Sampling International Human Rights Day 2016: be a human rights defender. .

December 9, 2016

International Human Rights Day commemorates the day on which, in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1950, the Assembly passed resolution 423 (V), inviting all States and interested organisations to observe 10 December as Human Rights Day. The theme this year is: Stand up for someone’s rights today, in other words: be a human rights defender. .

There is a lot going on during this period, so I just give a small sample (10!) from different parts of the world:

  1. Jamaica: Father Sean Major-Campbell, an Anglican Priest, published a letter in the Jamaica Gleaner, stating: “Sadly, it is only a few civil-society groups that make any effort to celebrate the necessary call for the protection of our freedoms and civil liberties. The time is ripe for the Church throughout Jamaica to get on board with deliberately promoting, protecting, and celebrating social justice and human rights for our citizens. It is with a sense of urgency and Christian commitment that I encourage us in the Church to use this time of year to sensitise awareness around the human rights of all Jamaicans…” Then he recounts a lovely anecdote: “About four years ago, I went to Emancipation Park on International Human Rights Day to do a stand for human rights. A few civil-society volunteers were there, each holding a placard with a message affirming human rights. As I entered the park (in clerical collar), security personnel identified me and approached me with a sense of antiterrorism vigilance. One seeing my not yet displayed placard reprimanded me: “You can’t come in here to demonstrate. No demonstration is being allowed here today!”..He called for backup and a retinue of other security, along with the chief in tow, attended the scene of impending doom. The already stated position was affirmed: “Sir, you can’t do any demonstration here.”…. I said: “By the way, would you all take a look at what is written on my placard? Tell me if this sounds like a demonstration, and an activity that is going to erupt in violence.” I opened my placard bearing the words ‘Security guards and domestic helpers are human too.’ After a moment of stunned silence, a very helpful response came. “Okay, sir, but we will have to follow you, wherever you walk inside here.”
  2. Mauritiu: the Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr P. Jhugroo, opened a half-day workshop with members of the Standing Technical Inter-Ministerial Committee. In addition to the somewhat self-congratulatory words of the Minister, the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Mr D. Seetulsingh, appealed to each and every one to act as Human Rights defenders and to stand up for our rights. He spoke about issues that crop up frequently as regards human rights namely the legalisation of abortion; death penalty; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender rights; and the new Police and Criminal Evidence Bill.
  3. Myanmar: The Human Rights Defenders and Promoters network (HRDP) have this year opted not to hold any major events, but will take their cause to people in cities around the country. HRDP executive director U Myint Aye says he feels this personalised approach should be more effective. “We will directly talk with people one-by-one and hand out our pamphlets, and small flags which have ‘Stand up for someone’s rights today’ on it, and also some booklets about human trafficking,”  HRDP says it is crucial for people in Myanmar to have a thorough understanding of human rights and related issues, with Human Rights Day presenting a unique opportunity to tackle some widely-held misconceptions. “Although people have been widely discussing human rights, 90 percent of them do not really know about human rights. They think human rights is whatever they want it to be,” said U Myint Aye. “We also want to give the information that one person’s human rights cannot disturb another person’s.”
  4. In the Netherlands there is a series of Human Rights Defenders Days culminating in the Tulip award ceremony (see my earlier:
  5. Taiwan/India: The Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances(AFAD) will receive on 10 December  the Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award 2016 (see:
  6. Liberia: Remarkably Africa has also its own “Africa Human Rights Day”: which is celebrated on 31 October. In Liberia the Independent National Commission on Human Rights in collaboration with Green Advocates celebrated under the theme “Promoting Women’s Rights is a collective Responsibility” as 2016 marks also the 13th anniversary of the adoption of the optional Protocol on the Rights of Women often called the Maputo Protocol. The programme included a street parade followed by an indoor program with reflection on the Role of Women Human Rights Defenders in Liberia.
  7. Zimbabwe: On this day, the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) “bemoans the many incidences of police brutality that occurred in the recent past months in Harare against peaceful demonstrators and elsewhere in violation of people’s freedoms to associate and assembly. ZADHR is further aggrieved by assaults targeted at journalist legally carrying out their professional duties and call upon the state to exercise restraint and respect the role of the media. ZADHR contends that human rights can only be enjoyed in a peaceful environment where fundamental freedoms and liberties of the human person are unconditionally respected. Where freedom abounds, health is easily realized, conversely disease and ill-health are often rife in environments with conflict and repression of human rights. Failure to provide quality healthcare is in essence a denial of the human person’s dignity……Finally, ZADHR wishes to pay homage to all health professionals and human rights defenders who have stood out in defence of the rights of Zimbabweans.
  8. Philippines: Militant groups are heading back to the streets for Human Rights Day.  “He [President Duterte] has to stop the killings. He has to end the militarization of the countryside. He must release all political prisoners as a matter of justice. He should not aid in the rehabilitation of the Marcos family and pave the way for their return to power,” Renato Reyes, secretary general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), said. Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general, said the war on drugs is now being used as a smokescreen to attack activists and progressives. “Human rights activists are still subjected to harassment, including baseless criminal charges. The Duterte administration makes loose pronouncements regarding the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, and proposes to revive the brutal Philippine Constabulary and the death penalty,” she said. In a separate statement, the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) noted that “the situation has deteriorated quickly in the Philippines since the recent election of Rodrigo Duterte to presidency.”.. “In a recent speech, the President has vowed to kill HRDs (human rights defenders), who oppose his bloody war in drugs,” it said.
  9. Bangladesh: The NGO Odhikar, led by Adilur Rahman Khan, issued on this day a statement lamenting the pattern of massive violations in the country and concludes by saying: “Odhikar believes that a democratic state needs to be constituted based on equality, human dignity and social justice which were the main perceptions of the Liberation War of Bangladesh; and there is no alternative way other than people’s mobilization and fight against injustice. Thus, on this 2016 International Human Rights Day, the people of Bangladesh have to be united and vocal in order to restore their voting rights and every human rights defender, with the families of the victims and the people, has to stand against human rights violations in one voice. The international community has also to come forward and take effective action to stop state repression against human rights defenders.”
  10. But not only NGOs mark this day. The UK‘s Foreign Office e.g. hosted an event attended by over 100 guests to focus on the importance of a strong civil society and honour the work of human rights defenders. Minister for Human Rights, Baroness Anelay, said inter alia: All around the world people’s human rights are under threat, so the role of civil society and human rights defenders has never been more important. A shrinking civil society harms a country’s stability, economic prospects and wider social development. Providing space for civil society to operate is therefore crucial to the spread and strengthening of democracy all around the world. An active civil society is the hallmark of a mature society; one that is open to challenge and able to protect the rights of its citizens. Governments should not only allow but proactively nurture a healthy civil society. They should commend human rights defenders – not condemn them. This is the message that we will continue to promote both at home and abroad as we stand up for human rights. Amarildo Fecanji – Executive Director LBGTI Equal Rights Association for Western Balkans and Turkey, Ruth Hunt – Chief Executive, Stonewall, William Gelling – High Commissioner to Rwanda, and Thomas Hughes – Executive Director, Article 19 also took part in a panel discussion at the event.



Mauritius: International Human Rights Day 2016 – Workshop for Members of the Human Rights Technical Committee –


One Response to “Sampling International Human Rights Day 2016: be a human rights defender. .”

  1. […] can only give a cursory overview of some highlights in 2018 like I did in previous years [see e.g.…, and]. […]

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