Quotes from speakers at yesterday’s U.N. opening of the 2017 Geneva Summit for Human Rights, the main session of which is being held today—and webcast live now at www.genevasummit.org, and at the YouTube link below.

Zhanna Nemtsova, daughter of assassinated Russia dissident Boris Nemtsov:

  • “Fifteen years ago, Russia wouldn’t have been here because it was a democracy . . . We did not have political prisoners in Russia. Now we have more than 100 political prisoners and Russia is an authoritarian regime. . . in only fifteen years, Russia has become a truly authoritarian regime with political prisoners and political repressions. That’s why I think that’s an issue and the United Nations has to pay attention to what’s going on in Russia.”
  • “We want Russia without political prisoners and free and democratic. Russia without Putin.”
  • “I was a journalist in Russia. . . And I have never been an activist . . . I led a normal life . . . [] my father was the one responsible for human rights in Russia and for fighting for democracy and I fully supported him. And my father used to say “You know, if you want to join me, you will lose your job. You have to make this choice.” . . . When my father was assassinated, my choice was very obvious and evident. It was my moral choice and I was ready to lose my job.”

Antonietta Ledezma, daughter of imprisoned mayor Antonio Ledezma:

  • “For Venezuelans it is very important to have this space [the Geneva Summit] to speak up because in our country we feel completely silenced, completely isolated. And for us to know that the world can listen to us is very very important.”
  • “Today in Venezuela . . . we are suffering the cruelest dictatorship we have ever suffered in my country’s history.”
  • “I want to talk also about more than 100 women and men who are innocent and today are being held behind bars just for speaking up to this regime.”
  • “Maduro is a man that has violated all democratic and human rights principles to maintain himself in power. . .”
  • “I feel the great responsibility when I am here at the United Nations to speak about this because . . . this is what my father has taught me about freedom, about democracy and about human dignity, something that, as Venezuelans, we haven’t been able to see for over twenty years.”
  • “Today, what I ask all of you is that when you think about Venezuela, think about Antonio Ledezma. Think about our political prisoners and think that today we are having a dictatorship in Venezuela.”
  • “I would like to know and I would like to understand how come a country like Venezuela whose leader is one of the worst human rights violators, is still on the U.N. Human Rights Council.”
  • “I will fight with my life and I will even sacrifice my own freedom to be able to say that I live in a free country.”

Mohamed Nasheed, human rights dissident who became president

  • “We sit here a week before world leaders would gather and deliberate upon the human rights situation in the world. A number of them would be thugs, thieves and murderers. And a number of them also would be apolitical and they would appease these thugs, murderers and thieves, saying that it’s in their strategic interest. They would argue that their cultures, that their religions are different and therefore, they have this right to continue harming us. We are here to see that this doesn’t happen.”
  • “Clever dictators suck you up. They want your entire life to be erased and reformatted according to their world view and according to how they want you to think. They are not torturing you for the information. . . They are torturing you to erase you, to get you to capitulate, to get you to surrender to the state.”
  • “I thought if I got elected as a member of parliament, I might have some safety and security. . . I sought election in the capital city Male and they elected me as their MP, but the government arrested me the next day.”
  • “We were able to galvanize our people to political activism, we were able to amend the constitution, we were able to have our first free and fair elections . . . I returned back to the Maldives, and of course, they arrested me. But the elections were held and I was released and I was fortunate to have won those elections and became the president.”
  • “I always say and always still believe that it is possible to topple a dictator, but it is not so easy to uproot a dictatorship.”
  • “The previous regime came back. They toppled me in a coup, and of course again arrested me. I was able to take part in the 2013 elections and I won, but they nullified the elections. They had it again. Again, I won. And they nullified it again. So, they had as many elections as it took them until I was beaten and then again they arrested me.”
  • “I intend to get back . . . Even if it means going back to jail, I intend to do that. I would call upon everyone here today to work together to subvert the regimes in so many of these countries. Let’s bring down these governments.”
  • “We can build economic, social and political structures to subvert and destabilize these regimes. I am sure we can do it and I am very sure we can win it.”

Can Dundar, leading Turkish journalist who was imprisoned & targeted for assassination

  • “I am coming from the world’s biggest jail for journalists. At the moment, we have 150 journalists in jails of Turkey. Among them, my colleagues from my paper . . . the oldest and most prestigious paper in Turkey. editors-in-chief, writers, reporters, lawyers of the paper. Even the tea maker who refused to give tea to the president.”
  • “Using this military intervention attempt as an excuse for his oppression, Erdogan built up his aggressiveness and oppression and detained more than 15,000 people and 50,000 were fired from their jobs . . . This has been the biggest crackdown in our history. And even the third biggest party’s presidents and 11 parliamentarians are in jail at the moment.”
  • “Under these circumstances . . .Turkey is having a referendum. It will be on the 16th of April and Turkish people will decide between democracy and dictatorship. And according to the opinion polls it’s 50/50 now.”
  • “I am just asking the United Nations to adopt a resolution about Turkey and establish a commission of inquiry about the human rights abuses in Turkey.”
    “We can bring them down if we come together in solidarity.”

Biram Dah Abeid, leading activist against Mauritanian slavery, former political prisoner

  • “Our government over the past decade has distinguished itself through its show of imprisonment of peaceful dissidents because of their commitment to legality and against discrimination.”
  • “We are looking for a Mauritania that doesn’t exist that will be free of this treatment [slavery].”
  • “My father was freed when he was still but a fetus and he was married, but his wife was a slave and was sold away and this gives you an idea of the trade that goes on with human beings, even with fetuses, with children. . . “
  • “I am fighting against slavery and the social consequences. I have lived . . . since my young years . . . with slaves. I have been a witness of . . . this forced inferiority. I am working for the self-determination of my black brothers and sisters and I am trying to free their desire for a free life.”