Geneva Summit on Human Rights and Democracy No. 11, 25‐26 March 2019

Report: Prim.Dr. Hava Bugajer

800 persons registered to the 11th Summit on Human Rights and Democracy, co-sponsored by UN Watch and a coalition of 25 NGOs.

The Summit gives a “voice to the voiceless”, a floor to speak out about violations and abuse of human rights to those that are not permitted to speak at the United Nations. The real heroes of human rights speak here while the perpetrators and abusers themselves have a chair at the Council.

This Summit is developing to become an alternative to the United Nations Council of Human Rights (UNCHR), because perpetrators like Syria and Iran, China, Venezuela and Cuba whose, army helps the Venezuelan dictatorship to abuse their people, and Nicaragua, who was beating and abusing peaceful students, enjoy impunity and are respected and protected members of the Council.

The festive opening was held at the historic building of the League of Nations in Geneva and speakers expressed their feeling and gratitude for being given this opportunity to speak about abuse and injustice done to them and to their colleagues. It gives them the chance to mobilize public opinion and exert pressure on the real perpetrators by unveiling their deeds. This is their only hope for a better future.

Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, is working tirelessly to give them this chance. He listed examples for the unbalanced and biased work of the UNCHR: Only one very mild resolution was adopted against Syria, Nicaragua and Iran, not mentioning prisoners, torture or other forms of violence. There never was an emergency meeting of the council calling to condemn any of these evil dictatorships. Female genital mutilation was never addressed in a proper way and the name of Tibet cannot even be mentioned.

Turkey is in the security committee (holding responsibility for the handling out of badges), Syria is a rapporteur on human rights, Iran was elected to “judge violations of women’s rights” and Saudi Arabia is almost a “permanent member” of the UNCHR, elected again and again by a vast majority.

Ambassador Alfred Moses, Chair of UN Watch, pointed out the devotion of all persons, the growing community of courageous and dedicated friends that come every year, from China and Russia, from Vienna and Istanbul, for this “celebration of human rights and its heroes”. The growing community of friends is evidence that human rights will prevail in spite of all offenders. Action should follow the summit, what can we do personally, should be the message taken home.

Michael Levitt, MP, and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Canadian Parliament, pointed out the dangerous attempts to legally undermine the universality of human rights. While every country, including his own, might occasionally have “a bad record” that has to be tackled, the real danger lies in making the abuse legal as is happening in Venezuela.

Keynote speaker Hakima El Haite, President of “Liberal International” and former minister of environment in Morocco was the first woman to put sustainability and climate protection on the map in Morocco in 2016. She came to the summit to stand side by side with Ensaf Haidar, the wife of Raif Badawi, political activist who was lashed and is imprisoned in Saudi Arabia since seven years. Being at the summit feels to her like being part of a global liberal family.

A video by Elie Wiesel, Nobel award winner, showing a parade of human rights champions from past years, was screened.

Hillel listed again some abusers having a chair at the council, rising again the question where are human rights today? The human rights activists, speaking at the summit, will be an inspiration.

James Kirchik, visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, listed ongoing violations that enjoy impunity and respect: Fidel and Raoul Castro, developed their oppressive system in Cuba. China is becoming a threat to ideas of the liberal world; Female genital mutilation (FGM), which affects at least three million women every year. North Korea and Belarus have their own records.

Nimco Ali, the hero fighting against the brutal crime of FGM is receiving the acknowledgement of his university.

The struggle for democracy in Latin America – Juan Carlos Gutierrez, human rights lawyer and president of the World Jurist’s Association’s Human Rights Institute, listed major cases of documented injustice in Cuba. Innocent people were abused and arrested. Cuba does not respect human rights and does not free these prisoners.

Diego Arria, former ambassador of Venezuela to the UN and former president of the Security Council, had only sad words about reality in his homeland. Venezuela today is a demolished land, oppressing its people, while the UN council, gets its “clean” reports on “clean paper”, ignoring reality and bloodshed. Reports on violations of Human Rights committed by the government of Venezuela, one of them issued by the high commissioner, disappeared and never reached the council.

