Brandon Silver, international human rights lawyer, and Director of Policy and Projects at the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, addresses the 12th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.
On the Geneva Summit:
“At the 2020 Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, I see humanity’s greatest heroes gathered together in common cause.”
Introducing Biram Dah Abeid:
“The racist regime was so afraid of his message that they threw him in jail. But he was nonetheless elected to the National Assembly from prison.”
So firstly, Ambassador Arria, Ambassador Aristegueta, Miss Orozco, thank you for your courage and conviction in sharing those very compelling remarks and, in the face of what you shared, what cannot remain unmoved: 4.7 million refugees being forced to flee Venezuela, because of a criminal and kleptocratic regime where, you know, the scores of unjust imprisonments, torture, extrajudicial executions, and the impunity that underpins it all, calls out for justice and I hope that the international community hears your call and, on behalf of the 25 Cosponsors here today, we echo those calls for Justice and we will continue to support you in that call, for Maduro to be expelled from the UN Human Rights Council, for the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC to stop dithering and delaying and to initiate an investigation on Maduro and his officials on what they have done and for finally the community of conscience, democratic states to exercise their responsibility to take Venezuela before the International Court of Justice, under the convention on torture.
And Miss Orozco, thank you in particular for sharing your daughter’s Geraldine story, which shocks the conscience and shakes the soul and I hope she will get the justice that she deserves. So, thank you again for your courage and on the part of this recognition of the courage of dissidents, of the heroes of humanity, who have gathered here today, “it is a pleasure and a privilege for me to be here today for this very moving, inspirational, gathering on human rights”.
At the 2020 Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, I see humanity’s greatest heroes gathered together in common cause and one of these heroes here today, Biram Dah Abeid, has time and again sacrificed his own freedom in the struggle help others achieve theirs. As the leading campaigner to end slavery in Mauritania, Biram’s extraordinary work is being recognized today with this year’s Courage Award of the Geneva Summit.
Biram Dah Abeid was chosen unanimously by a broad and inclusive coalition of 25 human rights groups that sponsor the Geneva Summit. As one of these cosponsors, our Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights has been privileged to take up Biram’s cause with our founder, Professor Irwin Cotler, having served as his pro bono international legal counsel during his imprisonment, and in this capacity, we have witnessed first-hand that Biram’s bravery knows no bounds. He is put, as Professor Cotler put earlier, not only his livelihood but his very life, on the line in the struggle for justice.
He has been unjustly imprisoned, beaten, and tortured on several occasions, but as soon as he is released from prison or released from the hospital, whatever it may be, he is immediately back on the streets: fearlessly campaigning for freedom. And this is no small task in Mauritania, a country that has been described by CNN, as “slavery’s last stronghold”. It is a country where 500,000 out of a population of 3.4 million are in a situation, that the UN described as full slavery. It is something that is passed on intergenerationally so that children are born into slavery and know nothing but that life. And those who challenge the religious foundations of this institution. Are charged with apostasy, which is a crime that carries the death penalty. So, in the face of this, Biram nonetheless founded the IRA. The initiative for the resurgence of the abolitionist movement in Mauritania, peacefully protesting for an end to slavery and putting his life at risk in doing so. And, directly because of Biram’s work with IRA, Mauritania saw the first-ever prosecutions of slave masters in the country’s history, which had a ripple effect across the country and led to many slave masters out of fear of further prosecutions releasing their slaves. And through his movement, Biram further has created a network of thousands of activists of former slaves, of people of conscience, across Mauritania who gives the educational and the economic tools to help slaves free themselves and provide them with a community and skills to help them sustain that freedom. But that was not enough for Biram, who wanted to challenge the very roots of slavery in Mauritania, which he described yesterday as “the apartheid system that underpins it all; an apartheid system that classifies Mauritanians based on the colour of their skin”. So, he ran for president. He ran for politics in the National Assembly, launched presidential and parliamentary campaigns, on an agenda of evolutionism, on an agenda of equality and where his eloquence and erudition, something that you will see shortly, was in great contrast to the racis opprobrium directed at his Hareton people. The racist regime was so afraid of his message that they threw him in jail. But he was nonetheless elected to the National Assembly from prison. Biram now uses this new political platform to continue his fight against apartheid, its unjust laws, and its institution of slavery in Mauritania. It is for his boldness and for his bravery in the service of equality that Biram has become known as the Mandela of Mauritania and, indeed, his work is evocative of a quote of Mandela’s that “what counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made in the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead”.
Biram your life of courage and conviction has made an enduring difference in the lives of so many Mauritanians and your presence here today is a reminder to us all, individually and collectively, of the role that we must all play, that the world must play in supporting your just cause and, so, on behalf of the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, I am proud to present you the 2020 Courage award to be Biram Dah Abeid. Please, step forward.