Let's Defend Them! New Campaign for Human Rights Defenders Begins

Conflict is occurring across the world, and civilians too often pay the price. Fortunately, some brave men and women stand up for their defense. But who defends the defenders?
The conference that officially started the campaign Difendiamoli! (Let's Defend Them!) took place on November 28 at the Sala della Lupa, in the Parliament building in Rome.

Who are human rights defenders?

The conference marks the end of work that began in July, when Italian NGO working in the field of human rights, including Antigone and CILD, first met at the ARCI building with AbdelRahman Mansour. He was a leader of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, now living in Chicago, United States, because if he went back to Egypt, his life would be at risk.

Many other human rights defenders are in a similar situation. In fact, many of them, by opposing their countries' regimes, shine a spotlight on themselves. In this regard, what can western states do in order to protect human rights defenders in other countries?

Risking their lives

To better understand the situations we are talking about, it is necessary to hear directly from human rights defenders about what threats and troubles they face on a daily basis. The risk of being thrown in prison forever or, worse, being killed are ever-present fears.

The reasons for being killed or captured are many. Sometimes it might be because they are defending their people's rights. Other times, the simple fact of being a woman, a minority or a member of a religious group is enough to be considered an enemy and to be deprived of rights.

Experiences

During the conference, several human rights defenders told of their own experiences and gave examples of the dangers they encounter in their everyday lives.

Nibras Almamuri, president of the Iraqi Women Journalist Forum (Iraq), talked about the courage of Iraqi women who fought for their rights in time of war, but also during peacetime.
Biram Dah Abeid is an activist of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (Mauritania), who cannot go back to his country because he risks being killed. He described the battles he fought, and how he fought against slavery, which was abolished in Mauritania only in 2012.

The other human rights defenders who participated and told their stories were: Weeda Ahmad from the Social Association of Social Justice Seekers (Afghanistan); Aseem Trivedi from Save Your Voice campaign (India); and Zaidoun al Zoabi, president of the Union of Syrian Medical Relief Organizations (Syria).

What next?

After these important contributions and testimonies, representatives of Italian institutions, including Senator Luigi Manconi, president of the Extraordinary Commission for the Protection of Human Rights of the Italian Senate, Pia Locatelli, president of the Human Rights Committee for the Foreign Affairs Commission for the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and some NGO representatives engaged in this campaign, discussed the future.

In particular, they focused on future actions, best practices to implement and good models to follow: for example, there are some countries in Europe (such as the Netherlands, Spain, Ireland, Norway and Switzerland) that already have some instruments to protect human rights defenders.

A Dossier drafted by Un ponte Per... includes a report on the practices of these countries.

Many other events are coming up next months.