Support to Human Rights Defenders during the pandemic time
Just before the start of the Oslo Peace Days 2020 last week, NCHR and the Norwegian Human Rights Fund held a digital event on the role of Norwegian and international support to human rights defenders during an after the pandemic, which represents a time with an increased of risks for human rights defenders. Close to 200 participants from government, different public organizations, academics and civil society took part in the event.
Panelists and organisers event poster (from top left): Luciana Peri, Marianne Borgen, Asha Kowtal, Kathrine Raadim, Idil Eser, Nora Sveaass, Mary Lawlor, Sandra Petersen, John Peder Egenæs, Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide, Svein Stølen and Gentian Zyberi. Photo illustration: ©NHRF
The Rector of the University of Oslo (UiO), Svein Stølen, opened the event held on Friday 4 December, talking about the importance of UiOs work on human rights and noting the university’s cooperation with the Scholars at Risk network.
Organizers Gentian Zyberi, Head of Department of the Norwegian Center for Human Rights, and Sandra Petersen, Executive Director of the Norwegian Human Rights Fund (NHRF), briefly welcomed the participants and then introduced the panels.
Current situation of human rights defenders
Opponents of human rights defenders are increasingly criminalizing the activities of defenders, and by criminalized I both mean to make it literally illegal to receive foreign funding, or criminalizing defenders in the public eye by calling them spies, traitors or even enemies of God.
- John Peder Egenæs, Director of Amnesty International Norway.
Human rights defenders’ experiences
One of the human rights defenders in the panel was NCHRs guest researcher Idil Eser, former Executive Director of Amnesty International Turkey shared her experience of being arrested by the Turkish government, and the subsequent persecution of foreign human rights organizations in Turkey. Following a workshop with fellow human rights defenders in 2017, she and nine other human rights defenders were arrested by the Turkish government and accused of aiding three different terrorist organizations.
Our case was a political trial that was supposed to send a message to all human rights defenders, Eser said.
Human rights defenders situation radically changed
The situation for human rights defenders has radically changed during Covid-19 said the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, Mary Lawlor, forcing many to move to digital platforms and thus being exposed to digital security issues, a topic addressed in the video by Nighat Dad from Digital Rights Foundation in Pakistan.
Homes not safe
With all the travel and movment restrictions, as imposed now under the pandemic does that those who want to harm them know where to find them – at home. Lawlor emphasized the need for making more allies from among civil society and various governments, and noted that Norway and Norwegian embassies have offered important support to defenders for many years.
Harder to monitor in these times
In addressing the role of Norwegian and international support to human rights defenders, State Secretary Marte Ziolkowski (Ministry of Foreign Affairs), expressed her support for the global human rights work and noted the rising international concern about the shrinking of civic space during the pandemic. This unprecedented situation has made it even harder to monitor the human rights situation and women’s rights and sexual and reproductive rights are under even more pressure than before.
Ziolkowski said that during its term in the UN Security Council, Norway will seek to ensure that civil society and defenders are invited to brief the Council, and that Norway will continue to be a consistent advocate for human rights in the years to come.
After the pandemic
In providing the concluding remarks, Kathrine Raadim, Director of the International Department at the NCHR, encouraged Norway to take the lead after the pandemic to repeal all the emergency laws and measures that have been imposed and that have negatively affected human rights during the pandemic.
Read the more detailed text, story about the event and all the panelists on the Norwegian Human Rights Fund website.