Speaker outlines impact of NGOs at Glendon’s Holmes Lecture

Steve Crawshaw, the United Nations advocacy director for Human Rights Watch and keynote speaker at Glendon’s autumn 2009 John W. Holmes Memorial Lecture on Nov. 17, told a standing-room-only audience about the many ways non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can make a difference in helping those most in need around the world.

“Throughout history, there have been acts by individual organizations which were significant in protecting human rights,” said Crawshaw in his address, titled “Making an Impact: The Role of Non-Governmental Organizations in a Changing World”.

Right: From left, Glendon Principal Kenneth McRoberts, United Nations advocacy director for Human Rights Watch Steve Crawshaw, Glendon Professor Stanislav Kirschbaum and Mark Hyatt, a great-nephew of John Holmes

His speech provided an overview of the role of NGOs and the work of his organization, Human Rights Watch (HRW). Crawshaw provided many examples where diplomacy could not go forward, yet NGOs were able to bring serious human rights violations to the public’s attention, forcing organizations and governments to act.

Crawshaw held up the example of the Congo Reform Association, formed in 1904 by Edmund Morel, which set out to help the exploited, enslaved workforce in the Belgian Congo of the time. The association gained the support of several famous writers, including Joseph Conrad, Anatole France, Arthur Conan Doyle and Mark Twain, who brought the cause to public attention through their literary productions.

“NGOs have the ability to bring these crimes to the world’s attention, and ultimately to justice, in ways that diplomacy would never be able to achieve. By putting together all the facts and by ‘triangulating’, that is to say by finding other organizations as allies, these organizations can apply pressure and bring these criminals to justice,” said Crawshaw.

Left: From left, Glendon Professor Stanislav Kirschbaum, student award winner Jennifer Bush and Caroline Appathurai

“We live in a rapidly changing world and the challenges that NGOs face are changing with it.” The events of Sept. 11, 2001 had a direct impact on Human Rights Watch as its New York office is located in the Empire State Building and members of its staff assumed they would be the next target. “It was clear, though, that rules needed to be adhered to, even during such an emergency. We understood then, that we must not be swayed by the short term, but have to be accountable to human rights laws under any circumstances. There should never be a time when it is not the right time to worry about rules and laws.”

HRW was originally founded as Helsinki Watch in 1978 to monitor the former Soviet Union’s compliance with the Helsinki Accords, signed by 35 states, including Canada, to improve relations between the communist bloc and the west. It enabled eastern European protesters, and later, protesters from other parts of the world, to make their voices heard.

Following the Helsinki Accords, several different organizations sprang up, including Americas Watch, Asia Watch, Africa Watch and Middle East Watch, known collectively as The Watch Committees. These groups were eventually united under the name Human Rights Watch in 1988.

HRW continues to bring basic human rights violations to the attention of the world and, through fact-based reporting, to organizations such as the International Criminal Court. Some of these violations have included the mass killings in Cambodia, the Rwandan genocide, the Bosnian genocide and human rights violations in China.

“We must engage in public discussion and the support of human rights issues so that societies understand the realities and support the rules of law and accountability,” Crawshaw said. “Human Rights Watch has partnerships all over the world, and it is a great place to get involved and make a difference.”

Crawshaw praised the significant role of Canadian organizations in bringing human rights violators to the attention of the International Criminal Court. Indictments against Darfur and Rwanda for war crimes in a range of activities, such as the use of landmines and weapons directed at civilians, rape and genocide, were successful through the participation of Canadians.

In welcoming Crawshaw, Glendon Principal Kenneth McRoberts spoke about Glendon’s special ethos as a bilingual liberal arts college with an emphasis on public affairs and public service. “Forty-three years after the opening of this college, we still aspire to the same goals [defined by first principal Escott Reid], and the John Holmes lectures on public affairs and current events have become an institution here.”

Glendon international studies Professor Stanislav Kirschbaum, who hosted the lecture, presented a history of the annual John W. Holmes Memorial Lecture series – now celebrating its 20th anniversary – and the outstanding individual whose name it bears.

Several special guests were honoured at the lecture. Among them was Mark Hyatt, a great-nephew of John Holmes. The biographer of John W. Holmes, Adam Chapnick, was also in attendance. His book, Canada’s Voice: The Public Life of John Wendell Holmes, has just been published by the University of British Columbia Press.

In addition, Caroline Appathurai presented the Edward R. & Caroline Appathurai Scholarships in International Studies to this year’s winners, who achieved the highest averages in their third year of international studies. Glendon student Jennifer Bush thanked Appathurai for the award, expressing her appreciation of the honour as well as the funds, which represent an important contribution to her school expenses. The other winner, Mélissa Gélinas, is currently on a study year in Spain and will receive her award there.

The awards were established in memory of Professor Edward Appathurai, a former Ceylonese diplomat who joined York in 1968, taught courses in international relations and diplomacy, and created Glendon’s International Studies Program, which has since become the Department of International Studies.

More about Steve Crawshaw

Crawshaw joined Human Rights Watch as the London director in 2002 and became the organization’s United Nations advocacy director in 2006. Before joining Human Rights Watch he worked for many years as a journalist with The Independent, as its Germany bureau chief, chief foreign correspondent and foreign news editor. Stories he covered include the east European revolutions, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Balkan wars. Crawshaw studied Russian and German at the universities of Oxford and Leningrad.

He is the author of Goodbye to the USSR: The Collapse of Soviet Power (Bloomsbury Publishing, 1992) and of Easier Fatherland: Germany and the Twenty-First Century (Continuum Publishing, 2004). He is also co-author of the forthcoming Small Acts of Resistance: How Courage, Tenacity and a Bit of Ingenuity Can Change the World.

More about the John W. Holmes Memorial Lecture at Glendon

The annual John W. Holmes Memorial Lecture at Glendon honours the late John W. Holmes, a Canadian diplomat, writer, administrator and international relations professor at Glendon from 1971 to 1981. Holmes was a tireless promoter of Canada at home and abroad, in political, diplomatic and educational circles. He also participated in the founding of the United Nations and attended its first General Assembly in 1945.

Shortly after his death in 1988, a memorial fund was set up at Glendon under the leadership of Professor Albert Tucker, principal of Glendon from 1970 to 1975 and chair of the Department of History at the time, to create a series of annual lectures honouring Holmes, sponsored by Glendon’s International Studies Program. It was launched in 1989 by the late Edward Appathurai, who established international studies at Glendon, Tucker, and three Glendon graduates, Jim Dow (BA ’75), Marshall Leslie (BA Comb. Hons. ’75, MBA ’80) and Martin Shadwick (BA ’76, MA ’78), who had attended Holmes’ course on Canadian foreign and defence policy.

The first John W. Holmes Memorial Lecture was delivered by Brian Urquhart, retired undersecretary general of the United Nations in 1989. Other distinguished speakers have included former prime minister of Canada Kim Campbell; deputy secretary general of the United Nations Louise Fréchette; Canadian ambassadors Geoffrey Pearson and Anne Leahy; renowned author and public figure John Ralston Saul; retired supreme court justice Peter deCarteret Cory; former deputy secretary general of Amnesty International and Glendon alumnus Vincent Del Buono (BA Comb. Hons. ’72); and Thomas Berger, a lawyer and retired justice of the BC Supreme Court.