From the Editor: Irwin Cotler nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

From the Editor: Irwin Cotler nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

By Michael Regenstreif, Editor

Irwin Cotler has been nominated for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.

A legendary professor of law at McGill University in Montreal, Cotler is a familiar figure in Ottawa from his 16-year stint from 1999 until 2015 as a Liberal MP and for his cabinet tenure as minister of justice and attorney general.

Cotler, who served as president of the Canadian Jewish Congress from 1980 to 1983, founded the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights after leaving Parliament and has been nominated for the Nobel for his life’s work as one of the world’s leading human rights activists – particularly as an international human rights lawyer acting on behalf of political prisoners.

Among the most notable “prisoners of conscience” that Cotler has fought for is Nelson Mandela, one of the world’s most inspirational figures, who went on to serve as South Africa’s first post-apartheid president. Another is Natan Sharansky, a Jewish leader in the Soviet Union who went on to serve as a member of Israel’s Knesset and cabinet minister – and who just recently retired after a long tenure as chair of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Sharansky is a vocal supporter of Cotler’s nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. In a letter of support to the Nobel committee, Sharansky refers to Cotler’s “tireless efforts on my behalf when I was a political prisoner in the former Soviet Union (1977-1986). By bringing my case, like that of many other such victims of injustice whose cases he championed, to the attention of the international community, Professor Cotler played a direct and central role in my release.”

Another supporter of Cotler’s nomination is Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the Egyptian founder of the Arab Human Rights Organization, who was arrested for treason and jailed in 2000 by the Mubarak regime, and who credits Cotler’s intervention in his case for helping to secure his acquittal in 2003.

Cotler has also been at forefront of the fight for justice for Jews who were expelled or forced to flee from Arab and Muslim countries in the years following the establishment of the State of Israel. In a 2007 interview, Cotler told me that Jewish refugees were expunged from the human rights agenda over the decades as well as from the agendas of any peace talks that have taken place.

He has also been a major figure in helping us understand what he refers to as a “new kind of anti-Semitism”: anti-Semitism that masquerades as anti-Zionism and targets “the collective Jew among the nations.”

Paul Martin, prime minister of Canada while Cotler was justice minister and attorney general, is another supporter of the Nobel nomination.

“I can personally attest to the fact that Professor Irwin Cotler is relentless in his campaign for human rights for all individuals. His efforts deserve to be encouraged and granting him the Nobel Peace Prize will have enormous benefit in the continuing fight for freedom and universal human rights,” wrote Martin in his letter to the Nobel Committee.

This was not the first time Cotler has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Searching the web, I found references to previous nominations in 2008, 2010 and 2016 and surely the Nobel jury has a difficult time in making its choice each year – last year there were 331 candidates – but Irwin Cotler would be a most worthy recipient.