International lawyer, diplomat and Executive Director of UN Watch, Hillel Neuer delivers opening remarks at the 3rd Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for full prepared remarks.
Good morning. My name is Hillel Neuer. I’m the executive director of UN Watch. On behalf of our organization, the Tibetan women’s Association, Zimbabwe Advocacy Office, the Uyghur American Association, Viet-Ten, Freedom Now, Human Rights Without Frontiers, the International Federation of Liberal Youth, LICRA, Darfur Peace and Development Center, the Respect Institute, Human Rights Activists in Iran, Initiatives for China, Collectif Urgence Darfour Freedom House, Groupe des anciens étudiants et élèves rescapés du génocide, Ibuka, Ingeniers du Monde, Stop Child Executions, Cuban Democratic Directorate and the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children. Welcome to the third annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy.
It’s a pleasure to see so many friendly faces here. I see distinguished diplomats, Ambassador Donahoe of the U.S Mission, and others, so welcome to all of you. I want to start by acknowledging our supporters, first the Canton Republic de Geneve for their support for the conference. Let us hope that the spirit of Geneva, the international spirit, the welcoming spirit, the spirit of refuge and shelter will be an inspiration for all of our work today and tomorrow for the dissidents. I want to also thank the government of Switzerland for whose help we’re able to have this wonderful hall today. Indeed being in Switzerland is something we can all be grateful for. It’s a place where we can speak freely, something that our speakers today can’t do in the countries, in many cases, of their origin and we’re also thankful to the Swiss government for helping us bring with visas, helping our activists to come from around the world to be here today. I also want to thank all of our other supporters around the world.
It’s appropriate on a day that we discuss human rights just to express our condolences to the people of Japan for the terrible loss that they have suffered and for what they continue to go through. Our hearts go out to them. This of course is a natural disaster, a tsunami that is not something that is really in our power to prevent, but the issues we’re talking about today: how governments treat their people, how governments ought to treat their people, is in our power. It is in human power to change and to improve.
We are living through a historical moment. The Middle East has witnessed an unprecedented call for freedom and democracy coming from the ground up from all sections of the population. We saw the fall of oppressive regimes in Egypt and Tunisia. There are many debates about how to ensure that these societies advance in the right direction. But one thing is certain: no one can remain unmoved by the courage of these democracy activists, by their hope, and by their spirit.
This Spirit has gone viral around the world, it has no borders. We’ve seen it in China, far away where people are speaking of a Jasmine Revolution. There’s been a government crackdown — we’ll hear more about it today. The feeling is spreading. We’ve seen it in Zimbabwe where activists try to meet, just to discuss what was happening in the Middle East, and immediately there was a crackdown, people were arrested — we’ll hear about that today as well.
We’re all of course concerned about what’s happening in Libya — the shocking killings, the massacre of the civilian population that continues to go on — we’ll hear more about that today as well. In Iran, there was, even though the government purportedly supported the revolutions in North Africa, of course when their own people tried to speak out and demonstrate peacefully, once again immediately a brutal crackdown. Of course, we’ve seen in Iran how crackdowns sometimes can work — nothing is certain. So it requires all of our engagement to make sure that the desire for freedom is actualized.
Now our NGO coalition is so excited by the incredible speakers that we’ll be hosting today. Let me just mention a few of them from some of the different regions that will be dealing with issues in countries you’ve heard.
In Africa, David Kato, an activist for LGBT rights who was killed after there was incitement in the media in Uganda and one of his colleagues Jacqueline Kasha is here today to tell us about the situation in her country and her continent.
You heard about the revolution of cyber-dissidents in Egypt, well we have with us here today, Mahmoud Salem, one of the most distinguished cyber-dissidents, a blogger, an activist, a writer — he’s here with us today.
You’ve heard in Tunisia about the recent revolution there also by bloggers and young people. With us today we have Lina Ben Mhenni, a Tunisian activist, the founder of the blog ‘A Tunisian Girl’ censored in her country by the old regime — she’s with us here today.
You’ve heard the situation in Iran, many of you this past year were outraged by the death sentence by stoning against Sakineh, a woman accused of adultery — her lawyer Mohammad Mostafaei who had to escape for defending her and publicizing her case is here with us today.
You’ve heard of course about China. On December 10th in Oslo, the Nobel Prize was awarded to Liu Xiaobo. He’s the writer who’s in jail, his wife is under house arrest. He couldn’t be there but the one who was designated to represent him was Dr. Yang Jianli, who himself is a survivor of Tiananmen Square, served five years in prison as a prisoner of conscience in China. Dr. Yang Jianli is with us here today.
