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Winnipegger Kevin Freedman is a former CUPE activist with a passion for human rights that took him to Indonesia to work as a Peace Brigades International volunteer. He met with Ottawa activists and government agencies in mid-November to talk about his experience.

Freedman’s job was to provide non-violent protection to local human rights activists in Papua, Indonesia. He sought out PBI, trained in Germany and studied the Indonesian language in Jakarta before moving to Papua for a year.

“My earliest experience with human rights concerns was through my CUPE jobs,” Freedman says. “In fact, I found that human rights was tied directly to labour rights.”

Freedman worked for about seven years as a lifeguard at inner-city swimming pools (Local 500) where “management wasn’t very responsible and I saw the results in human rights terms. I also saw a lot of patrons of the pool who didn’t have the same benefits that I had.” As a worker at a Salvation Army homeless shelter (Local 2348), Freedman came into front-line contact with human rights abuses.

At his Nov. 13, 2007, Ottawa presentation, Freedman illustrated how different human rights work can be in countries like Indonesia compared to Canada. He also explained why he chose PBI.

“It had principles that I supported,” he said in an interview. “It does not take a colonial approach to aid work. It supports local activists who are concerned about human, labour and women’s rights, the environment and other civil society issues. PBI uses only non-violent political methods to protect people locally.”

What does he bring to his international work from his days as a CUPE shop steward? “With globalization today, international labour solidarity is essential. People are experiencing the same labour issues across borders. Many people, who don’t have the same labour rights that we have here, are being abused by the same western companies we work for.”

Freedman returned to Winnipeg in August and recently was awarded the 2007 Peace Medal by the local YM-YWCA for his work in Indonesia.