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Speech by Alice Mogwe, FIDH Secretary-General and Director of Ditshwanelo, the Botswana

Centre for Human Rights at the opening of the 20th EU-NGO Human Rights Forum.

Brussels, 20 November 2018

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Greetings to each and every one of you. It is indeed an honour to be able

to participate in the opening of this 20th EU NGO Forum this morning.
Some of us here have come fresh from the Second World Summit on
Human Rights Defenders where we reaffirmed that human rights
defenders change the world. We are about mobilisation, we are about
change, and we are also about a hopeful future. We are about finding
different and new paths on our journey for change. I salute each and every
one of you for your commitment, for your passion, your courage, your
giving, so that others may have.

Every year, human rights defenders from all over the world gather to
share their national experiences with one another and with the European
Union in order to assist the EU to reflect on its role in the promotion and protection of human
rights globally. This annual gathering is symbolic of the commitment of the EU to human rights
and their universality. This year, marking the seventieth anniversary of the UDHR (1948), calls
for reflection on how far the world has come since the end of the Second World War in 1945,
the end of colonisation, which took at least 20 years after the UDHR was signed, the official end
of the Cold War in 1989, and how to ensure that we affirm the universality of the value of
dignity for all.

So how is the world looking at the moment? There are conflicts and repression in Sudan, Mali,
and Burundi, extrajudicial executions in the Philippines, crimes against humanity in Myanmar,
enforced disappearances in Bangladesh, abuse of anti-terrorism laws in Egypt and Chile, the
proliferation of repressive laws in Russia and Kyrgyzstan, the rise of populism in Europe, the
deaths of migrants in the Mediterranean, as well as the arbitrary detention of human rights
defenders such as our colleague Nabeel Rajab, deputy secretary general of the International
Federation for Human Rights, FIDH. He’s been sentenced to seven years imprisonment in
Bahrain for merely exercising his freedom of expression.

International systems are also taking the strain. The United Nations Security Council, whose
composition continues to be unacceptably exclusive, is repeatedly prevented from making
appropriate decisions in response to conflicts, and this occurs due to the misuse of its veto
powers by the permanent members. The continued suffering of the peoples of Palestine and
Yemen are examples of the effects of such misused veto powers. The withdrawal of the United
States of America from the United Nations Human Rights Council, together with the failure of
the European Union to adopt the much awaited language when reacting to repressive actions
of states like China, have been very disappointing. The space of independent NGOs in Geneva is
being shrunk or completely closed by government NGOs, also known as GONGO's, and by the
sympathetic ear given to state complaints about independent NGOs. All of these are examples
of the challenges which we face in a democracy and human rights space. However, we should
not lose sight of the positive creativity in progress which such negative environments beget and
to which they are a reaction.

So what are the positive aspects? The UN Human Rights Council created an independent
mechanism to accelerate criminal proceedings in relation to the international crimes
perpetrated against the Rohingya in Burma. This action has served to bypass the stalling tactics
used in the UN Security Council. The French justice system has issued three international
warrants of arrest against senior Syrian officials, even though Syria has not ratified the Rome
Statute establishing the International Criminal Court, and the UN Security Council has not
confirmed the mandatory ICC. France made use of the doctrine of universal jurisdiction to
achieve this. France has also been against the so-called crime of solidarity which is being used
by others to criminalise individuals who assist migrants in difficulty. Such a crime offends the
French constitutional principle of fraternity. The European Union responded for the first time in
its history to populism and a serious rise in human rights violations by mobilising protection
mechanisms provided for in its constituent Treaty. The United Nations has engaged in an
historic process of negotiating a legally binding instrument to regulate the activities of
transnational corporations and other business enterprises and to provide effective remedies for
affected populations with respect to international human rights law. Until very recently, the
European Court of Human Rights had been issuing landmark rulings on migration issues such as
forcible return to the open seas, limitations on the European Union system for the sharing of
responsibility for processing of asylum applications in European Union states as well as
responding to the pushback approach used at the operational Spanish borders, and the
International Criminal Court has condemned the criminalisation of human rights defenders and
of indigenous people in June. And so one sees that the human rights story is not only about
violence, intolerance and discrimination, but also about human rights defenders who continue
to use human rights as an effective tool for economic and social justice, and for hope.

