COMMENTARY: Human rights and the GA

Opinion by

At Wednesday’s Students’ Society Winter General Assembly a motion entitled “The Defence of Human Rights, Social Justice, and Environmental Protection” will be presented. The core of this motion reiterates SSMU’s longstanding commitment to human rights. In addition, it calls for the expansion of the Financial Ethics Review Committee mandate, or the creation of a Corporate Social Responsibility Committee, in order to investigate any investments in corporations that operate outside international law and profit from human rights violations. (Full disclosure: I am the vice-president information and research for the McGill chapter of Soliarity for Palestinian Human Rights, the organization that authored this motion.)

As an example, the motion cites SSMU’s condemnation of PepsiCo in 1996, because of the company’s association with the Burmese military regime. The motion also refers to the investigation of McGill’s financial associations with parties that engage in unethical practices in regions that include, but are not limited to, the occupied Palestinian territories.

To an average mindset free from discrimination – one that values universal human rights principles – this motion appears to be one that every McGill student should wholeheartedly endorse. However, a sizable percentage of the student body at McGill has decided to turn this important and ethical motion into a matter of controversy. They claim that the motion unfairly singles out the occupied Palestinian territories, thus serving as a criticism of the State of Israel – whose name was not once mentioned in the motion.

Although it may be pointless to respond to this absurd claim, I feel compelled to address the issue in the hope of fostering a healthy environment on campus that is understanding of human rights issues. The critics of this motion have argued that unless one protests (presumably simultaneously) all the world’s injustices, one’s protest against any particular injustice is discriminatory. Therefore, this logic concludes that any matter of human rights violations, including the one in the occupied Palestinian territories, should not be addressed unless we simultaneously address all other injustices. This is unreasonable.

It’s important to consider an example such as the human rights violations incurred by the Palestinians in the occupied territories when drafting a motion that would reaffirm SSMU’s commitment to social justice. The occupation of Palestine is the longest occupation in modern times, and is a gross violation of international law and human rights – in defiance of all elements of the United Nations and almost all international law-making bodies. So it comes as no surprise that financial profit from this outright violation of human rights should be in the spotlight.

It disturbs me that some students on campus have decided to corrupt the meaning and true motive of this motion. Should we not protest the atrocities of Darfur unless we do so in unison with the Rwandan massacres, Tibetan occupation, Tamil oppression, and others? This motion does not discount these violations by not addressing them individually, rather it uses the occupied Palestinian territories to cast a light on worldwide atrocities as a whole.

I encourage the McGill student body to read the aforementioned motion online at ssmu.mcgill.ca/ga and attend the GA this Wednesday at 5 p.m. in the Shatner cafeteria.

Jamal Daoud is a PhD candidate in biomedical engineering and the VP information and research for the McGill chapter of SPHR.