Priyadarshni Academy Awards

So today (September 18) is a bit of a bittersweet day. Yesterday I was due to get on a plane to Mumbai India - my first trip to our fellow Commonwealth Country. My life has been so ridiculous lately that I don't have time to breathe - my life is not my own. I was looking forward to spending a few days to step back and reflect and to experience a new way and new perspectives.

Alas, given my years of going to Uganda and being able to get a visa when I landed, I never considered having any problems getting to India. As fellow commonwealth countries, I assumed all would be ok. I didn't even have the time to think about it :( So I got to the airport last night and I couldn't get on the plane :(

Starting in 12 hours, the Awards Ceremonies begin. I am deeply sad not to be able to attend. I am honoured that my face is put up in some of the major newspapers in India however along with the other award recipients. I am proud to receive this international recognition, following in the stead of folks such as Martin Luther King III.

Since I won't be able to share my speaking notes verbally, I thought I would share them here so they echo perhaps on a few ears:

Priyadarshni Academy Awards

September 19 2018

Speaking Notes: Renée Vaugeois

Recipient of Ram Krishna Bajaj Memorial Global Award

Greetings to all of you at the awards this evening.  To the Priyadarshni Academy, thank you for this incredible recognition. Special greetings to Minister Suresh Prabhu, Minister Nitin Gadkari, and Minister Piyush Goyal.

I am deeply honoured to receive the Ram Krishna Bajaj Memorial Global Award. I found Ram Krishna Bajaj’s work on the Council for Fair Business Practice and Abolition of Octroi to be particularly inspiring and to share that level of a platform as an advocate for peace, I am truly honoured.

It is with my deepest regret that I am not there with you. This would have been my first visit to India and as a fellow Commonwealth national I assumed I would not require a visa to enter the country.  As two countries with deep historical ties, I wonder why this is not so. Western Canada was settled by those coming from Asia, although not without struggles.

For example, during the Komagata Maru incident in 1914 Canada refused entry to 376 passengers on the ship.  Despite local grassroots organizing by Sikh and Muslim activists to push back against Canadian racist immigration laws, the Komagata Maru was sent back home to India. It was here that 19 passengers were executed by the British Imperial forces and many more thrown in jail.

One would think that with 100 years behind us that we were in better conditions in this world. The world right now is in a pretty precarious position however and the impacts of the colonial and cold war era are deep. On a global scale and a local scale, the violations of basic human rights that are happening are rattling. I question if we are not in a third world war.

I watch feeling helpless as political prisoners such as Oleg Sentsov, who is imprisoned in Russia unjustly and who is over 100 days into a hunger strike. Canada has offered a statement and signed a letter to the UN to apply pressure. When I think of the international pressure it required to free Nelson Mandela and to end Apartheid in South Africa, we have a long way to go. I feel the political will to collectively work together to apply such pressure is also not as strong as it needs to be.

Countries can turn a blind eye to human rights violations.  The situation in West Bank and Gaza and the ongoing struggles of our Palestinian brothers and sisters are real. But heaven forbid if we speak up in their struggle for to be for the rights of the Palestinian is unfortunately always taken to be anti-Israel or anti-Semitic.

Globally we are at an unprecedented high in refugees. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees there 68.5 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 25.4 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. These levels have surpassed levels of the second world war.

In Colombia, over 1 million refugees are fleeing from Venezuela to escape extreme poverty.

Last week the UN reported that World hunger rose in 2017 for a third consecutive year, fuelled by conflict and climate change.

In Basra Governorate, Iraq's Ministry of Health reports at least 11 people were killed in relation to recent protests due to poverty.

At home in Canada, the trauma experienced and the oppression that exists as a result of genocide against the first peoples, is deepening as young Indigenous people are dying at high rates due to suicide and an opioid epidemic.  First Nations Children continue to be taken away from their families en masse. Not only internally does Canada face its human rights challenges, but globally Canadian natural resource and mining companies and arms manufacturers are contributing to human rights violations.

My country has the potential to make a strong positive impact on this world. I am afraid right now however we are not using our strength as a nation to be a bastion for peace and justice. We need courage on the international stage. Canada and India have the power to affect positive movements to address global violence and war. It has come time to move beyond mere statements and commit to human rights.

In the work at the JHC, education about human rights, creating spaces for dialogue and building networks of human rights defenders is at the core of our work. These spaces for education, dialogue and networking however need to move beyond borders. My hopes in coming to India was to learn more from you and to find out how we can work together to be those positive agents for global change.

Again my deepest regrets for not being there present with you tonight. I was excited to learn more about India and the work happening with all the other amazing award winners.

While one may feel sorrow about the state of the world, I am continually strengthened by the circles of energy that are growing at grassroots levels and where people are working together for meaningful change; towards a culture of peace and human rights. It is circles like these - where we are coming together to reflect on our roles in building world peace and ensuring dignity, security, freedom and justice - that I believe we can make major impacts.

Thank you.