Monday, April 20, 2009

Human rights defenders and activists gather at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance, and Democracy

Zimbabwe human rights activist Marlon Zakeyo looks on during the Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy at the International Conference Center in Geneva April 19, 2009. The Durban Review Conference on racism, which will review progress and assess implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, will be held at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva from April 20 to 24, 2009.REUTERS/Denis Balibouse (SWITZERLAND POLITICS HEADSHOT)
UN Watch
April 19, 2009

Just a day before the “Durban II” Review Conference, the U.N.’s talkfest ..., human rights defenders and activists from around the world gathered in Geneva this morning to address the issues they wish the conference would itself address. Brought to the Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance, and Democracy by a broad coalition of more than thirty NGOs., including UN Watch, these activists spoke out for victims of genocide and challenged the world’s authoritarian regimes.Opening remarks were delivered by Nazanin Afshin-Jam, former Miss Canada and co-founder/ President of “Stop Child Executions.” She stated that Ahmadinejad’s presence at Durban II will be a “slap in the face” to the international community. She called on countries that believe in freedom and democracy to stand in solidarity with the people of Iran and walk-out when Ahamdinejad is set to speak.

Elen Bork of Freedom House moderated the next panel discussion on “Resisting Authoritarianism: Human Rights, Democracy and the Dissident Movement.” She said it is appropriate that this discussion follows the one on genocide, because it is under authoritarian governments that genocide is committed.Jose Gabriel Ramon Castillo spoke about his experience as a dissident, activist and political prisoner in Cuba. He discussed his defiance in the face of the Castro regime as he continued to organized activities for his pro-democracy group in Cuba, despite the repression and intimidation he faced. Not only was he sentenced to twenty years in prison, but his family was also targeted. His wife was fired from her job and his daughter was expelled from school and confined to a hospital.Castillo denounced Durban II as an example of people refusing to denounce injustice. He said the conference is like giving an “oxygen booth to dictatorships so they can continue to trample on peoples’ lives.”

Castillo was followed by Zimbabwean lawyer and human rights advocate, Marlon Zakeyo. He described his journey as a human rights defender, which began when he joined a student movement seeking democracy and justice for his country.Commenting on the present political situation in Zimbabwe, he said the new government should only be viewed as a transitional one, the result of a pact between political elites. The voices of the masses of Zimbabwe were not heard, he said.He deplored the massacres unleashed on the Zimbabwean people since 2000, not to mention the atrocities of 1982-1987. He warned that there is no guarantee that Zimbabwe will not lash back into the “dark days.” He discussed the precarious situation of human rights defenders who face enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. He called this “state terrorism” by the government of Zimbabwe.He deplored the overcrowding of Zimbabwean prisons, filled in part with political prisoners, where diseases, such as cholera and HIV/AIDS are rampant. There is no freedom of expression or free media, he said.He called on the U.N. to send a fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe, which has not been done.

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