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Updated: Mon, 30 Sep 2013 11:04:25 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Baird denounces sexual violence in speech to UN assembly

Baird denounces sexual violence in speech to UN assembly

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird used Canada's turn at the podium before the United Nations General Assembly Monday to speak out on sexual violence against women and girls, including forced marriage and systemic rape.

"Forced marriage is rape, it is violence against women. Early marriage is child rape, and violence against young girls."

Baird drew attention to Canada's Muskoka initiative to improve women and children's health, in advocating for greater participation by women to help "build a stronger, more secure, more prosperous and more peaceful world."

Baird also denounced "the crime of terror" and paid tribute to a Canadian diplomat killed in an attack on a shopping mall in Kenya last week as he addressed the United Nations General Assembly Monday morning.

Annemarie Desloges, 29, was one of two Canadians who died in the attack by al-Qaeda-linked Somali fighters on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi. Vancouver-area businessman Naguib Damji also died in the attack.

In a speech that included references to the ancient poet Homer and philosopher Cicero, Baird made the "oneness of humankind" the theme of his address at the start of the second week of the world body's opening session. He noted that the United Nations' charter begins with the words, "We the peoples."

"Not, 'We the countries," or "we the governments.'" Baird said. "Not 'we the political leaders. We the peoples.'"

"Canada’s government doesn’t seek to have our values or our principled foreign policy validated by elites who would rather 'go along to get along,'" Baird said, echoing words he has used before.

And he seemed to defend Canada's recent criticism of events in events countries, including Russia's anti-gay propaganda law and the treatment of religious minorities in some Muslim countries, saying it is impossible to protect some human rights and freedoms while infringing others.

Humanity, dignity

"All freedoms are rooted in the inherent dignity of human beings. Whether the issue is religious freedom, sexual freedom, political freedom or any other freedom, some people ask: What business is it of ours? What interest do we have in events outside our borders?

"Our business is a shared humanity. Our interest is the dignity of humankind," Baird said.

The wide-ranging speech, delivered to a largely empty assembly hall, also touched on Canada's participation in trade talks, on Syria and Iran and on peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in New York last week for a panel on child maternal health. He has addressed the General Assembly twice, most recently in 2010, and has faced criticism from the NDP and academics and former diplomats for not giving the address himself.

Harper has countered that Canada's prime minister has not traditionally appeared at the assembly year year.

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