Member of Parliament, Canada
Irwin Cotler is Canada’s former Minister of Justice and Attorney General. He is a distinguished academic and a prominent human rights lawyer, whose dedication to humanitarian causes has earned him the Order of Canada and many other awards.
A constitutional and comparative law scholar, he litigated every section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including landmark cases in the areas of free speech, freedom of religion, women’s rights, minority rights, war crimes justice, prisoners’ rights, and peace law. He has testified as an expert witness on human rights before Parliamentary Committees in Canada, the United States, Russia, Sweden, Norway, and Israel, and has lectured at major international academic and professional gatherings in America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
An international human rights lawyer, Cotler served as Counsel to former prisoners of conscience in the former Soviet Union (Andrei Sakharov & Nathan Sharansky), South Africa (Nelson Mandela), Latin America (Jacobo Timmerman), and Asia (Trade Union Leader Muchtar Pakpahan). He later served as international legal counsel to imprisoned Russian environmentalist Aleksandr Nikitin; Nigerian playwright and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka; the Chilean-Canadian group Vérité et justice in the Pinochet case; Chinese-Canadian political prisoner, Professor KunLun Zhang. More recently, he served as Counsel to the leading democracy advocate in the Arab world, Professor Saad Edin Ibrahim; and more recently, as International Legal Council to Shoaib Choudhury, a Muslim Bangladesh journalist presently charged with sedition, treason, and blaspheme for advocating nothing other than inter-faith dialogue and peace with Israel.
He has testified as an expert witness on human rights before Parliamentary Committees in Canada, the United States, Russia, Sweden, Norway, and Israel, and has lectured at major international academic and professional gatherings in America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
A noted peace activist, he has been a leader in the movement for arms control, and helped develop “Peace Law” as an area of both academic inquiry and legal advocacy; as well, Professor Cotler has been engaged –both as scholar and participant observer– in the search for peace in the Middle East. He has lectured in both Arab countries and Israel for over thirty years, and has been an active participant in rapprochement dialogues between Israelis and Palestinians. He was the first Canadian Government Minister to visit the Middle East – promoted a common justice agenda in the region– and secured agreement among the Justice Ministers of Egypt, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority to participate in the first ever joint Justice Forum.
A leader in the struggle against impunity and the development of international humanitarian law, Cotler served as Counsel to the Deschênes Commission of Inquiry in the matter of bringing Nazi war criminals to justice; filed amicus briefs before the International Criminal Tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda; and was leading advocate for the establishment of an International Criminal Court.
A long-time advocate in the international struggle against racism and discrimination of any kind, Cotler was at the forefront of the international struggle against apartheid, as well as the architect of legal remedies against racism in Canada and beyond, both in his capacity as Minister of Justice and formerly as legal counsel for national and international NGOs.
Cotler’s efforts have resulted in his chairing, or being a member of, a number of governmental and citizens’ Commissions of Inquiry –including being Chair of the International Commission of Inquiry into the Fate and Whereabouts of Raoul Wallenberg; Chair of the Commission on Economic Coercion and Discrimination; and member of the Commission of Inquiry on the Crime of Apartheid.