The United Nations does not look good as a guardian of Human Rights when watching the behaviour of its members.

Felix Maradiaga, Nicaraguan opposition leader, was targeted with false criminal charges and finally fled the country as did thousands of others. The national police was firing at unarmed and peaceful civilians that were protesting for freedom and food and killed 300 of them within 90 days (500 until now). The wounded were forbidden treatment at public hospitals. Although all democratic institutions were destroyed by the government that controls 90% of the media and puts the remaining under pressure, Nicaragua was declared a free and peaceful country. Daniel Ortega’s regime, first respected as liberator, turned into a bloody dictatorship and to a monster while the world remained silent.

Why is our father in Prison?  A conversation with Ensaf Haidar, Human Rights activist and wife of Raif Badawi, who is imprisoned in Saudi Arabia since 7 years because his blog where he wished his country to be liberal, was considered as “non Islamic”. Ensaf claimed that lack of freedom of speech, punishment of converted Muslims and of Christians worshipping in public is not a private- but an official violation of human rights. The three children, Najwa, Tirad and Miriyam, were also present. Naiwa read a heartbreaking letter addressed to her father whom she last saw 7 years ago. They were never allowed to speak at the UN council, where Saudi Arabia is almost a permanent member, being re-elected by a vast majority.

Violations of human rights in the Middle East cannot be handled differently depending on the countries involved. All violations should be handled under the same rules. Following this approach, she handed over Badawi’s human rights award to Richard Radcliffe whose wife is imprisoned at the Evin prison in Teheran.

Confronting Oppression, Defending Human Rights was Kathy Nivyabandhi, an activist from Burundi and a poet, who mobilised the women of Burundi to protest against violence, rape and against the brutal regime of the dictator who promised to liberate the country. As often happens, power became dominant over “liberation”. The regime is torturing people and making them disappear. Three schoolgirls were arrested just for expressing dislike for the president’s picture.

Nurcan Bysal, award winning Kurdish journalist and activist, was recently detained in Turkey because she reported about the harassment of the Kurdish people. Turkey launched a massacre of the Kurds in Sur/Diyarbakir, destroyed their houses and did not even allow people to bury the dead. There is no place for Kurdish people and their human rights are trampled on in Turkey. History books are “written by the executioners” and she wants to find a place for the Kurds in History, therefore she decided to stay.

Abdalaziz Alhamsa, co-founder and spokesperson for “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently”, a citizen journalist group reporting Syrian war news and human rights abuses by the Islamic State, witnessed the abuse, first by Islamic state and then by the Syrian regime. He reported first against IS, then against the Syrian regime that is using gas against its own people. He was later himself arrested.

Nimco Ali, co-founder of “Daughters of Eve”, advocate for women and girls at risk of female genital mutilation, received the 2019 Women’s Rights Award. She was born 1982/83 in Somalia and her parents emigrated to the UK when she was 4 years old. At the age of 7 female genital mutilation was performed on her and she developed kidney failure as a result. She passed through numerous reconstructive surgeries to relieve the damage caused by the FGM.

When she started campaigning against FGM, she was asked to abandon the subject because FGM is part of an old tradition and culture. The UN decided to refer to FGM as to a “health problem”. There was no willingness to accept that this is horrible violence against women. African women who led this campaign to the UN had been raped, tortured and arrested in their African homelands (i.e. in Mali). The financial compensation given to them for the “damage to health” was 50 pence to girls affected by FGM and 700 pounds to women affected by HIV-AIDS, is reflective of the ignorance.

Nimco founded “Daughters of Eve” 8 years ago to empower African women and eliminate the gender based inequality and violence of FGM. She speaks for 200 million women, living with the consequences of FGM done on them in the name of honour and culture and for 3 million girls that are affected every year. There is no honour and no culture by demolition of the lives of little girls in Africa.

