Hillel Neuer, international lawyer, diplomat, activist and Executive Director of UN Watch, addresses the 5th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for full prepared remarks.
Hillel Neuer: Welcome to the 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 20 human rights NGOs that is co-sponsoring today’s event. The others are Collective Agents de Darfur, Darfur Peace and Development, Directorio Democratico Cubano, Endignorance.org, Free the North Korean Gulag, Freedom in Rome Uganda, Freedom Republic Foundation, Human Rights Foundation, Human Rights Without Frontiers, Ingenures du Monde, Initiatives for China, Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices for the Health of Women and Children, The International Federation of Liberal Youth, Justice for North Korea, League International Contre La Racism, Stop Child Executions, Tibetan Women’s Organization of Switzerland, Uyghur World Congress, Viet-Ten, and the Zimbabwe Advocacy Office.
We are delighted to see so many of you, who have come from near and far. I know we have people who have come from, we have speakers who have come from Pakistan, from Cuba, from Kazakhstan from many far away places. We have guests and friends who have come from Canada, journalists who have come here from Stockholm, from Prague, from Berlin, from around the world.
We’re especially honored and wish to pay tribute to the many diplomatic missions that will be participating here today at the level of ambassador, permanent representatives at the United Nations, and their colleagues. We have the missions from Belgium, from Bosnia, Bulgaria, Colombia, El Salvador, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Jordan, Korea, The Netherlands, San Marino, The United States, Spain, Monaco, and others.
We meet today only days before world leaders, presidents, foreign ministers, and other dignitaries will be gathering across the street to open the annual session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. This is the principal international body, charged by the United Nations with promoting and protecting human rights. And today our call is for the international community to hear the voices of the victims. And we have some incredible, courageous champions of human rights who will be speaking.
Now at the council, which will meet for a month, we have had some action on Iran. A few years ago an investigator, a special rapporteur, was created, who reports on violations. But we need much more attention to this urgent situation. We’re delighted that with us here is Marina Nemat, who will speak later in our first panel, the author of Prisoner of Tehran. And will tell us what we need to know, what the world needs to know, about what’s happening in Iran and what the UN needs to be doing.
We’ve had some action here. Each year an annual resolution on North Korea, where there are there’s a gulag of prison camps that have been subjugating hundreds of thousands of people. We hope this session will see a commission of inquiry. And to put the spotlight, we have two of the most famous survivors and witnesses of the North Korean concentration camps. Dong Hukshin and Chol Wan Kang will be telling us what the world needs to know about North Korea.
We’ve had some attention on sexual violence in the Congo. Some reports, but not enough. To focus attention on that. we’ll have Colette Breckmann, a journalist with ‘Le Soir from Belgium, author of many books on sexual violence in the Congo including a recent volume focusing on this urgent issue, which is affecting hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of women.
But then there are so many other situations that have not been addressed in any significant way at all. We have Pakistan, which was just elected as a member of the human rights council; there’s never been attention to Pakistan. We have Muktar Mai who was gang raped ten years ago and went on to create a women’s rights center to educate women and to help victims of rape and other crimes. She’ll be telling us what we need to know about Pakistan.
Mauritania has just become vice president of the human rights council. According to The Guardian, there are hundreds of thousands of slaves in Mauritania. We have here today Abedin Merzoog, a long-time activist against slavery in Mauritania. And he will tell us what we need to know about slavery in Mauritania.
China just came off the Human Rights Council because of term limits; they’ll be back next year. The situation in Tibet remains urgent as ever. There has never been a resolution yet on China and that’s why today we have Diki Choi Yang, cabinet member of the Central Tibetan Administration, who will be telling us what’s going on in Tibet, why it’s happening, and what needs to happen to change that urgent situation.
In Cuba, another country that has been a regular member of the council, just came off because of term limits. There’s not been any attention to Cuba, no resolution yet on Cuba and we have two incredible individuals who will be speaking. Regis Iglesias Ramirez, who was an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience for seven years. He will be speaking to us today. And, not on our program because it was something we didn’t know would happen, is Rosa Maria Paya, the daughter of Oswaldo Paya, who was killed in a car accident, a very curious, mysterious car accident this year, the famous dissident Oswaldo Paya. His daughter has just arrived from Cuba. It’s the first time we’ve ever had someone that we’ve invited from Havana who’s been allowed to come here. And so we’re very excited to hear from her about what’s happening on that island.
Kazakhstan, who has just been elected to the Human Rights Council. There has been serious oppression happening there. We’re going to hear from one of its most famous dissidents, Lukepan Ahmedyarov, a journalist who was stabbed eight times this year, because he dared to speak out on the situation there.
Russia, another regular member that just had to come off for one year of the council, has never been the focus of any resolution. And of course, you’ve all heard of the famous Pussy Riot case, this feminist rock band that performed in the cathedral to protest Putin and were thrown in prison. We’re thrilled that the husband of Nadja is here with us today, Peotrv Verzalov, also part of their effort. And he will be speaking today about his wife who’s sitting in jail because she dared to criticize the President of Russia.
Finally we’ll hear from a young Moroccan human rights activist who is an atheist and as a result, he’s been subjugated, subjected to death threats, and he continues to courageously speak out.
To summarize all of our proceedings we’ll hear from John Suarez from Directorio Cubano, a long-time colleague of ours at these summits, who will summarize our message to the international community for action.
I do want to acknowledge the presence of the ambassador of Canada Alissa Goldberg, who’s been a terrific supporter of all of our work to promote universal human rights. I want to thank her and her government for their help.
Before I call on our first speaker, I’ll just remind everyone that those who are tweeting, we will remind you throughout the day on the screen, the twitter handle for the summit is Geneva Summit and the hashtag is #GS13. So we encourage all of you to tweet. The youtubes of the lectures will be put online very quickly, as well as photos and ongoing blog. You can see it on our facebook page and on genevasummit.org.
We’ll have time just for a few questions and answers at the end of each panel. You’ll be able to write your questions on a piece of paper and give it to one of our many volunteers who’ve come from near and far. We have volunteers who’ve come from Germany to be with us here today, young students. You’ll give your questions to the ushers and we will try to get them before the panel but there’s no guarantee that we’ll have time for that.
Our first speaker is the chair of UN Watch. As someone who’s been an ardent supporter of this human rights conference and has encouraged us in every way. He’s a prominent attorney, the former US Ambassador, former special presidential emissary to the conflict in Cyprus, was recently awarded an honorary doctorate by Georgetown University for his life’s work in public service and support for human rights and we’re honored to invite our friend and chair Mr. Ambassador Alfred H. Moses.