Hillel Neuer, international lawyer, diplomat, activist and Executive Director of UN Watch, addresses the 8th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.
On the dream of the founders of the UN Commission on Human Rights:
“Seventy years ago, Eleanor Roosevelt and René Cassin, John Humphrey and other eminent figures joined together to create the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. We’re also marking the 10th anniversary of the reformed commission, now known as the UN Human Rights Council. And our job as human rights activists, and as citizens, diplomats, UN officials who are engaged with this lofty goal is to ensure that we’re living up to the dream of Eleanor Roosevelt and René Cassin, and that’s why we’re here today.”
“It’s not an impossible dream ladies and gentlemen. Once upon a time Nelson Mandela was in prison for many years, and he became the president of South Africa. And once upon a time in the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel was in prison for being a human rights activist, and he became the president of the Czech Republic.”
On his hope for the Human Rights Council:
“My wish is that next year when we meet instead of the Chinese Communist Party and Vladimir Putin and the Castro regime and the house of Assad and the Maduro regime, I would like to see representing China – I’d like to see someone like Dr. Yang Jianli, who sat in prison for years in China for his human rights activism and survived Tiananmen square.”
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the eighth Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy.
My name is Hillel Neuer, I’m the executive director of UN Watch. We are one of the 25 human rights NGOs from around the world that have come together once again in 2016 to invite some of the most courageous champions of human rights to assemble, and one week before the United Nations Secretary General and foreign ministers from around the world arrive here across the street to open the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Human Rights Council, where for the next month they will be charged with addressing the most urgent human rights situations.
We’ve come here to remind the world, to remind the United Nations, to remind governments, what those issues are.
Seventy years ago, Eleanor Roosevelt and René Cassin, John Humphrey and other eminent figures joined together to create the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. We’re also marking the 10th anniversary of the reformed commission, now known as the UN Human Rights Council. And our job as human rights activists, and as citizens, diplomats, UN officials who are engaged with this lofty goal is to ensure that we’re living up to the dream of Eleanor Roosevelt and René Cassin, and that’s why we’re here today.
There are many UN initiatives that we need to support, for example the important UN Commission of Inquiry on North Korea, and to ensure that that issue continues to have a spotlight, and that’s why we’re going to hear later today from Lee Young-guk, the former bodyguard of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il. He will tell us first hand the atrocities are happening in North Korea, and to make sure that the international community and at the International Criminal Court are aware of all the details and that they take action.
And the Human Rights Council has taken action on Iran, we have a Special Rapporteur doing excellent work, Ahmed Shaheed, and we need to make sure in March that his mandate is renewed. And that’s why we’re going to hear from Darya Safai, a women’s rights activist from Iran.
At the same time we cannot forget that some of the governments that Kofi Annan, the Secretary General 10 years ago, said were choosing to join the Human Rights Council and were becoming elected not to promote and protect human rights but rather to shield their own records of abuse and those of their friends and allies, and he said we need a new council that will put an end to selectivity and politicization and put an end to a situation that was casting a shadow, he said, upon the reputation of the United Nations as a whole. He said we need members that live up to the highest standards of human rights, and that prescription was enshrined in the founding resolution of the UN Human Rights Council, resolution 60-25, adopted 10 years ago in March 2006, which says that members should be elected by considering their record in promoting and protecting human rights – and those who commit gross and systematic violations of human rights can, and we believe should, be removed under article 8 of that resolution. And member states are obliged to live up to the highest standards and to cooperate with the United Nations.
And yet sadly as I look at some of the speakers who are here today, some of the courageous human rights champions, I see a delegation from China – we’re going to hear from human rights defenders from China – who now live abroad of course, exiled. And one asks why is it that China, which has oppressed these people and their compatriots, why was China elected to the Human Rights Council? And China never gets held to account in any resolution or commission of inquiry or special rapporteur or anything.
And why is it that when we’re going to hear later today from Russian human rights activist Polina Nemirovskaia, the dictator, the authoritarian of Russia Vladimir Putin was elected to the UN Human Rights Council? As a judge on human rights across the street.
And we’re going to hear from Rosa Maria Paya about the situation in Cuba, and yet the Castro regime is a member of the human rights council and the old rapporteur on Cuba was eliminated 10 years ago and since then there’s no resolution, no inquiry, no mandate on Cuba.
