Baseless accusations against Cotler

To the Editors:
I was greatly surprised by the accusations against Irwin Cotler in the Op-Ed by Shai Franklin titled “Stop pretending to care about Iranians’ rights.”  I am an anti-war Iranian-Canadian professor of international  law at McGill University — the same faculty as Emeritus Professor Cotler — co-founder of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre and a former U.N. prosecutor at The Hague. I have known Professor Cotler for almost 20 years as a fellow academic, human rights advocate and a renowned voice of conscience for victims of injustice everywhere.

As the Canadian minister of justice and a distinguished parliamentarian, Cotler has worked tirelessly to advance numerous human rights causes. The suggestion that “it’s been a while” since he “was significantly involved in broad-based human rights work unrelated to the pro-Israel agenda” shows total disregard of well-known facts. In recent years, Cotler has championed worthy causes ranging from the Darfur genocide, to the struggle of Bahrainis and Egyptians in the Arab Spring, to the plight of Chinese dissidents Liu Xiaobo and Gao Zhisheng. None of these would seem to have a direct bearing on Israel.

Franklin says “we can be willing to bomb Iran into oblivion in order to stop its nuclear program, or we can worry about the rights of its citizens.” Again, he disregards the well-known position of Cotler that the nuclear issue must not overshadow the struggle of Iranians for democracy. Cotler has campaigned vigorously for the release of political prisoners and for an end to religious persecution. He has consistently called for nonviolent change and argued that war is not the solution. All of this information could have been accessed by the author through a quick Google search.

It is regrettable that such baseless accusations are made against a long-standing advocate of justice who is widely admired and respected.  If there is a problem, as Franklin would suggest, it is that there are not enough Irwin Cotlers in the world.

Payam Akhavan
Professor of International Law, McGill University
Montreal, Canada

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