Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

International award for human rights lawyer Matas

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What do Antonio Banderas, Kofi Annan, Franco Zeffirelli and Winnipeg human rights lawyer David Matas have in common?

They're all recipients of the Carthage International Award.

Matas is in Rome today where he's receiving his prize in the "universal peace and defence of human rights" category. Annan, the former secretary-general of the United Nations, won the same award in 2008. Actor Banderas and director Zeffirelli won for their work in arts, culture and entertainment.

They're recognized for contributing to "the development and dissemination of culture and knowledge in various fields, in the supreme interest of the elevation and promotion of the progress of peoples, the search for truth, freedom, justice and peace and, therefore, of universal brotherhood," a translation from Accademia Premio Internazionale Cartagina's information said.

The Carthage awards are meant to honour the tradition of ancient Carthage as a cultural bridge among the nations of the then-known world in the Mediterranean. The awards began in 2001 and aim to bring that tradition forward to modern times by recognizing those whose activities unite people.

Matas sees the Carthage award as thanks for what is often thankless work.

"Advocating human rights over a prolonged period of time is difficult for a variety of reasons. One reason is that perpetrators often seem impervious to change. I have to wonder sometimes if anyone is listening," Matas said Wednesday.

The globe-trotting Matas, who began practising law in Manitoba in 1971, has lectured around the world on human rights issues. He's hunted Nazi war criminals, researched the harvesting of organs of imprisoned Falun Gong members in China, appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada many times and still represents newcomers and refugees in Winnipeg courtrooms.

Matas, who received the Order of Canada in 2009, was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 and has won many awards -- most recently, the University of Manitoba's 2014 Distinguished Alumni Award. In an email from Rome Wednesday, Matas said the recognition is encouraging, especially when it's international. "Winning this award in a place so far away from Winnipeg, from a jury functioning in a foreign language, is encouraging to me because it means that the concerns about the violations I have been addressing are being heard and taken seriously."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 10, 2014 A2

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