New Chair's Blog

21.03.2013

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New Post - 21 March 2013

I was honoured to become the Chair of IHRA at a handover ceremony held at the Canadian Embassy in Berlin on March 5, 2013. We were privileged to have with us representatives from IHRA member countries and special guests from Germany and Canada, including Canada’s Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney.

Following the IHRA handover, a separate special art restitution ceremony took place at the Canadian Embassy.  The ceremony marked the return of a painting from a German museum to the Max Stern Art Restitution Project, which is led by Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, acting on behalf of the executors of the Estate of Max Stern and its three university beneficiaries (Concordia and McGill Universities in Montreal and Hebrew University in Jerusalem).

I arrived in Berlin via Kiev, where I attended several high-level meetings with Minister Kenney, who was extremely helpful in promoting IHRA in the Ukraine.  During the Canadian Chair year, I will encourage Ukraine to attend IHRA meetings or events as a special guest and to join IHRA as an observer country. I would also like to note the deep impact I felt during my visit to Ukraine with Minister Kenney to several memorial sites, including Babi Yar and the Holdomor. 

Shortly following the handover, I conducted my first country visits to meet with Heads of Delegation and Working Group experts.  The purpose of these meetings was to obtain further insight into the views of delegations on various issues on the IHRA’s agenda, including the multi-year work plan, Working Groups, and country reporting mechanism.

I first travelled to Vienna along with Klara Steele, Canada’s Deputy Head of Delegation.  We met with members of the Austrian delegation to IHRA, Gregor Schusterschitz, Hannah Lessing and Dr. Heidemarie Uhl.  In addition to the general agenda items, the meeting also provided me with the opportunity to discuss relevant questions regarding the work of the Legal Drafting Group, which has been so ably led by Gregor Schusterschitz over the past years.

The following day, Klara and I went to Prague and had a wonderful opportunity to meet with Austrian Ambassador Ferdinand Trauttmansdorff, who chaired the ITF/IHRA in 2008.  The insights and assistance provided by Ambassador Trauttmansdorff were greatly appreciated.  We also met with members of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including the Head of Delegation, Dr. Veronika Bajgarova, who is the Director of Human Rights and Transition Policy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and her colleagues Mr. Jiří Kalašnikov and Mr. Jiří  Čistecký. We had a useful discussion on current IHRA issues and discussed the work of the European Shoah Legacy Institute.

On March 8, I spoke at an event at the UN in Geneva on the topic of “Prevention of Mass Atrocities – Regional Perspectives,” sponsored by the Government of Hungary and co-sponsored by the Canadian and Ethiopian Missions, where I stressed the importance of education, research and remembrance of the Holocaust for preventing other atrocities.

Back in Berlin on March 11, upon invitation of the Permanent Office, I met with several members of the German delegation, Dr. Wolf Kaiser, Dr. Juliane Wetzel and Dr. Thomas Lutz, where we had a very useful discussion on Working Groups and the multi-year work plan. I am also grateful to Dr. Wolf Kaiser, Director of the Educational Department of the House of the Wannsee Conference in Berlin, who took the time to tour and explain the historical details of the site.

I then had the opportunity to travel to Bern and Stockholm on March 12 and 14 with Dr. Kathrin Meyer.  In Bern, I met with the new Swiss Head of Delegation, Ambassador Benno Bättig, Secretary General of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.  Together with two of his colleagues from the Swiss delegation, I discussed the current IHRA agenda.

While in Stockholm, the Head of Delegation, Dr. Eskil Franck, invited us to a meeting with some of his colleagues and members of the Swedish delegation to the Living History Forum. We were also received at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs for consultations with Mr. Per Sjögren, Dr. Per Bergling, and Ms. Teresia Ståhle. I also met with Ambassador Hans Olsson of the Department for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, who is responsible for the Raoul Wallenberg Case.  Mr. Wallenberg became Canada’s first honorary citizen in 1985, and earlier this year Canada Post issued a commemorative stamp to recognize his exceptional courage.

Together, these meetings were very helpful and I look forward to many more country visits throughout the Chair year.

One of my key organizational objectives for the Chair year is to raise the profile and good work of IHRA internationally through enhanced external communications. From the Chairmanship page on IHRA’s new website, you are able to access my Twitter account and find this Chair’s blog for regular updates on activities I will undertake on behalf of IHRA.