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Criticism is not a crime: Human Rights Day 2010

“Despite grave risks, human rights defenders everywhere continue to champion the vision of the Universal Declaration through their ideas and deeds. They know that silence and inaction embolden those who violate human rights.” In her speech to a special Human Rights Day event in Geneva UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay focused on the work of human rights defenders and the groups of people who require special efforts in the safeguarding of their rights.

The focus of Human Rights Day 2010 is human rights defenders who act to end discrimination © UN PHOTOPillay acknowledged the famous defenders, those who have become “icons”. Others, she said, “may be less famous but are not less determined and courageous.”

The High Commissioner spoke of the Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, murdered in 2006, and Foribert Chebeya Bahizire found dead earlier this year. Many others remain unknown: Pillay recalled the kidnapping and murder of Guatemalan activist, Emilia Quan only days ago.

In both her speech and statement for 10 December Pillay singled out a number of groups for special focus – groups who through force of circumstance find themselves particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse with little or no chance of redress.

The High Commissioner pointed to the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples many of whom “are considered unwanted guests in their own ancestral lands”; the 200 million migrants world-wide, especially those who are undocumented and irregular who face chronic forms of discrimination; and half of the worlds population, women, who in many places still do not receive equal pay for equal work and whose rights generally continue to be restricted.

Pillay spoke of the necessity to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals through legislative reform and education initiatives; of the stigma, neglect and abuse directed against the elderly; and of the prejudice and resistance faced by persons with disabilities as they struggled to affirm their rights.

The High Commissioner called on Governments “to acknowledge that criticism is not a crime, and to release all those people who have been detained for peacefully exercising their fundamental freedoms to defend democratic principles and human rights.”

10 December 2010