International human rights advocate to share message with community

Canadian educator, nonprofit director and human rights advocate Catherine Morris is visiting Wrangell this week to share a message about human rights challenges that are playing out on the international stage.

After graduating from the University of Alberta law school in 1978, she began working in the University of Victoria's Institute for Dispute Resolution, where she served in leadership roles from 1992 to 1998. She founded the nonprofit organization Peacemakers Trust, which focuses on research and education in the fields of negotiation, international human rights, and peace and conflict studies.

Since 2011, she has represented Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada, a committee of Canadian lawyers who provide support to international human rights defenders, at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

As a member of Lawyers' Rights Watch, Morris advocates pro bono for journalists and political activists who are under attack for criticizing their governments, like Cambodian lawyer Theary Seng and Kem Sokha of the Cambodian National Rescue Party.

Her work involves extensive international travel to locations like Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Bolivia, Honduras and more.

During her lecture, Morris will discuss the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the significance that this document holds in the world today. The U.N. adopted the declaration on Dec. 10, 1948, in response to the atrocities of World War II. It outlines 30 freedoms that should be available to all people regardless of nationality, like freedom from slavery and from arbitrary detainment or exile.

The talk is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 15, at St. Philip's Episcopal Church. Admission is free.

Morris is often asked about the relationship between her Christian faith and her work in the secular field of international law. "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights basically gives a charge to everybody to provide respect for rights," she said in an interview last week. "To me, that's quite consistent with my understanding of the teachings of Jesus."

The U.N. declaration states that people of all faiths and nationalities deserve to live in freedom and dignity. This statement, said Morris, reflects Jesus' mandate that his followers love their neighbors. When, in the Gospel of Luke, a lawyer asks Christ "who is my neighbor," he responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan. In the parable, a member of an oppressed religious group provides lifesaving care to a member of the majority religion.

"My neighbor is the person whose path comes across mine," she said. The principles of non-discrimination are essential to both Christian doctrine and international law. "Treat others as you would like to be treated. No exceptions - everybody. Not just the people I like."

Despite the talk's connection to her Anglican faith, Morris hopes it will appeal to members of other churches and to non-religious community members. "I hope that many people will come to it just because they're curious about the topic," she said.

Morris has never lived in Wrangell, but has family ties on the island that motivate her frequent visits.


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