Skip to main content

Learn more

Friday Night Rights! Free Admission from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, December 6, 2019.

Learn more

Speech delivered by CMHR President and CEO Stuart Murray at the 55th Annual Rotary Model United Nations Assembly (MUNA) , May 10, 2013

News release details

Thank you for that introduction and thank you for inviting me to join you today at CMU!

I know we have people here this weekend not only from Manitoba but also other provinces and the United States.

Il me fait plaisir de vous souhaiter la bienvenue à Winnipeg.

On behalf of my colleagues at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, it's a pleasure to offer you a very warm welcome to Winnipeg.

I want to acknowledge in particular CMU and Winnipeg Rotary for organizing this event.

As CEO of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights I certainly feel that I'm here today among friends:

Canadian Mennonite University and Rotary International are partners in a program that will bring students from around the world to our museum, and I can't overstate the importance of your leadership.

And, for the students here today who may be wondering why we'd be bringing young people from other countries to a Canadian human rights museum…

…well, you're providing the answer by your presence this weekend:

Our most pressing global challenges can't be solved by any one nation.

Instead, it takes dialogue, it takes partnership and it takes the understanding that the rights to which all human beings are entitled transcend both geography and national borders.

As the UN declaration of Human rights makes clear, human rights are universal.

And so I want to spend a bit of time today discussing why I hope you'll return to Winnipeg when the Museum opens its doors next year…

…regardless of whether the place you call home is across the street or across the border.

I want to congratulate you for building on an important tradition today.

Je tiens à vous féliciter d'être présent à cet évènement, vous faites ainsi perdurer cette tradition lancée par le Rotary à Winnipeg.

Many of you here this weekend will know that the Rotary Club of Winnipeg held its first MUNA in the spring of 1957.

The fact this event is still being held a half-century later is a testament to Rotary's enduring commitment to connecting young leaders with opportunities they may not otherwise have had…

…and to the principle that by bringing people together we can tackle even our most daunting human challenges.

It's worth taking a quick look back to that year, 1957, when the Rotary Club of Winnipeg was hosting its first Model United Nations Assembly.

1957 was a big year for Canada.

It was in that year that this under populated nation north of the U.S. was proving that you don't need to be big in order to have a big impact –– even on the most consequential of issues.

Some of you will have learned in your Canadian History classes that in 1957 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Lester B. Pearson, the Canadian diplomat and former prime minister, for his role in ending the Suez Crisis in the Middle East.

Pearson knew that international partnership was vital in resolving the conflict, and his proposal was the creation of a neutral peacekeeping force that would be orchestrated and commanded by the United Nations.

Well, it worked.

Canada's contributions to international diplomacy were pushed to centre stage as Pearson was awarded the Nobel and the model of modern peacekeeping as we still know it today was born.

Without doubt, it would have been extraordinarily remarkable to have been in Winnipeg for one of those first few model UN assemblies.

You, however, have your own fish to fry. And the challenges are no smaller.

I took a peek at your web site to have a look at some of the resolutions you're debating.

The conflict in Syria.

The developed world's responsibility to Least Developed Countries.

The movement of oil and tensions in the Persian Gulf.

Climate change.

Not exactly light fare you've got on your menu this weekend, is it?

But are these issues important to the future we share? Yes. Unequivocally.

The issues you're debating make it pretty clear that the world needs international partnership and international leadership more than ever.

But more than that, the world needs your leadership more than ever.

In fact, that's a bit part of the reason why we're building this three-hundred-and-fifty-million-dollar project called the Canadian Museum for Human Rights:

…so that passionate, committed young leaders like yourselves will always have a place where your energy, talents and ideas can be translated into genuine and effective change.

As globally aware citizens who have already committed yourselves to the cause of human rights…

…it's my hope that you will come to see the Canadian Museum for Human Rights through the lens that I do:

As an effective lever for action that allows us to speed up the pace of the most important kind of human progress: the kind that allows all people to live in this world free of discrimination, oppression and violence.

Now, you in this room come here today already committed to the cause of human rights.

Already engaged.

Already endowed with a sense of purpose, passion and principle, and the knowledge that you have it within you to make this world a better place.

It's the job of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights to equip others as you are equipped today.

Inspired to take action. Motivated to take action.