So what is the way forward? I wish to share the following three key elements of a response to
current and future challenges. First of all, it is critical that we continue to reiterate our unfailing
commitment to combat attacks on the universality of human dignity as the basis of human
rights. The effects of globalisation are not only seen in the explosion of regional and
international human rights instruments, but also in the production of victims of globalisation
whose dignity is often not being acknowledged or respected. They are often no longer
described as human beings. Instead, they are waves of refugees, they are potential terrorists,
they are threats to national security, depending on who is doing the defining of their identity.
There is however absolutely no doubt that protection from hunger, exploitation, torture,
enforced disappearance and loss of life, as well as arbitrary detention, cannot be considered to
be the prerogative of a particular culture. Without these protections no person can live a
dignified life.

Secondly, it is important to examine the cost of any return to realpolitik or national withdrawal.
The European Union must itself be convinced that when it defends human rights it is not only
defending European values but the fundamental universal values of human dignity which forms
the basis of human rights. This basic value is essential for the building of peace and security.
However, whatever the fundamental value, the framework within which strategy is determined
and funding streams are decided is a political one influenced by national economic interests. A
refocus on localisation, as opposed to globalisation, could be a useful strategy to strengthen the
social base which ultimately influences political frameworks at the national level.

Thirdly, more than ever before, there is need to reflect on how to respond to attacks on
international criminal justice systems, peacekeeping mechanisms, and the protection of human
rights. We have the various tools, but need to refocus our priorities, and I suggest the three
following priorities:

One, strengthening the base at local level. This would involve the European Union increasing its
direct support for and to human rights defenders and independent NGOs. Strengthening
independent NGOs requires a recognition that this should not be limited to the traditional
training about proposal and report writing, log frameworks, auditable and structured
government systems, but also to relevant and contextual leadership investments, and this
requires new thinking about what is needed to build and strengthen the base beyond mere
institution building. This will require new funding, exploration of new protection channels,
more effective early warning mechanisms, and more widespread and systematic human rights
education for all peoples.

Two, reinforcing the credibility of its actions. For its own actions to be effective and for it to be
a convincing institution, the EU will have to be coherent and accountable for the effects of its
policies beyond the borders of Europe. It is necessary that there be a review of strategies used
for negotiating international cooperation. For ethical development cooperation relationships,
every partner, including both the European Union and its development state partners, must be
held to the respect of international human rights standards. This includes trade agreements and
how business is conducted. The EU and the international community must develop and
implement standards to effectively control their own activities as well as to prevent and provide
redress for negative impacts of globalisation on human rights. In short, this must become a
credible Europe which creates and monitors the implementation of obligations for its
companies and investors abroad. A credible Europe will be one which provides effective and
accessible control and complaint mechanisms in relation to trade and investment treaties, anti-
terrorism and migration policy.

And finally three, strengthening effectiveness of international cooperation through the creation
of effective remedies and access to international justice. The creation of the United Nations and
the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 marked what I see as a
values and legal revolution by the recognition of dignity through and in the form of rights.
These became the basic principles of a new international public order. While we have
witnessed 70 years of the Cold War and post-Cold War periods with very negative implications
for the peoples of the world and their different locations of struggle, we have also seen
unprecedented normative development in which we must continue to invest

In closing, in my capacity as both the director of Ditshwanelo, the Botswana Centre for Human
Rights, and Secretary-General of FIDH, which brings together 184 leagues in 112 countries, we
reiterate our commitment to the strengthening of human rights globally and locally. We also
pledge to meet future challenges alongside a committed and united European Union as we
further strengthen and deepen the fight for human rights around the world. Thank you.
Read the HRDN Report, Human Rights under threat: exploring new approaches in a challenging
global context