Welcome with Hillel Neuer

International lawyer, diplomat and Executive Director of UN Watch, Hillel Neuer delivers opening remarks at the 14th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.

Introducing the Geneva Summit:

“It is my honor to open the 2022 edition of our annual world assembly of human rights dissidents, pro-democracy activists, former political prisoners, and family members and representatives of current political prisoners.”

“We meet across the street from the United Nations Human Rights Council, to shine a global spotlight on urgent situations of human rights abuse, and place them on the international agenda.”

On the campaign the expel Russia from the UNHRC:

“We meet today next to the Human Rights Council at a fascinating moment. For only the second time in history, a member state of the UNHRC is likely to be removed, tomorrow.”

“But this should be a larger turning point. After Russia is removed, we urge the same to be done to other dictatorships.”

On the election of dictatorships to the Human Rights Council:

“But does the UN have to keep electing the world’s worst abusers, dictatorships whose only intent is to win a false badge of international legitimacy?”

“The “big tent” theory, which is being crushed tomorrow, is a big lie. And so we hope the removal of Russia will be a moment to reaffirm the true principles.

Full Remarks

Distinguished members of the diplomatic corps, Ladies and Gentlemen, friends: Welcome to the 14th 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 our 25 NGO co-sponsors, it is my honor to open the 2022 edition of our annual world assembly of human rights dissidents, pro-democracy activists, former political prisoners, and family members and representatives of current political prisoners.

I want to begin by thanking our partners, a cross-regional coalition of human rights organizations, for helping us to organize this Summit, and to unite courageous champions of human rights and democracy.

I also want to thank our incredible Sheila Raccah, Chloe Hygen, Aylin Ergil-Amsellem, Dylan Rogers, and our entire team of staff and volunteers for their dedicated work and long hours over months to make this Geneva Summit a great success.

We meet across the street from the United Nations Human Rights Council, to shine a global spotlight on urgent situations of human rights abuse, and place them on the international agenda.

Sadly, all too often, the UN elevates and empowers the oppressors, for example by electing them to human rights bodies. 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.

And I have to say that we meet today next to the Human Rights Council at a fascinating moment. For only the second time in history, a member state of the UNHRC is likely to be removed, tomorrow. The US announced that, working together with Ukraine and European states, they will move to suspend Russia.

Yesterday, US Ambassador Linda Thomas Greenfield said the following: “Russia should not have a position of authority in a body whose purpose is to promote respect for human rights. Not only is this the height of hypocrisy, it is dangerous. Russia is using its membership on the Human Rights Council as a platform for propaganda to suggest Russia has a legitimate concern for human rights. Russia’s participation hurts [its] credibility. It undermines the entire UN, and it is just plain wrong.”

Wow. This is what we’ve been saying all along, when we tried to stop Russia, China and Cuba from getting elected two years ago, but we couldn’t get any governments to say this. And from day 1 of the invasion in February, we called on Russia to be expelled from the council. We hope the resolution tomorrow passes with a large majority. And that’s one more reason why the world needs to hear the eyewitness testimony today from our speaker Olga Aivazovska, a Ukrainian civil society leader who was forced to flee Kiev.

But this should be a larger turning point. After Russia is removed, we urge the same to be done to other dictatorships.

After we hear from Joey Siu on Hong Kong, and from Tenzin Tsundue, a Tibetan refugee and activist, and I am sure you will agree that China does not belong on a human rights council.

After we hear from Hamlet Lavastida, an artist from Cuba, and a  political prisoner who was just released in September,  I am sure you will agree that the Cuban dictatorship does not belong on a human rights council.

After we hear from Miguel Otero of Venezuela, whose leading newspaper El Nacional was targeted by the Maduro regime, you will agree that this narco-criminal state does not belong. I urge everyone to sign the petition led by our board member Diego Arria: www.unwatch.org/expelmaduro.

And what the US Ambassador says applies perfectly to HRC members like Eritrea with its slave labor, Libya, which tortures African migrants and sells them in markets; Mauritania which still has slavery; Pakistan, which hosts terrorists; and Somalia with female genital mutilation. They, too, must all be removed.

Indeed, regular people around the world ask: “Why does a human rights council include so many non-democracies?”

