Photo credit: Human Rights Defenders World Summit. - Photo: 2018

World Summit Pledges To Protect Human Rights Defenders

By Jamshed Baruah

PARIS (IDN) – A diverse group of 150 human rights defenders from around the world, who gathered for a three-day summit in Paris, have agreed on a landmark action plan which will be presented to the United Nations in December.

The plan focuses on how to protect and promote the work of activists fighting for rights, 20 years on from the first UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, who spoke at the opening ceremony said: “What human rights defenders teach us is that all of us can stand up for our rights and for the rights of others, in our neighborhoods, in our countries and all over the world. We can change the world.”

The Summit discussed calls on Governments, corporations, international financial institutions, donors and others, including the adoption of national governmental action plans, implementation of legislation to legally uphold the UN declaration, protecting defenders as a priority in foreign policy and prioritizing the protection and work of women human rights defenders, LGBT+, indigenous rights defenders and other marginalized defenders.

Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said: “The level of danger facing activists worldwide has reached crisis point. Every day ordinary people are threatened, tortured, imprisoned and killed for what they fight for or simply for who they are. Now is the time to act and tackle the global surge in repression of human rights defenders.”

The closing ceremony on October 31 took place at the Palais de Chaillot, where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed 70 years ago.

Among those in attendance over the three days were Alice Mogwe, Secretary General of FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights) and the Director of Botswana Ditshwanelo; Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Matthew Caruana Galizia, who is calling for justice after his mother, Daphne Caruana Galizia, was assassinated one year ago in Malta; Anielle Franco, who is bravely campaigning on behalf of her sister, Marielle Franco, a Brazilian activist and elected councillor who was shot dead in her car seven months ago.

Hina Jilani, President of OMCT (the World Organisation Against Torture), founder of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, and the first UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders said: “States have never given us space. It is because of human rights defenders that there is space for civil society. Seeing you all here engaged in defending human rights, I am not too pessimistic. As a movement, we have never been as global as we are now. But we have to be clear to states: you need to live up to the challenge and speak out for defenders. Human rights don’t come for free.”

The Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), a global feminist organisation with over 5,000 individual and institutional members from 164 countries, was another participant in the Summit. AWID supports feminist, women’s rights, and gender justice movements to thrive, to be a driving force in challenging systems of oppression, and to co-create feminist realities.

Other major organizations attending the summit were:

Front Line Defenders, who work for the protection, security and well-being of human rights defenders at risk around the world, providing grants, training and capacity building in physical and digital protection, advocacy and campaigning/visibility for HRDs.

The International Service for Human Rights, which is an independent, non-governmental organisation dedicated to promoting and protecting human rights. We achieve this by supporting human rights defenders, strengthening human rights systems, and leading and participating in coalitions for human rights change., the European Union Human Rights Defenders mechanism, established to protect defenders at high risk and facing the most difficult situations worldwide. Led by a consortium of 12 NGOs active in the field of human rights.

Reporters Without Borders, or Reporters Sans Frontières, which an international non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Paris, France, that conducts political advocacy on issues relating to freedom of information and freedom of the press.

The summiteers noted that the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders endorsed in 1998 acknowledge the key role of human rights defenders. Despite progress in some areas, many governments are continuing to fall short of their commitments 20 years on from the first Summit and the global context in which human rights defenders operate in has become increasingly challenging.

Besides, democratic values are under threat and systemic corruption, extreme inequality and discrimination, religious fundamentalism and extremist policies are all on the rise, the 2018 Declaration notes.

“Alongside this, we have seen a concerted effort to undermine, discredit and kill human rights defenders. In 2017, at least 312 human rights defenders were assassinated, twice as many as in 2015, almost all with impunity for the perpetrators. The Action Plan hopes to tackle these injustices and support Human Rights Defenders to continue their critical work in a safe environment,” says the Declaration. [IDN-InDepthNews – 01 November 2018]

Photo credit: Human Rights Defenders World Summit.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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