GENEVA, June 7, 2021 — China, Syria, Turkey, Cuba, and Pakistan were among governments that came under scrutiny today at an annual assembly of dissidents and former political prisoners who have been oppressed by some of the world’s worst abusers.
The 13th annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, organized by a cross-regional coalition of 25 human rights groups, and being held virtually for the first time, takes place ahead of the June session of the UN Human Rights Council, in a bid to place urgent situations on the world agenda.
Waad Al-Kateab, a Syrian refugee and award-winning documentary filmmaker, spotlighted the Assad regime’s abuses.
Uyghur rights activist Rayhan Asat and exiled Hong Kong dissident Nathan Law called out China’s assault on Uyghurs in Xinjiang and democracy in Hong Kong.
Pakistani rights activist Gulalai Ismail, who fled the country after authorities falsely accused her of sedition for her advocacy, received the Geneva Summit’s 2021 International Women’s Rights Award.
Cuban political performance artist Tania Bruguera was supposed to speak at today’s event, but the conference announced that she was unable to join because government forces shut down her internet. Since November 2020, Bruguera has been repeatedly detained, interrogated and put under house arrest for her artwork and activism critical of the regime.
China, Cuba and Pakistan are members of the UNHRC, and their abuses typically go ignored there. The Geneva Summit hopes that today’s powerful testimonies will mobilize pressure upon the council to address the plight of the victims.
|Day 1: Testimonies from 13th Geneva Summit|
|Waad Al-Kateab, Syrian refugee and award-winning documentary filmmaker on Syria’s Civil War: “No one can repair the past, but you can stop the crimes that are still taking place in Syria. We must stop legitimizing the murderous regime.”
Rayhan Asat, Uyghur activist, sister of Ekpar Asat who was abducted by Chinese authorities: “Today, my people are herded into camps, where they are shaved, blindfolded, shackled, and sterilized. My brother is just one of the millions of Indigenous Turkic people currently detained. This is the face of the ‘New China.’”
Nathan Law, former member of Hong Kong Legislative Council who fled arrest and student leader of 2014 Umbrella Movement: “We believe that Hong Kong people deserve democracy and freedom. And that’s why we come out to protest and to fight against all these authoritarian approaches to Hong Kong, the destruction of our free system — and also to fight for our future.”
András Simonyi, academic and former Hungarian Ambassador to the U.S.: “As much as we shouldn’t take democracy for granted, I have a message to the dictators or dictators-to-be: Don’t take your power for granted. It might not last forever. And I think every single individual can do their part in bringing closer the moment when dictators fall.”
Can Dündar, leading Turkish journalist forced into exile for reporting on the Erdoğan regime: “There must be a strong desire for freedom within the country that we can support from outside. So, it’s like global warming or climate change; there are no boundaries between inside and outside when it comes to defending democracy.”
Irwin Cotler, Chair of Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights: “We are witnessing a global political pandemic characterized by a resurgent global authoritarianism, the backsliding of democracies, the assault on human rights, including media freedom, and political prisoners as a looking glass into this global political pandemic – the whole underpinned by yet another pandemic, the pandemic of impunity.”
Gulalai Ismail, Pakistani women’s rights activist and former political prisoner who escaped the country: “The only reason I’ve survived this long and the only reason I can continue doing this work is because of my family and friends. When I was in hiding, my sister fought for my life. When my father was in prison, I fought for his life.”