2022 Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy

EDITOR NOTE: some of this report contains references to torture and abuse.

I arrived in Geneva last night for the first time in two years for the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, an annual event raising the plight of political prisoners worldwide and drawing attention to human rights abuses by state actors. It is always a privilege to be in the company of the speakers, who are variously former political prisoners, family members and representatives of prisoners and front line human rights defenders.

The event at the UN was opened by the Canadian permanent mission to the UN who asked for full support for the suspension of Russia from the Human Rights Council this week.

The first speaker was Nazanin Boniadi, an Iranian human rights defender who focusses on the denial of due process in Iranian courts and torture of defendants. She pointed out that 72 deaths have occurred in custody in a decade.

Zarifa Ghafari was the youngest female mayor in Afghanistan but left to protect her family after her father was killed during an attempt on her life. She asked the West to deal with the Taliban as they are de facto rulers of the country, but to demand women’s rights to work and education for freeing up funds. The people are now facing joblessness and rising prices at the same time and a catastrophe is unfolding.

Leonid Volkov is chief of staff to Navalny but now operates in exile. He pointed out that fighting corruption is fundamental to protecting human rights. Putin first undermined democracy in Russia to retain power as his corruption became evident. Now he has gone to war to retain power and his stolen assets.

Berthe Valle is the wife of Nicaraguan presidential candidate Felix Maradiaga, who was imprisoned by the Ortega regime after his party was banned. He is held in permanent darkness and has lost 50lbs in weight. He is still in prison along with 175 other opposition politicians and she is no longer able to contact him.

Hopewell Chinono is a Zimbabwean investigative journalist who has been repeatedly arrested for looking into the corruption of the Mangagwa government. He told us that there is now no cancer treatment available at all in the Zimbabwean health service despite the wealth of the elite. He has recently been investigating the looting of money donated by the rich world to fight COVID in the country.

Arij al Sadham is a Saudi in exile fighting for her brother, who has served 4 years of a 20 year sentence for tweeting. The authorities tortured him and smashed his fingers for the use he put them to.

Bobi Wine is opposition leader in Uganda where he described the last election as the most violent ever. He survived 3 assassination attempts and around 50000 opposition activists were rounded up. Most were released after the election but some turned up dead, others were tortured or raped and some remain in custody. He called for sanctions on Museveni. The international community must not tolerate him any longer.

Enes Kanter is a professional basketball player who has given up his career to campaign for the human rights of minorities in China. He will be receiving a prize tomorrow.

Olga Aivazouska is an advocate for a special tribunal for Russia and Putin’s war crimes taking place right now. She described the scenes from Bucha, which I witnessed on NBC news in my hotel room last night, of shocking scenes of bodies in the street, hands tied and shot in the back of the head and bodies of naked women who had been raped. In an emotional speech she also asked how 71% of the Russian population can support Putin’s destruction in Ukraine and a majority even support aggression against the EU. If he is not stopped this aggression will keep growing.

The final speaker was Rosa Maria Paya, a Cuban pro democracy activist whose father was assassinated 10 years ago. She wants to know why Cuba still sits on the UN Human Rights Council along with other notable human rights abusers. She said that statistically, Cuba is now the most miserable country in the world, attested by the outbreak of unrest last year. She is now campaigning for a referendum on multi party democracy for the country,

These are the brave and inspiring people we will be hearing from tomorrow in the public session. As liberals we are all in this fight together and that is why liberalism and internationalism are intertwined. It is important that we add our voices to these calls for justice across the world. This is no time for insularity.

* Phil Bennion is Vice President of Liberal International and former MEP for the West Midlands.

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6 Comments

  • Brad Barrows 5th Apr '22 - 6:42pm

    My concern with the summit in Geneva is that there appears, yet again, to be no speaker invited to speak about the abuses being experienced by Palestinians either directly or indirectly due to Israeli policies and actions. Sadly, it appears that the degree of concern about human rights being experienced in different parts of the world is closely related to whether the country responsible is an ally of the West or not.

  • Phillip Bennion 6th Apr '22 - 8:10am

    One of the key prisoners the Summit has highlighted over the past 10 years is Raif Badawi. You may notice that we had another Saudi activist speaking this year. Those pressing for Kashmiri Justice have also grumbled so I have asked them for specific named prisoners on whom we can focus. Similarly for Palestinians. The Summit does not instigate the campaigns but works with human rights defenders on the ground who ask for help.

  • Brad Barrows 6th Apr '22 - 8:54am

    @Philip Bennion
    Thanks for your further comment. Perhaps the reason why Palestinian Human Rights groups are not requesting help is due to 6 leading Palestinian Human Rights organisations being declared illegal last year under Israel’s terrorism laws.

  • Phillip Bennion 6th Apr '22 - 9:13am

    We are aware of this and I have taken the matter up directly with Yesh Atid

  • A sobering article, Phil and a timely conclusion about liberalism and internationalism being intertwined.
    The President of Ukraine addressing the UN security council yesterday was scathing about the veto welded by permanent members of the council. Although he was focused on Russia’s use of the Veto to block UN actions, the criticism applies equally to the US, particularly with respect to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.
    You mention the proposal for a special tribunal for Russia and Putin’s war crimes taking place right now. The US and UK are to request Russia’s suspension/removal from the human rights council as highlighted by the Canadian permanent mission to the UN.
    The removal of Cuba from the UN Human Rights Council may be more contentious given the sanctions that this country has been under since the Cuban revolution. Tricky questions, but as you conclude it is important that we add our voices to these calls for justice across the world.

  • Phillip Bennion 7th Apr '22 - 9:53am

    Thanks Joe, The Geneva Summit is always compered by the chief executive of UN Watch, Hillel Neuer. At my invitation he has also appeared online for us as a panellist in international debates. Last year he was calling for the ending of elections to the Human Rights Council and forming it in the same way as the General Assembly, with all UN members having a vote. This would put an end to the practice of all the worst perpetrators of human rights abuses getting themselves elected to the Council. It was Hillel who also pointed out to me a couple of years ago that China was using Belt and Road to develop a caucus of votes at the UN that will always follow its lead. These made up nearly all of the abstentions in the condemnation of Russian action in Ukraine. UN Watch is the go to organisation for holding the UN to account.

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