International lawyer, diplomat and Executive Director of UN Watch, Hillel Neuer delivers day one opening and closing remarks at the 13th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.
On the Geneva Summit:
“Since 2009, right before the main annual session of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, we have held our summit right across the street in order to place critical issues on the international agenda. The annual event has been attended by hundreds of diplomats, activists, journalists and students.”
“Too often the U.N. elevates and empowers the oppressors. Well here at the Geneva Summit, we choose to elevate and empower the oppressed, those who have been thrown into prison arbitrarily by the dictatorships, those who dare to speak out in the name of freedom and human dignity for their people.”
On the importance of speaking out:
“It is not your duty to finish the work of perfecting the world, but everyone is obliged to do their part.”
Full Remarks (Welcome Address)
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 13th annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy.
My name is Hillel Neuer, and I am the Executive Director of United Nations Watch. On behalf of the 25 NGO co-sponsors of the Geneva Summit, it is my honor to welcome you to this virtual gathering of human rights dissidents, pro-democracy activists and former political prisoners from around the world.
I want to begin by thanking our partners, a coalition of human rights organizations from around the globe, for helping us to organize this summit and to assemble courageous champions of human rights and democracy.
A special welcome to all of you participating for the first time and let me share with you just a little bit of our history. Since 2009, right before the main annual session of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, we have held our summit right across the street in order to place critical issues on the international agenda. The annual event has been attended by hundreds of diplomats, activists, journalists and students. This year, due to the pandemic, the Geneva Summit is for the first time taking place virtually.
We meet on the eve of the human rights council’s 47th session and once again we seek to shine a global spotlight on some of the most urgent situations to place them before the United Nations and before the world. We meet 75 years since the founding of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, whose founding chair was Eleanor Roosevelt. Over time, the commission deteriorated such that by 2003 the chair was a representative of colonel Qaddafi’s Libyan regime. In the words of Kofi Annan, the commission was now quote “casting a shadow on the reputation of the U.N. system as a whole.”
In 2006 the commission was abolished and in June of that year the new Human Rights Council was created, which it was promised would address gross and systematic violations of human rights worldwide. As we meet now on the 15th anniversary of the new and improved body we are entitled to ask: has the world’s highest human rights body lived up to its promise?
Sadly, in many cases, rather than scrutinize the world’s worst regimes, the United Nations has elevated them to positions of influence. Consider the past six months. In January the regimes of China, Cuba, Russia and Pakistan each took their seats on the human rights council, joining other serial abusers such as Libya, Mauritania – which still has slavery – and Venezuela. Likewise in April the U.N elected the Islamic Republic of Iran, which treats women as worth half the value of a man, to its U.N. commission on the status of women.
Too often the U.N. elevates and empowers the oppressors. Well here at the Geneva Summit, we choose to elevate and empower the oppressed, those who have been thrown into prison arbitrarily by the dictatorships, those who dare to speak out in the name of freedom and human dignity for their people.
When the UN human rights council meets this month most of the urgent situations represented here will not be addressed by any resolution, urgent meeting or commission of inquiry. For example, the council has turned a blind eye to China’s oppressive actions in Hong Kong, where the imposition of a new and draconian national security law was followed by the arrest and imprisonment of pro-democracy activists and lawmakers.
But today here at the Geneva Summit we will hear testimony from Nathan Law, the youngest ever to be elected to the Hong Kong legislative council, a lead organizer of the 2014 umbrella movement. Nathan law was jailed for his advocacy work, last year he was forced to flee yet he continues to speak up for the people of Hong Kong.
China’s persecution of the Uyghurs has also never been addressed by a single UNHRC resolution, commission of inquiry, or urgent debate but today at the Geneva Summit we will hear from Rayhan Asat, a Uyghur activist and attorney who’s fighting for the release of her brother Ekpar. He was abducted by Chinese authorities in 2016 and now languishes in a Xinjiang concentration camp.
On Turkey, as we approach the fifth anniversary of President Erdogan’s brutal purge of thousands of judges, academics, and civil servants, we’ll hear today from Can Dundar, a Turkish journalist sentenced to 27 years on fake charges of espionage. At the U.N. Turkey may be vice chair of the committee that oversees human rights NGOs but here at the Summit we will have a genuine Turkish guardian of human rights.
On Pakistan, which was just elected to the human rights council, we’ll hear from Gulalai Ismail, who will be receiving our 2021 international women’s rights award. She’s a leading critic of the Pakistani security forces and has effectively placed a global spotlight on the rampant abuse of women and girls in Pakistan. In the last few months Gulalai campaigned tirelessly for the release of her father, who was detained on false terrorism charges in retaliation for her advocacy.
On Syria, we’ll hear from Waad al-Kateab, the award-winning Syrian filmmaker who captured Assad’s assault on aleppo for her critically acclaimed documentary “For Sama”. She was eventually forced to flee, and now campaigns to end the targeting of Syrian healthcare facilities. And she is building a war crimes case against the Syrian and Russian regimes. Although the Human Rights Council has repeatedly addressed Syria, much more needs to be done to stop Assad’s brutal campaign against his own people.
Finally, we’ll hear from experts. Ambassador Andres Simonyi, a former Hungarian Ambassador to NATO and the U.S., on the fragility of democracy. And we’ll hear from Professor Irwin Cotler, the former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada, Chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights, one of our Geneva Summit partners, who will provide his unique perspective on the global struggle of political prisoners.
And where we go from here, friends, your participation today matters. We need you to amplify the voices of our human rights heroes. Please share our Geneva Summit posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and make sure to add your own voice together with the hashtag #genevasummit2021.
Please follow our remarkable speakers on their own social media accounts and share their testimonies. It is not your duty to finish the work of perfecting the world, but everyone is obliged to do their part.
Full Remarks (Day One Closing)
Ladies and gentlemen, as we conclude the first day of our online Geneva Summit and on behalf of our 25 NGO co-sponsors, I want to thank you for your participation today.
We heard from courageous champions of human rights who put a global spotlight on urgent situations of abuse that require the attention of the United nations and indeed of the world.
I want to thank each of our panellists for giving a voice to those without one, those who are suffering today from gross and systematic violations of human rights, in China, Cuba, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Syria and Turkey. By testifying before our global audience, sharing your stories and raising critical issues, you are helping to build pressure and affect change.
I want to congratulate the courageous Gulalai Ismail on receiving our 2021 International Women’s Rights Award. Your tireless campaign to promote the security, welfare and fundamental rights of women in Pakistan is truly inspiring.
And, finally, thanks to each and every one of you in our global audience for sharing, liking and retweeting our Geneva Summit posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Friends, your participation and online engagement today matters. I encourage you to continue amplifying the voices of our human rights heroes by adding your own voice and reposting our content along with the hashtag #genevasummit2021.
Also please follow our remarkable speakers on their own social media accounts. It’s very important to share their stories, not least in order to make sure that no one at the United Nations or in the international community can say they didn’t know.
With that thank you for joining the first day of our two-day event. I look forward to seeing you again tomorrow, beginning at 9AM Eastern Standard Time or 3PM Central European Time.