The University of Alberta awarded David Matas an honorary doctor of laws degree on June 12, 2018.
“An honorary degree is our learning community’s highest honour,” said University of Alberta Chancellor Douglas Stollery.
Joining David in receiving an honorary degree from the University of Alberta this June are 13 exceptional individuals including David Suzuki, Canada’s most famous environmentalist, award-winning CBC foreign correspondent, Nahlah Ayed, and former prime minister of New Zealand, Helen Clarke.
In his convocation address, Dr Matas spoke of the importance of pursuing human rights.
“There are some subjects which should unite us all, no matter how specialized we get. One of those is human rights. Human rights become meaningless if they are left to experts. Human rights belong to each and every one of us, simply because of our common humanity. Unless we assert those rights, they will wither and die.
Human rights violations are a spreading stain. Unless we stop them before they get to us, we will become victims. If we wait for that, it will be too late. We must exercise human solidarity when there is still enough of us who are not victimized for that solidarity to matter.
Crimes against humanity have that name because they are crimes against all of us. When crimes against humanity are committed, we are all victims. We all suffer loss from the victimization.
We must combat human rights violations wherever and whenever they occur. We, of course, must be focused on our immediate surroundings. To ignore them would be hypocrisy. But we must also not forget the far away.
Concern about those geographically, linguistically, culturally, ethnically or spiritually different from us bridges the gaps and emphasizes our common humanity. As well, in all too many places, outsiders must speak for victims because local human rights advocates are powerless, because, through their advocacy, they become victims themselves.
Nonetheless, there remains such a thing as human rights expertise ‑ knowledge of the international human rights instruments, familiarity with discourse and patterns of behaviour of human rights violators, the lessons of history and so on. A person without human rights expertise or experience who attempts to presume human rights knowledge and assume human rights leadership can do more harm than good.”
Dr Matas drew attention to the important role the University of Alberta has played in regards to the need to protect refugees and to combat cross border organ transplant abuse. He also urged affirmative action. “Peace, of which respect for human rights is a component, like war, is too important to be left to the experts. Yet, we court disaster if we ignore accumulated knowledge. Act on human rights. In doing so, do not turn a blind eye to the existing human rights information.”