Nazanin Afshin-Jam, former Miss World Canada 2003, received the Human Rights Hero Award from Youth for Human Rights International and the Human Rights Department of the Church of Scientology International Friday for her human rights actions and particularly her courage and persistence in assisting a young woman in Iran seek justice. The award was presented by Academy-award nominated actor and human rights activist Anne Archer at the "Making Human Rights a Global Reality" Summit held at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
Ms. Afshin-Jam was recognized for her efforts in fighting the death penalty against an 18-year-old woman in Iran who was sentenced to hang for stabbing one of three men who tried to rape her and her niece. Starting a petition three months ago which has now gained over 210,000 signatures world-wide, international pressure she generated helped the woman gain a new trial which observers hope will now be just.
With over 500 attendees from forty countries around the world in attendance, Canada was well-represented as Ms. Afshin-Jam and fellow Canadian Maxim Weithers were two of the five individuals presented with the Human Rights Hero Awards for their exceptional dedication to human rights. Other awardees were Joseph Jay Yarsiah, a teenager from Liberia, Teresa Cheung, from Hong Kong and Luce Berking, a young native Samoan from New Zealand. Mr. Weithers received the award for his dedicated work in promoting human rights in Canada through publicizing the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights which is the basis of the Youth for Human Rights campaign.
The pinnacle of Summit was the international premiere of thirty dramatic public service announcements, produced in 17 languages, each one illustrating one of the thirty articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The PSAs had so much impact that they brought the crowd to its feet with attendees beginning to enthusiastically discuss how to use and promote these learning tools in their countries to make human rights a reality.
The creative force behind the public service ads, 22-year old award-winning director and filmmaker, Taron Lexton, spoke about his vision in creating these human rights messages. Mr. Lexton said, “I know a film maker can change the world. I poured everything I had into these PSAs, because people everywhere have a right to know their human rights.”
The Summit attendees were welcomed to the United Nations by Mr. Enzo Di Taranto on behalf of the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights. Keynote speakers included Hans Janitschek, President of the UN Society of Writers who described the vital role of artists in bringing about reform and in implementing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Reverend John Carmichael, President of the Church of Scientology of New York, who explained why his church put such emphasis on the urging of its founder L. Ron Hubbard that "human rights must be made a fact, not an idealistic dream."
Tim Bowles, Executive Director of Youth for Human Rights International, who opened the weekend, summarized the importance of the United Nations and human rights education globally.
"Imagine how different this world would appear if member nations had implemented real human rights education from the late 1940s. We would not care to imagine how our global civilization might appear if we fail now to take effective action on teaching human rights universally to our next generation."
Co-organized by Youth for Human Rights International, the Human Rights Department of the Church of Scientology International, the International Foundation for Human Rights and Tolerance, and Artists for Human Rights, the Summit was preceded by a human rights art exhibit at the prestigious Westwood Gallery in New York City's Soho district. A concert entitled, “Artists Taking a Stand for Human Rights,” entertained 2,000 in Union Square Park after the Summit's conclusion.