Human Rights Defenders Take the Floor

Under the theme “The Defenders Take the Floor”, the UDHR 60 conference gathered prominent human rights advocates and representatives of human rights organizations to share their experience and to review available UN, EU and Council of Europe mechanisms supporting the work of human rights defenders.

The European Union and the United Nations convened a high level conference to mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. - © Photo European ParliamentThe conference aimed to reaffirm and illustrate the scope of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights through the work of human rights defenders across the globe. Also featured at the conference were art and multi-media projects devoted to UDHR 60 and the universality of human rights.

They included “Stories on Human Rights” – a joint project by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and ART for the World featuring a series of short films directed by filmmakers and video artists on key themes of the Universal Declaration. Other projects presented were “Cartooning for Peace”, “6 billion Others” and “World Voices Project”.

Human rights defenders, who by peaceful means advocate, mobilize and often put themselves at risk to defend the most fundamental rights and freedoms, are key agents of change in their own society and the best allies of the international community's efforts to support human rights.

In a keynote speech to the conference, the High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that by giving effect to the principles of the Universal Declaration, human rights defenders had very much kept alive the momentum, the focus, and the pressure for change.

“They are at the frontlines in early warning — by reporting emerging and potentially escalating patterns of abuse; in monitoring — by pointing to deviations from international human rights and humanitarian law, in transition facilitation — by challenging impunity, strengthening the rule of law, devising measures to flesh out best democratic practices, and establishing principles of good governance in societies emerging from conflict or transitioning to democracy,” she said.

Two panels at the conference focused on the mechanisms of protection, in particular the implementation of the 1998 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and of the EU guidelines on human rights defenders, and the importance of freedom of expression as a pillar of the human rights system.

The conference provided an opportunity to assess the situation of human rights defenders around the world and reconfirmed the commitment of the United Nations, the European Union, and the Council of Europe to better protect these key actors in the struggle to realise the vision that 60 years ago inspired the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

October 2008