Defenders of the system have a ready reply. “We need a big tent, so that countries with poor records can engage, learn and improve.”

We have heard this numerous times from foreign ministers and top diplomats from several EU states. I don’t want to mention names, but we have heard this from a Swedish-speaking country, a Dutch-speaking country, and a Belgian-speaking country.

Now, perhaps there is an argument for nations with spotty records, but who actually wish to make progress, can be embraced and given technical cooperation, for example, to train their judges or police.

But does the UN have to keep electing the world’s worst abusers, dictatorships whose only intent is to win a false badge of international legitimacy?

We ask all those here who propagate the “big tent” theory: Since Vladimir Putin’s Russia was elected again and again to this Council, over a decade, did he learn and improve? Or on the contrary, did Russia assassinate more journalists, persecute more dissidents and launch more deadly military invasions than ever before?

Since China was elected repeatedly to this Council, did the Communist rulers learn and improve? Or did they crush more dissidents, like Liu Xiaobo, than ever before?

And I want to know: Since Venezuela was elected and reelected to this Council, did Chavez and Maduro learn and improve? Or did they arrest, persecute and jail more opposition leaders, like Mayor Antonio Ledezma of Caracas?

No, the “big tent” theory, which is being crushed tomorrow, is a big lie.

And so we hope the removal of Russia will be a moment to reaffirm the true principles.

Now, that we are all meeting here today, hundreds of people gathered in one room, with speakers able to travel here from Los Angeles to Dharamsala, London to Zimbabwe, is something we cannot take for granted. After two very difficult years of the Covid-19 pandemic, I want to say how truly grateful we are to be able to meet in person. During these two years, many of us had to spend time in social isolation, whether due to lockdowns or quarantine, and we learned how painful that can be.

That experience might help us to appreciate the infinitely greater suffering of innocent men and women who are severely and arbitrarily denied their freedom.And we’re going to hear compelling testimony from former political prisoners. We’ll hear from Pham Minh Hoang, a scholar and former political prisoner from Vietnam; and Hopewell Chin’ono, a journalist from Zimbabwe and recent political prisoner; and

Timothy Cho, who was imprisoned and tortured in North Korea, and managed to escape and is today a human rights activist.

And we’ll hear about current political prisoners. While Russia sits across the street as a member of the Human Rights Council, we’ll here shortly about Alexei Navalny, the jailed Russian opposition leader, from his chief of staff Leonid Volkov.

While China sits across the street as a member of the Human Rights Council, we’ll hear from Sophie Luo, about her husband, the human rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi, a political prisoner in China; and we’ll hear from Rushan Abbas about the plight of the Uighurs, including her sister Dr. Gulshan Abbas, another political prisoner in China.

While the Iranian regime sits on the UN Commission on the Status of Women, we’ll hear from Mariam Claren, daughter of Nahid Taghavi, a women’s rights activist imprisoned in Iran. Belarus also sits on that commission, but we’ll hear from Tatsiana Khomich, about her sister Maria Kalesnikava, a woman human rights defender imprisoned in Belarus.

Nicaragua sits on the UN’s Committee that oversees human rights NGOs, but we’ll hear from Berta Valle about her husband, Félix Maradiaga, a speaker here in 2019, who was thrown into prison for daring to run against the dictator in a presidential election.

Saudi Arabia sits on the UNESCO Human Rights Committee, but we’ll hear from Areej Al-Sadhan, Activist, about her brother, Saudi political prisoner Abdulrahman al-Sadhan, who has been punished for  tweets—for his peaceful use of social media to call out Saudi human rights abuses.

And we will also hear from Bobi Wine, Ugandan opposition leader & 2021 presidential candidate

Last but not least, we’ll present our women’s rights award to Zarifa Ghafari, youngest elected mayor in Afghanistan, survivor of three assassination; and our courage award to Enes Kanter Freedom, NBA basketball player and human rights activist.

So it’s a powerful program, with inspiring people to inform us about vital issues going on in the world.

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 #GenevaSummit2022. Follow our remarkable speakers on their own 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. Thank you.

For our first speaker, I would like now to invite Leonid Volkov, the chief of staff to jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, to please join me on the stage.

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