Astrid Thors | Copyright: UN Watch Credit: Oliver O'Hanlon 9… | Flickr

Astrid Thors, a former OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities and Finnish MP, addresses the 9th Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.

9th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Presenting the 2017 Moral Courage Award to former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed:

Mister President, your work shows how a defender of human rights, how a true democrat, is the person best to represent and defend the interests of all persons living in a country.”

“We sincerely hope that democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights will come about soon in the Maldives, that your future campaigns for power will be successful and democracy be restored.”

On human rights and the environment: 

“If climate change is not abated, it will harm the human rights of everybody.”

“It is a duty for countries to cooperate in the fight against climate change.”

Giving the Summit a call to arms:

“We call on all here present and in the international community to promote the work of you and all human rights defenders in your country.”

Full Remarks

Dear fellows, dear heroes, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.

I’m honoured on behalf of the Geneva Summit coalition of 25 human rights NGOs, including Liberal International, to present our 2017 Courage Award. As we know, we are assembled here today to shine a spotlight on an urgent human rights situation that certainly must not be forgotten as with those we heard, at a time when attacks on the global liberal order are more frequent than for decades.

We have heard so many forceful testimonies in words, in songs, in arts, and in these circumstances, it is natural that the Liberal International continues to be a co-host and partner of the Summit, the fourth year in a row.

I may say that the Liberal International is proud of the work of our activists and parliamentarians in the fight for the protection of human rights, rule of law and democracy, including also having at international level a human rights committee, and we have now our African Liberal Network that has adopted a Human Rights Declaration, the first of its kind.

I’m certain that during the years of cooperation around this Summit and before around the work of the UN Human Rights Council, in the fight for the International Criminal Court, you have been able to count on liberal politicians to defend the values that are in the court of human dignity, freedom, and I can say for you also: you can do so in the future, count on them.

But today, I have the honour as I said to present the 2017 Courage Award to His Excellency President Mohamed Nasheed, the former President of the Maldives.

We are giving it to you, to a person who has spoken out on behalf of all your people in so many ways. And may I say, I am among those who remember as the first picture of you, Mister President, in that you were a swimming President leading the cabinet in the sea, trying to get the world’s attention to what climate change and rising sea level could mean for the lowest country on earth, to your country the Maldives. Your determination and your persistent fight for the better environmental rules really caught the eye of the world. Let us just mention that TIME Magazine declared you, Mister President, a Hero of the Environment in September 2009, and a year later the UN presented you with the Champions of the Earth environment award.

Among many other awards you have been given – I cannot mention them all – but I also want to mention the Anna Lindh Prize, given to you 2009 in recognition for your work promoting human rights, democracy and environmental protection. Anna Lindh, the former Foreign Minister of Sweden, represents some of the best traditions of global action, of smart diplomacy, combined with right values. My belief is that she paid the highest price for her convictions as well, and the world would have been a better place had she been among us instead of being murdered.

Mister President, your work also shows how a defender of human rights, how a true democrat, is the person best to represent and defend the interests of all persons living in a country; and your work has contributed greatly to the awareness that if climate change is not abated, it will harm the human rights of everybody, but first, it often hurts the most vulnerable.

Early on, your country also made a forceful submission to the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which led to observations that it is a duty for countries to cooperate in the fight against climate change. Today we see how people have to leave their homelands because of the effects of climate change and/or other forms of pollution. We know that some progress has been made because the Sustainable Development Goals, binding on all of us, have been adopted. We know that there are some notions in them on the relations between justice, rule of law, democracy and development; maybe not strong enough, but they are there.

And let me also say: today, on the UNESCO International Day of the Mother Tongue, we also remember all those who are persecuted like we have heard because of language, religion, origin and ethnicity. Let us remember them.

But Mister President, you have got many additional names, but the one that has been used during this Summit and is the most striking is the name “Mandela of the Maldives.” You were the Maldives’ first democratically-elected President. Before that, you had been arrested, tortured and imprisoned on numerous occasions for your political beliefs and been named, among other things, a prisoner of conscience. You have endured incredible circumstances during the many times you were kept imprisoned, and yesterday I learnt that for generations, members of your family has endured the same torture. You are a strong family.

Mister President, you led the campaign of non-violent civil obedience that pressured the dictatorial Maumoon Gayoom, then Asia’s longest-serving ruler, to relax authoritarian controls and allow political pluralism. And in the historic election in 2008, you won and swept away 30 years of one-man rule.

But, as you know, in February 2012, there was a coup d’état perpetrated by security forces loyal to the previous regime, and you had to resign. Many say that your resignation saved your country from much violence, maybe a civil war. And, later on, you narrowly missed reelection in 2013 in an election that – well, we don’t know if it was free and fair – and other elections were conducted until you did not win anymore.

Dear fellows here at the Summit, we sincerely hope that democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights will come about soon in the Maldives, that your future campaigns for power will be successful and democracy be restored.

We call on all here present and in the international community to promote the work of you and all human rights defenders in your country.