Baird Honours Human Rights Defenders

2012 John Diefenbaker Awards recognize Shahbaz Bhatti and Susana Trimarco

March 14, 2012 - Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird today presented this year’s John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights and Freedom Award to the late Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s former Federal Minister for Minorities, and Susana Trimarco, Argentinian activist and founder of the Fundación María de los Ángeles.

“With this award, Canada honours the memory of Shahbaz Bhatti, whose determined efforts in the struggle for equality, justice and freedom cost him his life,” said Baird. “Braving multiple threats to his safety, Mr. Bhatti worked tirelessly to advance the rights of Pakistan’s religious minorities.” Mr. Peter Bhatti accepted the award on behalf of his late brother.

“Canada also hails the courage of Susana Trimarco, who helped to shed light on the world of human trafficking and forced prostitution while searching for her missing daughter,” Baird said. “The foundation she created, Fundación María de los Ángeles, has helped raise awareness of this issue. Through Ms. Trimarco’s unyielding determination, she has helped hundreds of victims escape inhumane conditions.” Canada is among those nations leading the world in combatting human trafficking.

“Canada stands with the defenders of human rights for all—people who courageously seek to promote and protect fundamental freedoms around the world.

For more information, see Address by Minister Baird at Second Annual John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights and Freedom Award Ceremony.

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A backgrounder follows.

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Backgrounder - Diefenbaker Award and Recipients

Shahbaz Bhatti

Shahbaz Bhatti was elected to the National Assembly of Pakistan in 2008 and named Federal Minister for Minorities—a portfolio he accepted because of the opportunity it offered to defend the oppressed and marginalized of Pakistan.

As Minister, Mr. Bhatti took steps to advance the rights of religious minorities. These included launching a national campaign to promote interfaith harmony. Mr. Bhatti also fought valiantly against abuses of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws during his time in government.

Mr. Bhatti helped to found the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance in 1985 and subsequently chaired that organization. He also served as head of Pakistan’s Christian Liberation Front, which he formed in 1985. In 2002, he joined the Pakistan Peoples Party.

Minister Bhatti visited Canada in February 2011 where he met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, among other government ministers. 

Shortly after his visit to Canada, Minister Bhatti was assassinated while on his way to work.

Susana Trimarco

Susana Trimarco is the mother of Marita Verón, who was kidnapped in April 2002 at the age of 23 by human traffickers. In the search for her daughter, Ms. Trimarco began a personal quest that led her to brothels, run by traffickers, across Argentina and as far away as Spain. In the process, she discovered many women and girls who were victims of human trafficking.

Despite threats to her life, she has continued fighting against those profiting from the illegal sex trade. In 2007, she established the Fundación María de los Ángeles in the name of her daughter to investigate human trafficking, provide assistance to trafficking victims and promote stronger government policies aimed at combatting human trafficking.

Ms. Trimarco is credited for finding over 100 victims of human trafficking and has spent many years helping them rebuild their lives. She has been instrumental in raising awareness about human trafficking in Argentina and throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights and Freedom Award

The Diefenbaker Award was created in 2010 by then Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon to honour individuals or groups who show exceptional courage and leadership in defending human rights and freedom. The award was named in recognition of former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, who during his time in office championed human rights both in Canada and around the world. His determination to secure rights for all led to the passage of the Canadian Bill of Rights in 1960.

Potential candidates for this award around the world are identified by Canada’s global network of diplomatic missions, in consultation with key government partners. Candidates are carefully screened on the basis of their human rights contributions. The final selection is made by the Foreign Affairs Minister.

This non-monetary award is presented annually as part of Canada’s larger commitment to promoting freedom around the world.