And we’re going to hear later today from Ensaf Haidar, the wife of Raif Badawi from Saudi Arabia, the jailed Saudi blogger whose only crime was to publish a blog saying that he wants a liberal society with basic freedoms. And he was thrown in prison for ten years and sentenced to a thousand lashes. And Saudi Arabia was elected as a member of the Human Rights Council and last year twice was elected the president of the consultative group the group that shortlists, that selects the human rights experts and passes on their recommendations, which are accepted in almost all cases to the Human Rights Council. Human rights experts on women’s rights, children’s rights, independence of judiciary, freedom of religion, Saudi Arabia was the head of this committee last year.
And Venezuela, a country that was such a naturally rich country and wonderful society, has been destroyed. We’ll hear about it later today from Antonietta Ledezma, whose father is a political prisoner, the Mayor of Caracas, whose crime was that he defeated the socialists, that he defeated Chavez – the Chavez ally in in Caracas several years ago. And he was never forgiven for that and punished for being someone who defies the regime. And yet the Maduro government was elected once again to be a member of Human Rights Council.
And so, ladies and gentlemen, my wish is that next year when we meet instead of the Chinese Communist Party and Vladimir Putin and the Castro regime and the house of Assad and the Maduro regime, I would like to see representing China – I’d like to see someone like Dr. Yang Jianli, who sat in prison for years in China for his human rights activism and survived Tiananmen square. And I’d like to see representing Russia people like Polina, a courageous human rights activist, at the United Nations. And representing Cuba I would like to see someone like Rosa Maria Paya, the daughter of Oswaldo Paya, who was killed under circumstances that many believe were an assassination by the government – and hundreds of world leaders have demanded an investigation to what really happened to her father, and you’ll hear more about that. And I’d like to see Rosa Maria Paya as the representative of Cuba. And I’d like to see Raif Badawi, the courageous young man whose wife is here with us, and Ensaf Haidar, and whose three children I met when we delivered last year’s Courage Award to them in their house in Sherbrooke, Quebec, wonderful brilliant young children who deserve to see their father. And I’d like to see their father representing Saudi Arabia. And for Venezuela instead of having Maduro who came here several months ago in a special meeting of the council to do a victory lap as it were, as he’s destroying the country, nd throwing so many people into prison, people don’t have food – they’re standing in line for hours and there’s no medicine – It’s just a catastrophe in Venezuela. I would like to see someone from the Ledezma family, Antonio Ledezma, sitting here as representative of Venezuela. That’s our dream.
And it’s not an impossible dream ladies and gentlemen. Once upon a time Nelson Mandela was in prison for many years, and he became the president of South Africa. And once upon a time in the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel was in prison for being a human rights activist, and he became the president of the Czech Republic. And once upon a time Lech Walesa was a persecuted union organizer and he became the President of Poland.
So ladies and gentlemen the dream of Eleanor Roosevelt and René Cassin, of the United Nations, continues to guide us. It is the beacon for us. And I want to note that there are many UN officials who are taking right action. Yesterday Antonietta Ledezma, the daughter of Antonio Ledezma, the Mayor of Caracas, met with the High Commissioner for Human Rights here in Geneva, and I want to applaud the High Commissioner for meeting with her yesterday and her sister. And also when Maduro came here, to his credit, he was not present but he gave a video message and in the video message in front of Maduro he listed all of the offenses that the Maduro regime was committing which were cited by UN experts. And that’s the kind of courage and backbone, moral backbone, that we need to see from all our country delegates and from all United Nations officials to ensure that now, on the 70th anniversary of the Human Rights Commission and the 10th anniversary of the reformed Human Rights Council, we live up to the dream of the founders.
With that I wish all of you a very successful conference. I’m delighted that we have such tremendous speakers from around the world who’ve joined us, and I want to thank all of you. I encourage all of you to share what you’re seeing, take pictures, share it on Facebook, share it on Twitter, and with that I would like to invite the Chairman UN Watch, Ambassador Alfred Moses, to deliver opening remarks. Lord Trimble will be speaking later today he had urgent parliamentary business in London at the House of Lords, he’ll be speaking today right after lunch at 2 p.m. And I’d like to call Ambassador Moses to deliver opening remarks to get us to start thinking about the issues in a profound way.
Thank you very much.