The first step for anyone to be able to take action in the name of human rights is to recognize within themselves the capacity make a difference.

Every one of us can take a stand for human rights. But awakening that realization is the essential first step.

Combining the inspiration to take action with the tools to make change is a recipe for real empowerment.

Give people the right tools and they'll do some remarkable things.

Well, that's what we're doing at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Anyone can be a human rights champion…

…if they have the inspiration and if they have the tools.

So let's do that. Let's create inspiring encounters with human rights and create more champions.

Let's harness the stories of people making genuine change in the world; overcoming tremendous obstacles; demonstrating remarkable acts of resilience, courage and strength of human spirit.

Let's learn from those stories. Let's talk about them. And then let's use them to identify new pathways toward building the kind of world that you in this room know is possible.

As a first step, let's build a place that reminds each of us that small acts can lead to big change.

We can create the inspiration to make a difference. We know this. And the Museum will ignite the spark in others that already burns within each of you.

We think the opportunity to cultivate human rights champions is a pretty good reason to build a human rights museum.

And if we can inspire others to take up the cause of human rights, then we can accelerate the pace of change.

It's in part owing to leaders like yourselves that we can look out onto the world and see clear signs of progress. Sometimes, remarkable progress.

Ten years ago, maybe even seven or eight, hardly anyone would have taken you seriously if you said that a black person had a legitimate shot at becoming president of the United States.

It would have been unimaginable.

Not even a decade ago, who would have even conceived of the idea that same-sex marriage could become legal, or something that both homosexual and heterosexual voters would cast a ballot for?

But look what's happened in the past couple years alone.

I look at the room and I know that most of the students here have grown up in the internet era.

But at the start of it, even ten years ago, computer culture was almost entirely male-dominated.

Who would have ever believed that in 2013 the CEOs of technology giants like Yahoo, Hewlett Packard and IBM…

…would all be women?

So there's been incredible progress in an incredibly short period of time. Barriers standing in the way of universal human rights have been fast-falling.

In a sense, we are all bearing witness to a remarkable and unprecedented wave of human evolution.

And it's been your generation that has helped spur this tremendous change. And I do hope this imbues you with a sense of pride.

But don't stop now.

Because while we can look out onto the world and see the sort of progress I've just mentioned…

…through a different lens we also see enormous human need and grinding human suffering that only continues to persist.

You know this well.

In many schools, bullying is endemic.

Kids are shamed, taunted and hurt both physically and emotionally, just because of who they are.

Bullying is an affront to human rights, and it's an area where there's an enormous amount of work still to do.

But it's not just bullying.

Across North America, and certainly here in Canada, the barriers encountered by indigenous peoples are manifold compared with the rest of the population.

Indicators like poverty and rates of illness and disease are dramatically higher…

…while access to education and even life expectancy are dramatically lower.

This is simply unacceptable in nations with the kind of wealth and privilege that we have in countries like Canada and the United States.

And while we've seen progress that has been nothing short of remarkable in the areas of gender rights, the rights of women, or the rights of the disabled…

…I don't think there's any one of us in this room who could say that our job is yet finished.

For too many people, human rights remain far from guaranteed. We continue to live in a world where there remains much suffering, much hurt and needless barrier to full opportunity.

So it begs the question:

Can we speed up the pace of progress?

I know we can.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights will be a place where we can knock down those hurdles faster.

If we've seen tremendous change in the last ten years, let's commit ourselves to accelerating the pace of change in the next ten.

And it's here that I want to talk about why our partnerships with teachers and schools and students like yourselves are so important for our museum.

As this assembly today makes clear:

The seed of change may be planted and nourished in rooms like this one…

…but taking a stand for human progress doesn't stop tomorrow afternoon when your assembly adjourns.

You recognize that.

It's the same with our museum.

Yes: You will be inspired, motivated and engaged while you're inside our magnificent building. But you're not going to be at the museum every day of the year.

And this is why over the past several years we've been working to build partnerships with schools and universities, teachers' organizations and human rights scholars across Canada.

Those relationships set the stage for one of the most important accomplishments from the past number of months, which has been the development of our Learning and Programming department.

We want to see the Canadian Museum for Human Rights have a very real benefit beyond our front doors.

In fact, with our educational partners, we're very deliberately trying to eliminate the boundaries between what we can offer inside the walls of our museum and the lessons and conversations you may have inside the classroom.