You heard about the situation in Venezuela. Here at the United Nations, we’ve heard about this case. It’s an example of how the Human Rights Council mechanisms can sometimes be of direct help. The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a ruling in favor of a prisoner who was never properly tried and was sitting in jail for about two years and this working group ruled that he should be released and when a judge actually released him that judge was thrown in jail. This is something that’s been taken up by the rapporteurs here in Geneva. Many other outrages against the rule of law have been happening in Venezuela. With us here today is Miguel Angel Rodriguez, a Venezuelan journalist, recently elected as an opposition MP. The Washington Post says that his morning program angers the Chavez government every morning. He’s with us here today.
You’re all following what’s happening in Libya we’re concerned about the march of Gaddafi’s forces against the rebels. With us here today is Mohamed Al-Jahmi, someone who has been tirelessly reporting to the world what’s happening. He now lives in the United States. His brother, of course, is Fathi Al-Jahmi, the heroic dissident who was jailed, tortured, and ultimately killed by the regime. He’s with us here today.
I want to pay tribute that at our first Geneva Summit three years ago, two of our speakers were victims of the Gaddafi regime. One of whom had just spoken at that time at the United Nations Ashraf El Hajouj and Kristiyana Valcheva. Kristiyana of course was one of the five Bulgarian nurses who were falsely accused of poisoning children in a Benghazi hospital more than a decade ago and were imprisoned, and brutally tortured. They came here three years ago to testify about their suffering, to call for justice, so did Ashraf El Hajouj when he spoke at the U.N, regrettably at the time the chair silenced him, but he was able to speak here and I pay tribute to them. They came here again in September to protest Libya’s presence on the Council which thankfully has been removed. Those courageous victims who are able to speak about their suffering in order to achieve justice for others in their situation are to be commended.
I should note that both Ashraf El Hajouj and the Bulgarian nurses have filed a compensation claim against Libya for their suffering, but they’ve never been compensated. I’m serving as co-counsel for the nurses in a complaint to the Human Rights Committee here in Geneva, they’ve never been compensated and there are many people in the world who receive benefits from the Gaddafi regime. You’ve heard of the rock stars Mariah Carey and Beyonce and Usher and Nelly Furtado who’ve all felt remorse for having performed for members of the Qaddafi family and want to give their money to charity. Let me just suggest to whoever’s listening, there are also institutions like the LSE and others, who want to give their money to a charity. Let me suggest that these victims would be a great and appropriate beneficiary of Libyan money that people may have.
You’ve all followed the referendum in South Sudan, where do we go next? An issue we’re all watching. John Dau, one of the great figures in the effort to restore a proper life in South Sudan after the civil war is with us here today.
North Korea has one of the worst situations in the world. We have with us Gwang-il Yung, who escaped a concentration camp, and labor imprisonment camp, in North Korea with us here today.
I’ll just mention also Cuba, a situation that continues to be a police state as we know from one of our partners, Directorio. We have with us here, Luis Enrique Ferrer Garcia, a former political prisoner who was just liberated within the past year. He is with us here today.
Ladies and gentlemen, the moral power, the moral force, of the people in this room is truly inspiring.
The aims of this conference, the public part today, is to turn an international spotlight on victims of some of the most urgent situations that are not currently being addressed by the international community, by international institutions. The U.N Human Rights Council is meeting across the street. Many of the situations that we’re discussing are not being addressed. Some of them are. We’re hopeful that a resolution on Iran will be passed. We’re thankful there was attention to Libya, which was suspended from the council, there was a commission of inquiry and we all hope that it will produce results for the Libyan people.
Sadly, many of these situations are not addressed because some of the members of the Council are the countries that are committing these violations. Saudi Arabia is a member, Cuba is a member, China is a member, Egypt was a member, and Bahrain is a member. So it’s not surprising that oftentimes the Council turns a blind eye to these situations. We will propose in this conference draft resolutions for the council to consider and we hope in this way that we’ll be able to put these situations on the agenda.
The aims of the conference are not only the public part today. Tomorrow, there’s a private part just for the dissidents and the activists where they will build skills, expand networks and create contacts. We’re so grateful that many diplomats have opened their doors to meet them tomorrow privately and see how they could help advance their causes. They’ll also meet with U.N officials to know more about Human Rights Council mechanisms that work well and that they need to take advantage of. And they’ll also finally meet with social media experts to see how they can grow their global movement for freedom.
I want to conclude by saying that all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. The fact that all of you are here today, people from 40 different countries and many more watching live on the internet, and the support that we’ve received from so many human rights groups and activists means that there are a lot of people in the world who refuse to do nothing. Let us hope that through the proceedings that we hear today, we will learn more about what individuals experienced, about what their people continue to experience, and to see what we can do to try to make this world a better place.