GENEVA, June 21, 2019 – A packed audience gathered at Geneva’s Hotel President Wilson last week to honor Stephen Harper, Canada’s 22nd Prime Minister, one of history’s greatest defenders of Israel, and to celebrate the accomplishments of UN Watch at the human rights group’s annual gala dinner.
Before an audience of United Nations ambassadors and community leaders, UN Watch also honored Cuban dissident Rosa María Payá with its human rights award, and former Miss Iraq Sarah Idan with its Ambassador for Peace Award.
Attendees also heard remarks from Israeli Ambassador Aviva Raz Schechter, UN Watch Chairman Ambassador Alfred Moses and Executive Director Hillel Neuer.
Canada’s 22nd Prime Minister Wins 2019 Moral Courage Award
Stephen Harper, who served as Canada’s Prime Minister from 2006 to 2015, was presented with the 2019 Moral Courage Award for his principled stance in the face of anti-Israeli bigotry at the United Nations and on the international scene.
Harper said that he shares UN Watch’s belief “that a truly global forum is very much required in the complex and interdependent world that we live in today,” but that the United Nations fails in its duties most consistently in its biased treatment toward Israel.
“Like all congenital critics of Israel, the UN’s behavior does not reflect any balanced or even any rational evaluation of Israel as a society, but rather it reflects the ideology of those the world over who deny the very legitimacy of Israel and do so simply because it is a Jewish state,” Harper said. “I opposed this ideology vehemently during my time as Prime Minister because it’s wrong, but also because Israel is a vital friend and ally of my country, Canada.”
Following his initial remarks, Mr. Harper was interviewed on stage by UN Watch Board Member Guy Spier, where he shared his experiences of standing up for Israel at world summits, defying heavy international pressure.
“When you’ve got the facts and the right on your side, you should never be hesitant to see any battle through, whether it’s in politics, or business, or anything else,” he said.
Harper continued to explain that supporting Israel was pragmatic for Canada based on the alignment of the countries’ security and economy interests, as well as their shared values.
“Israel is on the front lines against the things that most threaten our Western societies. If we abandon our ally in that position, the threats are not going to go away, they’re going to come directly to our own shores,” he said. “Those who do not stand by Israel are quite frankly undermining their own long term interests and they are doing so for crass and short-term interests.”
Cuban Dissident Rosa María Payá Wins Human Rights Award
UN Watch presented its 2019 Morris B. Abram Human Rights Award to Cuban dissident Rosa María Payá for her “courageous defense of democracy and human rights.”
The award was presented by Maria-Alejandra Aristeguieta, Venezuelan Interim President Juan Guaido’s Ambassador-designate in Switzerland, a long-time partner of UN Watch in the struggle for human rights in that country.
Payá is the daughter of renowned Cuban dissident and democracy advocate Oswaldo Payá, who was killed in 2012 under mysterious circumstances. Today, Payá carries on the work of her father as the leader of the Cuba Decide, a non-partisan group calling for a national referendum on the question of holding free, democratic elections in Cuba.
Upon receiving the award, Payá recognized Cuba’s countless political prisoners and those who have dedicated their lives to the cause of Cuban freedom.
“With this great honor, you give me the opportunity to raise the voice of the Cuban people, who each day, are stripped of their human rights and dignity by the ruling regime,” she said.
Payá called on UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet to speak out against gross human rights violations perpetrated by the Cuban regime against its own citizens and against people throughout Latin America, including in Venezuela.
“We need to denounce the false legitimacy of a Cuban constitution that seeks to perpetuate the regime and to denounce the false legitimacy of the President and Communist party leader, given that they have been never elected by the people of Cuba in free, fair, and multi-party elections,” she said.
In recognition of her UN Watch award, Miami-Dade County held a special ceremony to present Payá with a commendation on Tuesday.
Miss Iraq Sarah Idan Honored with Ambassador for Peace Award
Sarah Idan, who as Miss Iraq in 2017 faced death threats for posting a photo of herself with Miss Israel, received UN Watch’s Ambassador for Peace Award in recognition of her efforts to build grassroots connections between Arabs and Israelis to foster peace.
“Sarah Idan was chosen for her courageous and extraordinary actions to promote tolerance, build bridges for peace, and spread a message of hope and unity,” said Hillel Neuer, UN Watch Executive Director.
“In face of horrific threats, she has become an online advocate for peace, and a fearless opponent of terrorism, hatred and antisemitism, famously taking on the atrocities of Hamas, as well as its apologists such as activist Linda Sarsour, musician Roger Waters and CNN’s Marc Lamont Hill.”
Idan spoke about being heavily influenced by her tumultuous childhood in Baghdad, where she longed for a peaceful and normal life amid bombings and war.
“You’re not honoring me alone, you are honoring millions of people who just want to live normally — Arabs, Israelis, and all of the people in the world deserve to live with dignity and peace,” Idan said at the ceremony.