And here's a good recent example:

Just a few months ago, at the museum's annual public meeting, we announced a partnership with the 200,000 members of the Canadian Teachers' Federation.

Canada's teachers are already at the forefront of human rights education in this country.

It's our educational leaders, like those in this room today, who are already bringing age-appropriate learning around bullying, racism, gender, ability, sexual orientation and other issues into the classroom.

But what happens if teachers here in Winnipeg have developed an effective classroom resource that expands our kids' understanding of human rights issues?

Could there be a way that educators in Vancouver or Halifax or Montreal could also have access to those teaching tools?

Similarly, if teachers in other Canadian cities have put together innovative learning resources that are proving effective, could they be shared with teachers here?

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights and the Canadian Teachers' Federation have joined forces to make this happen.

Together, we have made a commitment to work with educators across Canada to build a nation-wide inventory of human rights teaching tools.

The result will be an unprecedented national toolkit for Canada's teachers –– a resource that will open the doors to new ways of teaching about human rights issues, and, we believe, will mark a new era in the way Canadian students…

…students like yourselves…

Learn about human rights.

The creation of a Canadian Museum for Human Rights is what allows us to undertake a national initiative on this scale.

In very real terms, this will be a tool that ensures that the kind of work you're doing at the conference today can be shared in meaningful ways with teachers and students across the country.

And, I know we have students here today from the United States.

I want to assure you that you will have full access to these kinds of resources. In fact, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights will always be open to you, both when you visit, but also each time you pick up your smartphone or open your computer.

As our director of new media likes to say, technology is a tool that enables dialogue.

Social media and the web have become essential tools both for conversation and action, and the museum's offerings will be available to you no matter where in the world you may be. In fact, your contributions from abroad will only enhance the experience we can offer to everyone.

With education at the heart of what we do, we have tremendous opportunity to leverage the contributions that each of us can make as individuals for the benefit of us all.

But the thought that I most want to leave you with…

…and the reason that I hope you'll come to feel the great sense of pride in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights that I do…

…begins with a slightly different take on a quote you've heard many times:

"Be the change."

"Be the change you want to see."

You've heard this as individuals. Perhaps it's even been mentioned during the course of this conference.

But we're taking it a step further. We're building it into the very fabric of a building and an organization.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is a place that both stands as a symbol of human rights, but also lives its values.

Ours is a museum where people of every ability will be able not just to feel welcome, but to actively participate.

And that's because we've changed the way that not only buildings, but exhibits are developed.

We have a national team of advisors, each of them with a disability, who are ensuring that inclusion isn't something we try and fit in. Instead, we ensure it's built in.

We consult directly with Aboriginal elders, as well as our Aboriginal youth advisory council.

Why? Because building a relationship of trust doesn't happen from the top down. It has to start before there's a shovel in the ground.

Right now we're doing the work of determining our admissions pricing. And yes, we need to look at a fair price that will cover our operating costs.

But we also look at another kind of fairness, and that's an organizational policy that will ensure there will never be a financial barrier to anyone who arrives at our doors.

A human rights museum must have its door open to all.

And, ours is a museum where if a person about your age asks if there will be washrooms in the museum that transgendered visitors will feel comfortable using…

…and we got this question at our annual public meeting, incidentally…

…the response isn't a bewildered look.

Rather, the response is, "Yes. Absolutely we will. Because this is your museum, and you will feel welcome here no matter what you look like, where you're from, or who you are."

So when you go back to your classrooms…

…know that there is a place…

…that there will always be a place…

…where the language of human rights is spoken freely, and where all people are celebrated, valued, accepted and welcome.

When you're in need of a moment of inspiration of your own, think of this place, and know that there is always at least one place where the light of human rights shines bright.

Share the kind of pride in this project that we at the museum do.

Embrace it as your own.

Stay in touch with us. Share your insights with us.

Next year, when we open our doors, come visit us.

And when you do, look forward to leaving full of ideas, full of new energy, and with new tools that will let you build on the kind of work you're doing together here in Winnipeg today.

Le Musée sera un centre éducatif national et je vous invite à venir nous visiter quand il ouvrira ses portes en 2014.

I look forward to our paths meeting again soon.

Thank you. Merci.

I'll now be happy to take any questions.