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Rosalie Silberman Abella speaks on "Identity, Diversity, and Human Rights" at Harvard

March 1, 2010

In a talk at Harvard University on "Identity, Diversity, and Human Rights," Canada Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella shared her family's Holocaust story and explained how it informs her view of human rights.

The daughter of Auschwitz survivors, Abella was born in a displaced-persons camp in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1946. Her family’s experience led her to a passion for human rights and a career in law. At age 29, she became Canada’s youngest judge and the first to be sworn in while pregnant. In 2004, she became first Jewish woman to serve on the Canadian Supreme Court.

In her speech at Harvard, Abella noted the many laws, treaties, and conventions that emerged after World War II, all of which stated that the global community would not tolerate further human rights abuses. She went on to list the many human rights violations that have since occurred in direct contradiction to these promises, many of them without punishment or repercussions.

In her speech at Harvard, Abella called for a reconsideration of the rule of law, a concept she said has too often given legal sanction to human rights abuses. “We need the rule of justice,” she said, “not the rule of law.” She spoke in support of the “tools of justice” that aid rightfulness, including due process, a free press, the right of association, and protection for minorities.

Abella also questioned the United Nations’ ability to bring about justice, noting its repeated failure to enforce its values in the face of recurring human rights abuses. “We need more than the rhetoric of justice,” she said, asking, “Is the United Nations the best we can do?”

To learn more about Rosalie Silberman Abella, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.

Sources: Passionate advocate of human rights, The Harvard Gazette; Supreme Court of Canada.

Abella, Rosalie - still image [media]
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Justice Rosalie Abella's life has been a series of "firsts": She was Canada's first Jewish woman judge and the country’s youngest ever. She was the first woman chair of the Ontario Labour Relations Board and the first woman in the British Commonwealth to become the head of a Law Reform Commission. In August 2004, she was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada, becoming the first Jewish woman to sit on the Canadian Supreme Court bench. Abella is shown here in a photograph taken in 1983.

Institution: Justice Rosalie Abella

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Rosalie Silberman Abella speaks on "Identity, Diversity, and Human Rights" at Harvard." (Viewed on August 2, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/mar/01/2010/rosalie-silberman-abella>.

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