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2003 Winner Georgette Gagnon

Georgette Gagnon of Toronto was named the 2003 recipient of the Walter S. Tarnopolsky Human Rights Award. The award was presented at the annual meeting of ICJ Canada, held on Aug. 18, 2003 at the Canadian Legal Conference.

Professor Ed Ratushny, then-President of the Canadian Section of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) recognized Ms. Gagnon for being a distinguished defender of human rights who had demonstrated time and again her profound commitment to advancing human rights. He noted that her work was characterized by a rare combination of the highest professional standards and sensitivity for people in vulnerable situations.

Until June 25, 2003, Ms. Gagnon served as Director of Human Rights for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina, a post she held for two years. Ms. Gagnon and her staff of 150 worked tirelessly to address the situation of the nearly two million citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina who were made refugees or internally displaced by the 1992-1995 war.

Under Ms. Gagnon’s leadership, the OSCE Mission has been credited with remarkable achievements in assisting citizens to repossess property they lost during the war, enabling thousands of refugees and displaced persons to return to their pre-war homes and communities. When she became director of human rights, only 30 per cent of property claims had been resolved. Ms. Gagnon and her team helped bring that ratio to 82 per cent by the end of May 2003.

Ms. Gagnon also contributed significantly to other important human-rights-related work in Bosnia and Herzegovina, including strengthening the rule of law, advancing the rights of the Roma minority and implementing measures to eliminate ethnic discrimination in employment, education and public services and to facilitate return throughout the region.

Since 1999, Ms. Gagnon had also been actively involved in human rights issues in Sudan. Her efforts focused on documenting the human rights impact of transnational business actors operating in war-torn countries and developing legislative mechanisms to hold such actors accountable for the human rights consequences of their activities in conflict zones, and on preventing slavery. She served on the Canadian Assessment Mission to Sudan (the “Harker Mission”) that investigated links between Canadian oil development and human rights violations in Sudan as well as slavery. In 2001, Ms. Gagnon led a mission to Sudan that investigated and reported on the human rights situation in the oil region for Canadian and British non-governmental organizations. In 2002, she served as the legal/technical advisor to an International Eminent Persons Group, mandated by the US Secretary of State, that investigated slavery, abduction and forced servitude in Sudan and recommended practical measures to stop those abuses.

Ms. Gagnon also served in key roles in projects to strengthen human rights and the rule of law in China, India and Rwanda and for the Canadian Human Rights Foundation. She was called to the Bar of Ontario in 1986 and received her LL.M with Distinction in International Human Rights Law from the University of Essex in Britain in 1998.

Please click pdfhere to read the remarks given by 2003 Tarnopolsky award winner Georgette Gagnon.