Supporting Political Prisoners was chaired by Yang Jianli, himself a former political prisoner. He remembered the 20th anniversary of Tien-an-men massacre in 1989. Remembrance is still considered criminal in China but is of greatest importance. The prisoners of conscience gain strength to survive, by knowing that they are not forgotten.

Nguyen Van Dai is a human rights lawyer that was just released from prison in Vietnam. He went back to Vietnam after studying in Glasgow and became a defender of not recognized religious groups that are oppressed in Vietnam. He was arrested and abused during 2,5 years of detention. Finally released under international pressure, he was forced to leave the country and to never come back. During his arrest all was done to cause him mental and physical discomfort.

Vicente de Lima II, brother of Philippines Senator Leila de Lima who is currently imprisoned for criticizing President Duarte’s drug war, is protesting against her unjustified detention.

Richard Radcliffe, husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe, British-Iranian citizen imprisoned in Iran on spurious charges, protests against the wrongful arrest of his wife on the airport, three years ago, when visiting her family for New Year. She was put on trial for espionage and not allowed to speak at her trial. She went through depression, physical and mental collapse, and hunger strike. Her family was put under pressure and her daughter was threatened.

Concluding Panel Discussion: Can we make a difference?

Panelists were James Kirchick, Michael Levitt, Dr. Elham Amanea (Professor at the University of Zürich) and Hillel Neuer. Chair was Paulina Neuding, Swedish writer and columnist.

How can all good intentions be used and exercised?

As long as the worst dictatorships are placed in the Council to judge about Human rights, it is useless to negotiate with them. They will not change nor will reforms work.

The democratic world has the power and the right to call for an emergency session by mobilizing of 16 countries. That might not stop killings but would mobilize the democratic world. This was never done before, neither for Venezuela nor for Iran nor for FGM.

On the contrary, all efforts until now were directed to reach consensus and appeasement.

An appeal was addressed to a Swedish women’s delegation that went to Iran, to show solidarity with the woman, who was arrested, because she took off her head covering, demanding freedom for women to choose their clothing. The appeal was not accepted and the Swedish “free women” adjusted their clothing and did cover themselves.

Elham Manea who was born 1966 in Egypt to a Yemenite family and is now living in Zürich, said that giving impunity to the perpetrators as a result of economic interests that are given top priority, is a second crime, committed this time by democracies. We should insist that human rights are universal, which says that they apply in Iran same as in Switzerland.

Establishment of a coalition of democracies to protect universal human rights was pledged by Levitt.

The UN Council of Human Rights was established 2006 to replace the UN Commission on Human Rights, that had been strongly criticised for allowing countries with poor human rights records to be members. It was shown to be only a change of name, because the UNCHR is not better than the commission, rather worse. The United States, that left the “old” commission, re-joined the council with good hope but was disappointed. The UNCHR was never working properly. Whoever dared to speaks out was interrupted.

In contrast with other bodies (like the Security Council) NGOs are allowed to speak at the UNCHR but are often interrupted although they are given only 90 seconds. Persons in prison get frustrated reading that the world is electing their oppressor to the council.

At present, only Israel and the United States can be freely criticized at the council. Although criticism of everybody should be allowed, it must be in just proportions. People can do advocacy only if they have a right to speak and there is no democracy without enlightening and asking of questions.

“He is a son of a bitch but he is our son of a bitch” is a guideline (also of democracies) that often leads to impunity for aggressors.

Other Countries (like China) do not care about human rights, they gain (economic) importance and “push” the entire world to accept the growing (official) erosion of human rights. This growing erosion of human rights is a result of military and economic losses of the West.

Therefore it is so important to give a voice and to work “for each single case” of violation of human rights.

What can each of us do? Each of us has to feel that we can make a difference somewhere around the world.

“Take a stand and don’t be indifferent”, think about the consequences for the people living there, were the concluding words of Milham.

The summit closed with giving the Geneva summit courage award to Tibet, to mark the 60th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising against Chinese oppression of Tibetan culture.