I can think of many cases where monuments have been built to commemorate violence, warfare, and empire building. Triumphal arches abound, statues, memorial plaques, entire museums, and gallaries exist, in most cases, rightly so. However, when I think about monuments dedicated exclusively to human rights, I can think of a scant few. Those that exist only salute one or two human rights struggles.
There is one Human Rights Monument that symbolizes the international, basic, ongoing struggles for human rights. It’s the Canadian Tribute To Human Rights.
The red granite and concrete Monument is next to the Ottawa City Hall near Parliament. Engraved on the façade is a quotation from the United Nations Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights — Tous les êtres humains naissent libres et egaux en dignité et en droits.” Three symbolic structures behind the façade include granite plaques engraved with the words, “Equality, Dignity, Rights” in English and French. There are also tributes engraved elsewhere in 73 of the native Canadian languages.
The Canadian Tribute To Human Rights was officially dedicated September 30, 1990. His Holiness The Dalai Lama was the special guest of honor. His talk stressed the importance and need for universal human rights, non-violence, and the efforts and dreams of freedom by everybody. An important excerpt from the Dalai Lama’s speech said:
“Because violence can only breed more violence and suffering, our struggle must remain non-violent and free of hatred. We are trying to end the suffering of our people, not to inflict suffering upon others. As part of my Five-Point Peace Plan for the restoration of peace and human rights in Tibet, the entire Tibetan plateau would become a Zone of Ahimsa or peace sanctuary. Any settlement of the Tibetan question will only be meaningful if it is supported by adequate international guarantees.”
The speech was followed by His Holiness, assisted by a father and his two children, picked at random from the audience, walking through the Monument’s archway. Local officials and the public guests followed and also walked through the arch.
The opening event was marred only by the usual threats from Communist China. The Chinese regime warned the Canadian government that any official recognition of the Dalai Lama’s visit would be interpreted as an unfriendly, hostile act towards China. In response, Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney refused to officially recognize His Holiness’s visit to Canada. Mulroney also did not attend the opening ceremony of the Human Rights Monument.
Since the opening of the Monument, many political and social demonstrations have been held on the site. They include political rallies for displaced peoples, a tribute for victims of the Stalinist famines in The Ukraine during the 1930s, and the “Light for Rights” HIV/AIDS awareness event in 2010.
The monument has been an ongoing project under construction and subsequent dedication ceremonies. These include the finishing of the last of the Aboriginal Language Plaque additions and the future addition of lighting.
The Blue Jay of Happiness acknowledges the help of the “Ottawa Citizen” newspaper and The Canadian Human Rights Commission.