Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the dozens of countries gathered for a meeting of la Francophonie that there is no excuse for violence against women and girls, female genital mutilation and lack of safe access to abortion.
"That's enough. There is no excuse for such practices, for such violations of their fundamental rights," Trudeau said in Antananarivo, Madagascar, to applause from representatives of the International Organization of la Francophonie.
He also took issue with the treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. He said members of the LGBT communities are suffering in too many countries, including members of la Francophonie.
The global group of 80 governments and states from mainly French-speaking nations includes nearly a dozen in Africa where sexual acts between same-sex couples are illegal. In some others, including the host country of Madagascar, homosexuality is frowned upon or otherwise not tolerated.
"Because we're all family here, let's tell each other the truth," said Trudeau. "We owe them the same respect, the same rights and the same dignity as all other members of our society," he said.
The challenges of achieving such equality were evident in Trudeau's visit to Liberia on Thursday. The country has a law prohibiting sodomy, but President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson denied the country had any anti-gay laws.
She has repeatedly said publicly that her country wants to maintain "traditional values."
Trudeau did not mention the topic of human rights when he began his speech by offering condolences on behalf of all Canadians on the death of Fidel Castro. The former Cuban leader died Friday night at the age of 90.
Trudeau called Castro "a longtime friend of Canada" and mentioned that just last week he met with three of Castro's sons along with brother, President Raul Castro during his first official visit to Cuba.
In a written statement, Trudeau went on to praise Fidel Castro as a "a larger than life leader" and " legendary revolutionary and orator."
"While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro's supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for "el Comandante", said the statement.
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Castro's one-party system kept him in power for almost five decades. While he has been praised as a revolutionary icon, he was deeply divisive. Critics have called him a dictator.
French President François Hollande said la Francophonie was a place for solidarity in light of terror attacks that have hit several member countries.
He mentioned specifically France, Mali, Belgium, Tunisia, Chad, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast.
"We are targets because French is the language of logic, liberty and emancipation. Because it is French that the universality of the rights of man and of the citizen were declared and that is what fanatics do not accept."
Madagascar President Hery Rajaonarimampianina and and Senegal President Macky Sall also talked about the security concerns that have impacted their countries and other members of la Francophonie.
Trudeau talked about the need to fight radicalism with a prevention strategy that celebrates diversity and involves constant dialogue with minority communities.
Economic growth, the fight against climate change and the need to engage youth were also recurring themes in the speeches to mark the opening of the summit.
Rights views tested over Saudi Arabia
The question of human rights was also centre stage in a discussion behind closed doors about Saudi Arabia.
The country is seeking observer status in the International Organization of La Francophonie. There are several observer nations that are not primarily francophone, including the United Arab Emirates and Costa Rica.
Quebec has publicly raised concerns about the application. Premier Philippe Couillard questioned not only the lack of French in the country, but also raised concerns about human rights, including the treatment of women and limits on freedom of expression. During the meeting he spoke in favour of postponing the decision to get more information about Saudi Arabia's application. Trudeau intervened in favour of that position.
Countries including Morocco, Senegal, Benin and Gabon took the position that Saudi Arabia should be admitted and that to do otherwise would be to treat the country differently than other states that have applied for observer status.
Ultimately, the group decided to put off the decision about Saudi Arabia's candidacy until the next summit two years from now. In the meantime, a special committee will gather more information about the country's application.