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Standing up for our rights: How can we support human rights defenders?

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Each year, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is awarded to human rights defenders from across the globe, to recognise their vital contribution to protecting human rights and the freedom of thought. The 2020 Sakharov Prize has been awarded to the democratic opposition in Belarus for their courage, resilience and determination.

Yet human rights defenders across the globe are facing mounting threats and attacks for their work.

  • What can the European Union do to better support human rights defenders?
  • And what can you do individually to defend our human rights?
  • What organizations or people do you see as the most important human rights defenders today?
  • What do you perceive to be the biggest challenges to human rights?
  • Which human rights do you think need most defending today?

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João Alexandre
17 December 2020

Before focusing on these questions we should ask ourselves how often we see any mention on human rights on our daily lives. For instance, what are young children being taught in school about human rights? Do our parents or grandparents understand what it is about? And ourselves: are we respecting everyone with the dignity they deserve? How are we helping those who live in more disadvantageous conditions being informed and have the ways and means to protect their rights?

We should all step back and take a close look at the reality around us. Our rights are continuously challenged through everyday actions even at our own homes. It's about starting by treating our family, our friends and ourselves with the respect and dignity they/we deserve. The biggest challenges we face are all rooted in poor education, lack of love and inability to understand everyone as someone unique. We aren't all starting at the same place.

Michal Rybacki
15 December 2020

I would like to focus on question 4: "What do you perceive to be the biggest challenges to human rights?". Looking at some European countries that are currently backsliding on human rights, I think it's a combination of several factors that together create a major HR challenge:
1) The lack of people's awareness about their human rights and/or low importance attached to these. If big parts of society don't know or don't care about human rights, they give a blank cheque to others to potentially violate these rights. And then come the...
2) ...populistic political actors offering economic benefits (material incentive) coupled with nationalistic narratives (emotional incentive) to gain political support, while expecting only moderate opposition due to the limited interest in defending human rights in the society (see point 1). This is exacerbated by...
3) ...the EU putting limited or no pressure on HR-violating governments because of its unanimity-based decision-making in many key areas such as foreign policy or the protection of the fundamental values.

Potential solutions? All of these easier said than done, I'm aware - but we shouldn't give up doing the following:
1) Raising awareness of human rights and their importance.
2) Countering populism with civic education and activism.
3) Advocating for a more united and democratic Europe that can stand up for its own fundamental values, both internally and globally.

Alexandra Iordache
15 December 2020

1 What can the European Union do to better support human rights defenders?
In my view, there is only one thing that could be done to truly support human rights defenders and their manifestations. This thing consists in arranging special Places designed in aim for debates regarding gaining human rights. Places where human rights defenders can achieve their goals by raising the problems they came across, explaining how these affect humanity and coming up with feasible solutions that can not be combated by any of those hits, tear gas or handcuffs.

2 And what can you do individually to defend our human rights?
To defend something, first, you have to believe in it with all your heart and respect it. That’s why I deem that first thing that we can do would be to fully respect human rights. As about effectively defend our human rights we can simply ask for them and when we feel that our rights are violated we have to behave as such and address those whose role is to reprove people that violated these rights. It is a very important thing not to overlook this kind of situation because consequently, they will keep expanding.

3 What organizations or people do you see as the most important human rights defenders today?
I really appreciate the work of "Physicians for Human Rights".

4 What do you perceive to be the biggest challenges to human rights?
Personally, I think that critical situations such a war or even this pandemic that we cope right now it falls into the category of the challenging situations for human rights. When pillars of a parliament must take measurements regarding a difficult situation that’s occurring in a country, to mitigate its negative consequences, they often forgot to take into consideration HUMAN RIGHTS. I do not know if this is an understandable fact because during history, people died for these rights and overlooking them represents a serious problem. To make myself clear, I will give the example of those children who do not have internet or even electricity in countries that follow an online education. They were deprived of their right to education.

5 Which human rights do you think need most defending today?
Normally, I would say all of them, but then I thought deeply and I came to the conclusion that this right is the right to belonging (no one has the right to steal anything from you: hours of life, identity, family NOTHING). It is a much more important right than it appears to be

Nona Rotariu
12 December 2020

I think that it is very important to invest in education. First of all to make campaignes in schools and universites and to make short case studies for students and to organize online webinars about the human rights. Teachers should also be trained and also this measures should be implemented in the education low, so all the citizens can benefit from them.

Sofia
09 December 2020

1) What can the European Union do to better support human rights defenders?
There should be special protection laws to protect those who are arrested for voicing human rights concerns, as well as special visa for Europe to avoid them being arrested or worse when entering their own country (if they are abroad or wish to go abroad for protection, with proof of potential harm (i.e. asylum but a specific pathway) or a humanitarian visa request, i.e. having access to a visa because humanitarian.
Furthermore, a fund for legal representation to allow human rights defenders to go through legal procedures if needed.

2) What organizations or people do you see as the most important human rights defenders today?
NGOs (e.g. Amnesty International)

4) What do you perceive to be the biggest challenges to human rights?
State religion or most diffused religion in the sense that some states weaponize religion to deliberately and blatantly legislate against specific groups by using their own interpretation of sacred texts (e.g. the US and abortion)
+ Authoritarian and undemocratic or populist figures who weaponize people's fears to create violence, not only in what the EU or the UN calls "authoritarian states" but also Europe and the US.

5) Which human rights do you think need most defending today?
Honestly? All. There has been an increasing amount of state who have been slowly but steadily demolishing the infrastructures, jobs, funds that allowed human rights and human rights defenders to provide support and make change. Misinformation is spreading, citizens are scared for their own future and thus do not care about basic needs for others.
Right to life, freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, freedom from slavery and forced labour, right to liberty and security, right to a fair trial and no punishment without law, freedom of thought, belief and religion, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association, right to marry and start a family, protection from discrimination, right to education, free elections, abolition of the death penalty, right to abortion.

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