Human rights campaigner Lord Alton of Liverpool to lecture at 2022 Nanovic Forum

Author: Gráinne McEvoy

Official Portrait Of Lord Alton Of Liverpool
Lord Alton of Liverpool

David Alton (Professor Lord Alton of Liverpool), a British parliamentarian known for his human rights work, will deliver the Nanovic Forum Lecture at 5 p.m. on Feb. 15 in the auditorium of the Hesburgh Center for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame. Hosted by the Nanovic Institute for European Studies, this event is free and open to the public.

In a lecture titled “A View from the UK Parliament: What We Must Do to Combat Genocide,” Alton will discuss the repeated failure to avert genocide in places like Europe’s Balkans and now in Xinjiang. He will reflect on his work for a forthcoming co-authored book exploring the crime of genocide, outline the ways in which authoritarian regimes—from Russia to China—have undermined the United Nations’ Genocide Convention, and explain the Genocide Amendment, which he pioneered through the UK Parliament in 2021.

“We very much look forward to welcoming Lord Alton to Notre Dame,” said Clemens Sedmak, director of the Nanovic Institute and professor of social ethics in the Keough School of Global Affairs. “As a parliamentarian and campaigner, and as a Roman Catholic, Lord Alton has dedicated his life to highlighting human rights abuses and some of the most heinous crimes committed against marginalized peoples around the world. As well as demanding that the perpetrators be held to account, he has persisted in asking difficult questions about how the international community can do more to prevent such atrocities from recurring time and again. We look forward to benefiting from Lord Alton’s wisdom and engaging in challenging conversations during his visit.”

Alton began his career as a teacher working in socially disadvantaged neighborhoods. Active in politics since his teenage years, he was elected to Liverpool City Council in 1972 and became, at the age of 21, Britain’s youngest City Councillor. In 1979, he took his seat in the House of Commons as the Member of Parliament for Liverpool Edge Hill representing the Liberal Party. Alton remained a Member of the House of Commons for 18 years until 1997 when he was nominated to the House of Lords where he sits as an Independent Life Peer. During his career working in both Houses of Parliament, Alton has served as spokesman, committee member, and campaigner on a variety of issues from the environment and overseas aid to human rights and religious liberty issues. Since 2020, he has served on the House of Lords International Relations and Defence Select Committee.

David Alton Everyone Knows Someone poster
A campaign poster for the Liverpool Edge Hill by-election of 1979 in which Alton was elected to the House of Commons.

The centerpieces of Alton’s long career have been his campaigns for human rights and the sanctity of human life in Britain, Europe, and around the world. From within the British parliament and through extensive international travel, Alton has highlighted human rights abuses and genocidal activities against groups such as Chinese Muslim Uighurs; Rohingya Muslims; Christians and Yazidis from Syria and Iraq; and the peoples of Darfur and Rwanda. His work has also drawn attention to threats to religious freedom and the plight of Jewish and Christian dissidents in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. He has received numerous international awards and honors in recognition of his activism, including being conferred a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory in 2008 in recognition of his work for human rights and religious liberty.

In December 2020, speaking at an event on atrocities against the Uighur people in Xinjiang organized by the Simon-Skjodt Center at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Alton criticized the indifference and silence of the international community that, he says, had allowed the Chinese Communist Party to “repeat the horrific excesses of the past.” Instead, he insisted, “those who have eyes should not avert them, those who have ears should use them to hear the cries for help, and those who have voices have a duty to raise them.”

The Nanovic Forum deepens Notre Dame’s rich tradition of connections to Europe by bringing European leaders from a variety of academic, cultural, and professional fields to campus to discuss issues of major importance in Europe today. Established in 2011, the forum is sponsored by Robert and Elizabeth Nanovic.

“For more than a decade, the Nanovic Forum has provided an opportunity to connect all branches of the Notre Dame community to Europe through deep discussion and reflection on important issues such as dissent, human rights, freedom of thought, and reconciliation,” said Sedmak. “As with previous speakers, Lord Alton’s forum will set the stage for conversations across campus. During his visit, there will be opportunities for students and faculty to engage with Lord Alton in smaller, more informal settings, in ways that we hope will inspire ideas and engagement across our community. As always, we continue to be grateful to Bob and Liz Nanovic for the generosity that makes the forum and its surrounding events possible.”

Past speakers in the Nanovic Forum have included Myroslav Marynovych, Ukrainian human rights activist and Gulag survivor; David O’Sullivan, former ambassador of the EU to the U.S.; Janne Haaland Matláry, former state secretary of Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Horst Koehler, former president of Germany; and other prominent leaders in education, law, government, and the arts.

The Nanovic Institute for European Studies at the University of Notre Dame is an interdisciplinary home for students and faculty to explore the evolving ideas, cultures, beliefs, histories, and institutions that shape Europe today. As part of the Keough School of Global Affairs, the institute is helping to advance integral human development through research, policy, and practice.

A complete list of the Nanovic Forum series and a video archive of the past lectures are available on the Nanovic Institute website. More information on Lord Alton may be found on his website.