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Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma: Congratulations on Geneva Summit Courage Award

Honourable senators, I rise today to honour this year's recipients of the prestigious Geneva Summit Courage Award. This award is presented each year at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy to acknowledge the ongoing dedication and sacrifice of international human rights activists. Recipients are selected by a 25-member NGO coalition spearheaded by UN Watch. This year, Venezuelan opposition leaders Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma have been recognized with this honour.

Leopoldo Lopez, leader of the Popular Will party, was sentenced to serve nearly 14 years in prison for inciting violence during the 2014 protest. Last Thursday, February 18, marked the second anniversary of his incarceration in the Ramo Verde military prison.

Antonio Ledezma, mayor of Venezuela's capital, Caracas, was detained in February 2015 for allegedly plotting a coup. He is awaiting trial under house arrest.

In the words of UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer, both men were chosen for the award ". . . for inspiring the world with their extraordinary courage in the defense of liberty and universal human rights."

Mr. Lopez and Mr. Ledezma embody the plight of hundreds of Venezuelans persecuted for peacefully opposing their government. This award reaffirms international support for the ongoing struggle of the people of Venezuela. Today I encourage Canadian parliamentarians and Canadians to stand with the members of the Geneva Summit Courage Award selection coalition in recognition of Mr. Lopez' and Mr. Ledezma's bravery.

Since early February 2014, Venezuela has been seized by frequent and violent political struggles. Shortages of basic necessities, such as food and life-saving medications, and rising inflation coupled with depleted national reserves have crippled the country. United in discontent, the people of Venezuela elected the first opposition-controlled Parliament in nearly 16 years on December 6, 2015.

The newly elected legislature has been tasked with finding a viable and sustainable solution to the challenges facing Venezuela. We should call on all parliamentarians to work together in Venezuela for political, economic and social reconciliation. This must include the immediate release of all political prisoners, including Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma. We call particularly on President Maduro to work with the new legislature for the benefit of the people of Venezuela.

Noting the Motion to Urge the Government of Venezuela to Immediately End all Unlawful Acts of Violence and Repression against Civilians, adopted in this chamber on March 12, 2015, I again stand today in solidarity with the people of Venezuela, urging the Government of Venezuela to uphold the principles of human rights and the rule of law. Thank you, honourable senators.