rights.

"On behalf of the Government of Canada, I am pleased to honour these remarkable achievements with this new award named after Prime Minister Diefenbaker, a Canadian leader in the defence of freedom and human rights," said Minister Cannon.

"The Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights is a recognized leader in bringing international attention to the plight of the millions of North Koreans deprived of the most fundamental rights and freedoms.

"Asma Jahangir’s tireless efforts to promote human rights in Pakistan, in particular the rights of women, children and religious minorities, under highly challenging conditions, are a testimony to her exceptional courage and dedication."

Canadian human rights activist Nazanin Afshin-Jam, president and co‑founder of the Stop Child Executions organization, moderated the award ceremony.

Canada has been a consistently strong voice for the protection of human rights and the advancement of democratic values.

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A backgrounder follows.

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Lynn Meahan
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs

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Backgrounder - 2011 Diefenbaker Award

The Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights works to draw attention to the difficulties faced by North Koreans, to improve their lives, and to offer educational programs and social support to North Korean refugees settling in the Republic of Korea.

The Alliance and its founder and chairman, the Rev. Benjamin H. Yoon, have been recognized with several awards, including the Republic of Korea Unification Minister’s Award in 2000, the Democracy Award of the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy in 2003 and South Korea’s Order of Civil Merit, Moran-Jang, in December 2010.

The Reverend Yoon will accept the Diefenbaker Award on behalf of the Alliance. In addition to founding the Alliance, the Reverend Yoon established Amnesty International’s chapter in South Korea. He also founded the Asian Centre for Human Rights to improve the human rights situation in Asia, as well as to cultivate young human rights activists.

Asma Jahangir is a Pakistani activist and lawyer who has spent her career defending human rights, particularly those of women, religious minorities and children. She helped found the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a leading human rights advocacy organization, as well as the Women’s Action Forum, which campaigns against legislation that discriminates against women.

Ms. Jahangir also served the international community between 1998 and 2004 as UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, and between 2004 and 2010 as UN special representative on freedom of religion and belief. Recently, she was elected president of the Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association. Ms. Jahangir is a recipient of the UN’s 2010 UNESCO/Bilbao Prize for the Promotion of a Culture of Human Rights.

Nazanin Afshin-Jam is an international human rights activist. A Canadian of Iranian heritage, she is a public speaker and the co-founder and president of the Stop Child Executions organization. She also serves on the board of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation. Ms. Afshin-Jam has given speeches at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, as well as to the parliaments of Canada, Europe and the United Kingdom, and at numerous universities and high-profile conferences. She is also the recipient of several human rights awards.

Ms. Afshin-Jam is currently pursuing a master’s degree in diplomacy, with a concentration in international conflict management, at Vermont’s Norwich University and writing a book that will be published in 2012.

The inaugural Diefenbaker Award honours individuals or groups who show exceptional courage and leadership in defending human rights and freedom.

Potential candidates for this award were identified on a worldwide basis by Canada’s global network of diplomatic missions and in consultation with key government partners. Candidates were carefully screened on the basis of their human rights contributions. Shortlisted candidates were recommended to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who made the final selection.

This non-monetary award will be given on an annual basis, as part of Canada’s larger commitment to the promotion and defence of human rights at home and around the world.