The Canadian Tribute to Human Rights

Art as a Social Statement

The Canadian Tribute to Human Rights has been created in the belief that public art can make a social statement and play a role in mobilizing citizens to awareness and action. The Tribute marks in public space the importance of human rights in our society, based on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Symbols are an important part of individual and collective consciousness. They are few and far between in pragmatic North American culture.

Work is essential for social change, but so too are powerful symbols that can transform people’s hearts. They point to the changes needed in the world around us. For example, in 1980 as one of its first actions, the newly formed Polish trade union Solidarność erected a commemorative monument in Gdansk which embodied society’s sacrifices and aspirations.

The Canadian Tribute to Human Rights, Canada’s Human Rights Monument, is both a powerful and empowering symbol. It suggests a new approach to power - power sharing rather than dominance, power based on the recognition of rights, on empowerment of the person and the community.

The Tribute, the artistic cousin of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, clearly articulates what we consider most important for our future.

Human community has its social foundation in the enjoyment of equal rights and freedoms by each citizen, as well as in the protection of specially defined minority rights. The struggle for freedom, justice and equality rights is as old as human history. In Canada today, we reap the benefits of the struggles of generations for the basic conditions of human dignity. But these efforts are far from concluded.

Many rights have been entrenched in landmark Canadian documents such as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as provincial bills of rights. Internationally, they have been enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent covenants and conventions. The Canadian Tribute to Human Rights calls to mind the centrality of human rights in many of today’s political debates and social struggles, and the need to strengthen and broaden international standards for human rights adherence. One example is the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child adopted in 1989.

September 30th, 1990 was the date of the unveiling of the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights, the world’s first monument dedicated to the struggle for fundamental rights and freedoms. This monumental sculpture symbolizes the commitment of Canadians to live in a society based on justice, human dignity and fundamental rights. It is built to the design of Montreal artist Melvin Charney.

This inspired symbol will remind our leaders, sensitize our visitors and teach our children that human rights are the cornerstone of human community and that, until the rights of all are respected, none are secure.

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