We all model our lives on stories we’ve heard and the people who exist in those stories. There are, of course, the biblical accounts of God’s people and Jesus. But there are also stories closer to home. The stories of our parents, grandparents, or people we hear about often make a profound impact on who we are and what we work at becoming.
This series looks at some of those stories as told by people within our Canadian Mennonite Brethren church family.
As a public school librarian, Judith Dueck never dreamed that one day two of her books would be the standard reference for human rights activity in every country in the world. Although she is recognized worldwide for her work, few people in her local church or the broader Mennonite Brethren community are aware of Judith’s international presence and impact.
Born and raised in Vancouver, B.C., Judith completed a BA at Simon Fraser and later a master’s degree in Manitoba. She spent a year at Mennonite Brethren Bible College in Winnipeg, where she met her future life partner Harold Dueck. Following marriage, Judith taught elementary and later high school in inner-city Winnipeg.
In the 1980s, she and Harold were asked by MCC to serve in Jerusalem with their two children, Jennifer and Adrian. It was a life-changing experience.
Viewing the archaeological digs with layers upon layers of civilization was thought-provoking for Judith. Civilizations had been built and then destroyed, only to be built again, and the process repeated itself over and over – with such waste of human energy and creativity.
Judith was seconded from MCC to be the administrative director for Al Haq, the West Bank branch of the International Commission of Jurists. Her interest in human rights was deepened as she heard stories of refugees and displaced people, as well as instances of torture, illegal imprisonment, and other unjust treatment. She began to understand the need for historical memory and documentation of what happens to people when their rights are violated.
At a conference in Rome with HURIDOCS (Human Rights Information and Documentation Systems International), Judith was asked to chair a task force to develop better documentation strategies regarding human rights violations. Over a period of years, she co-authored a two-volume manual: HURIDOCS Standard Formats: A Tool for Documenting Human Rights Violations, and Microthesaurii, a systematic terminology system consisting of 48 lists. Both have been translated into other languages and are used internationally. Judith has also had significant input in creating a human rights search engine, www.hurisearch.org.
Why is she so involved? Judith feels that the church should be at the leading edge of bettering civilization. “Jesus changed people and society. He was a radical – forcing the issues and preaching peace when it was not at all popular. He impacted the world, offering hope and dignity to each person regardless of nationality, gender, economic level – without discrimination. Jesus was, in fact, a human rights champion,” she says.
Judith is now creating tools to assist in the protection of others, which isn’t surprising since she’s always had a passion for finding the truth. Media, governments, and special interest groups often distort and manipulate truth for their own purposes. Judith has a passion to dig beneath the story for truth with its many colors – and then use that truth to defend the basic rights of others.
Currently, Judith is a human rights consultant, the vice-chair of HURIDOCS, and a board member for Amnesty International Canada. She has had the privilege of meeting many human rights activists, many who risk their lives to protect others.
She believes that as a Christian, she, along with others in the church, must help create a world that’s a better place because they have been in it.