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Address by Minister Baird Presenting the John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights and Freedom Award to William Hague

December 1, 2014 – London, United Kingdom

Check Against Delivery

Good evening everyone. It’s great to be here.

I believe this is the last-ever event in this building.

It has served us well. But Gordon Campbell, our exceptional high commissioner, has bigger and better plans.

It’s also good to see a number of friendly faces in the room.

I’ve been foreign minister for three and a half years now, and one thing that I underestimated was how important relationships are in this business.

So I was lucky that, from day one, I had a counterpart here in the U.K. who could always be relied on for advice, support and a droll joke or two.

Of course, given our countries’ long history and shared values, something has gone very wrong if the Canada-U.K. relationship is in the problems folder.

The world feels like it has become a more dangerous and volatile place in the last couple of years.

William and I worked closely together on a number of files, from the turmoil in Libya to the crisis in Ukraine.

But foreign affairs shouldn’t be just about reactive firefighting.

The best leaders identify seemingly intractable problems and work to move the ball forward on solving them.

When William visited us in Ottawa in 2012, I remember his passion as he explained his plans for the U.K.’s Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative.

Rape as a weapon of war and all forms of sexual violence in conflict are despicable crimes.

They are crimes that rob their victims—mostly women and girls—of their dignity.

They can have devastating physical, psychological and social impacts that endure long after the last bullets are fired in a conflict.

Sexual violence can also destroy the cohesiveness of families and communities, where women play an important role in maintaining resiliency in the face of the terrors of war.

That is why the use of rape as a weapon is so devastating and why we must do whatever we can to stop it, to help its survivors and to hold its perpetrators to account.

After that meeting in Ottawa, William and I committed publicly to working on this issue together.

Since then, he has pursued it relentlessly and continues to do so as the Prime Minister’s special representative.

Canada is proud to be walking this journey with him.

While this problem may not yet be tractable, there is clearly momentum in the international community’s commitment to tackling it.

Last year, during the U.K.’s G-8 presidency, we launched, together with colleagues, the Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict.

Then, at the UN General Assembly, we launched a similar declaration, which has since been endorsed by a record 155 countries.

And in June, here in London, William convened the amazing Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict.

This was a truly impressive event—by far the largest there has ever been on this issue.

One thing I liked was that it wasn’t just “politicians and platitudes,” as you see at some summits.

I’m proud to say Canada was there in force.

I was honoured to chair a ministerial session aimed at identifying actions for improving accountability.

I was also joined by Deborah Lyons, our ambassador to Afghanistan, as well as a Canadian police officer and two Afghan activists, who spoke eloquently of their work.

Deborah is the only female ambassador in Kabul and has been doing great work in engaging women throughout that country.

These efforts to raise the profile of the need to fight sexual violence in conflict could not have come at a more critical time.

Just as the world started to mobilize on this issue, a new and terrible threat to women and girls emerged to test our resolve.

As we all watched with horror over the summer, the death cult that is ISIL unleashed a brutal campaign against religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria.

Canada and the U.K. have both stepped forward to help defeat ISIL, as well as to bring much-needed assistance to the victims of ISIL’s atrocities.

Part of our response was a joint mission to Baghdad and Erbil to assess what more can be done, to assist the victims and to start holding the perpetrators to account.

This mission successfully identified a range of ways and partners for doing this, by bringing much-needed assistance to survivors of sexual violence by ISIL forces and building local capacity to resist and prevent further attacks.

So I think we have shown our resolve.

But we are all very aware of the scale of the challenge ahead.

As I’m sure many of you know, William has written a book about another William.

It is not hyperbole to say that William Wilberforce was one of the greatest Britons to have lived.

He invested every ounce of his energy and talent into tackling one of the great moral challenges of the 19th century: slavery.

There are some obvious parallels between slavery and sexual violence.

Both deny what it is to be human.

Both are about domination and subjugation.

Both target and exploit the vulnerable.

Canada has always believed in standing up for the oppressed.

As you saw in the video, John Diefenbaker was a clear example of this, with his strong condemnations of apartheid and Soviet communism.

I hope that in the future we will be able to look back and say that on our watch, we too carried this torch.

We all have the responsibility to take up this mantle of leadership and speak out for the protection of those that are most vulnerable.

This is why Canada has always been and continues to be a strong voice in the effort to end violence against women.

And that’s why I am so active in the campaign to end child, early and forced marriage.

As Wilberforce found, it’s not always easy to promote clear values among competing interests and priorities.

But he had some typically powerful words to say on the subject:

“If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow creatures is to be a fanatic,” he said, “then I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large.”

It gives me great pleasure to say that you, William Hague, are also a fanatic.

You’ve worked tirelessly to make the world a better, safer place for women and girls.

And that’s what I want to recognize today.

This award is a tribute to your dedication to protecting human rights around the world.

And of course, it is a reflection of your clear friendship with Canada.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is a tremendous honour, to present the John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights and Freedom Award to the Right Honourable William Hague, for his work in ending sexual violence in conflict.

Please join me in congratulating him.

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