Meet David Matas, winner of the Distinguished Alumni Award for Lifetime Achievement
A shield, a sword, and a warrior in the battle for international human rights. We honour our distinguished alumni on May 1.
If you accuse a global superpower like China of harvesting organs from a persecuted segment of its population, you’d better be ready for some backlash.
Since co-authoring the report A Bloody Harvest with fellow U of M alumnus David Kilgour [BA/1962], international human rights lawyer David Matas had his life threatened, saw his work labeled “extremist”, has been banned from presenting his findings in Russia’ received (with Kilgour) the 2009 Human Rights Award from the International Society for Human Rights’ and was nominated for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. For Matas, the size of his opponent seems irrelevant; if he sees them committing crimes against humanity, he digs in his heels and takes them on.
During the course of more than 30 years practicing law in support of immigrants, refugees and others whose rights have been denied, Matas has been named to the Order of Canada and described by one colleague as “undoubtedly one of the leading human rights scholars and advocates in the world.”
Inspired as a youth by the horrible legacy of the Holocaust, Matas summed up his response to this atrocity in the following excerpt from a speech he delivered at Ben Gurion University in 2010:
“The lessons I have drawn from the Holocaust are the need to bring to justice mass murders; to ban hate speech; to protect refugees; and never to accept in silence gross violations of human rights, wherever they occur.”
In tandem with his efforts to defend those who have been persecuted, Matas has also actively probed the subject of human rights in the classroom and with the public.
As new and baffling human rights violations continue to be exposed around the globe, Matas will have no shortage of battles to wage.
“I never drop a human rights cause until it’s resolved,” admits Matas. “I’ll be at it until the problem disappears—or I disappear.”
In 2014, the Distinguished Alumni Award has grown to include four new categories. The new awards recognize University of Manitoba graduates who have achieved outstanding accomplishments in their professional and personal lives, and who have been inspirations to fellow alumni, current students and the community.
On May 1 the University of Manitoba will host a grand celebration at the Winnipeg Art Gallery to honour five Distinguished Alumni. All the awards will be presented at the inaugural Distinguished Alumni Awards Celebration of Excellence on May 1, 2014. Tickets are $75 and are available at here.
David Matas [BA/1964] will receive the University of Manitoba Distinguished Alumni Award, Lifetime Achievement, which recognizes graduates who are distinguished in their career and in their contributions to society. Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize but banned from Russia and denounced by China, Matas’ outspoken stance on violations of human rights around the world has made him one of the world’s leading scholars and advocates of the oppressed.