Building a monument to human rights

(Edmonton) Ottawa will have a new landmark that will change the city’s landscape, serve as a reminder of protecting human rights and put Canada among Allied nations that have decorated their capitals with similar installations. All of that will come as a result of a recent federal law—and the work of a University of Alberta graduate student, Daniel Friedman, who is at the helm of making it happen.

Friedman, who says he’s committed to making the world a better place, has been elected chair of the National Holocaust Monument Development Council, which was struck to spearhead a fundraising campaign to cover the cost of planning, building and maintaining a Holocaust memorial and advise John Baird, minister of foreign affairs, on the planning and design of the monument.

“I’m here to do my part to be able to make sure that no genocide happens to any people anywhere in the world,” Friedman says. “Until now, we’re the only Allied nation not to have a Holocaust monument in our capital. And this Holocaust monument would be an eternal reminder of the potential horrors of humankind.”

Friedman, who’s completing his PhD in political science, says his effort at helping to protect and defend human rights is being aided by the U of A—an institution he says is at the forefront of helping to develop civil society.

“Here in Canada we have a country that is a great ally of democracy and human rights activism throughout the world, and specifically here at the university. We have here in the department, Dr. Andy Knight, somebody who stands at the forefront of human rights, activism and scholarship. We have a university that’s not prepared to put up with any bigotry.”

Knight, professor of international relations and chair of the university’s political science department, has been working to redress some of the worst atrocities when children are recruited to fight for government armed forces, paramilitaries and civil militia, often during wars. Knight’s efforts to help, protect and rehabilitate child soldiers have been recognized with a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to study children and armed conflict.

Continuing a tradition of tolerance

Friedman says, through his work with the monument, he’s proud to continue in the tradition of the U of A to stand against attitudes and practices that do not conform to protecting human rights. “Genocide has happened throughout the 20th century and continues to happen in our own lifetime—and whether we’re talking Darfur or the Democratic Congo, there are issues. Hopefully we can use it as a tool to be able to educate people,” he says.

He says the monument, which will grace Ottawa within the next three years, will help in preventing horrors of the past. “When people walk past this monument, they will look at it, and be hopefully inspired to ask the question as to what brought it about.”

It’s not clear yet what form the monument will take, because the council’s work has just begun. Friedman says the first step, which includes three other volunteers, “would be a visioning process of how a monument to the Holocaust, specifically in the Canadian context, should look.” And he says that stage requires more than having a discussion with artists and members of the National Capital Commission. His experiences working with researchers such as Knight will prove useful at this important stage, he says.

“There’s an intellectual history to this kind of thing. Being in an academic setting, it’s something I bring to the table, the ability to impress upon these laypeople who are my fellow council members the importance of understanding the broader aspect of what we’re doing. What I will bring is scholarship on it.”

Friedman says education is important to help prevent and deal with human rights abuses because it will help us understand the history of the Holocaust and other 20th- and 21st-century genocides.

“There’s no doubt that education is important at all levels. Math and science and English are wonderful and will add to human progress, but this really is the most important in terms of making sure that people are people,” Friedman says. “This university, this faculty, recognizes that there’s no place for bigotry. I’m very proud to be associated with a faculty and a university that doesn’t stand for intolerance.”