The world owes defenders, the heroes of human rights: Today OMCT’s Jilani
OMCT celebrates Human Rights Defenders worldwide from OMCT / SOS-Torture Network on Vimeo.
Geneva, December 2016
(OMCT) – On the International Day of Human Rights, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) launched a
ten-day tribute to the human rights heroes the world is indebted to for their
life-long dedication to defending the rights of all.
“December 10 is a bit like the birthday of all human rights
defenders,” said OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock. “It serves to remind
us that we actually owe them a celebration every day of the year.”
For human rights defenders who like OMCT
President Hina Jilani are sharing their story today, usual treatment includes imprisonment, incarceration and
torture. OMCT is until 23 December profiling 10 human rights defenders fighting against torture from Colombia to Burundi to share
their plight and commend their achievements. Michael O’Flaherty, Director of
the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, rightly called them the “heroes of human rights”.
No human rights violation is uncovered without them. They
provide information to put an end to impunity to international mechanisms such
as the Committee Against Torture
(CAT). They protest and speak out when no one wants to hear. They trigger
change. For us all. And yet defending human rights has a very personal cost –
more than two lives every month for the past 15 years, with some 200 human
rights defenders killed this year alone. What is more OMCT documented cases of harassment
against 1,066 human rights defenders and 116 organizations.
Every year, OMCT protects more than 600 human
rights defenders at risk around the world by alerting the international
community about their plight, mobilizing support for them, and offering
training, legal advice, material assistance, and relocation to safety.
Complaining is taking
As her fellow activists, Ms. Hilani believes one cannot complain
about violations occurring unless one is willing to take the responsibility to undo
what one does not want to see happen. The existence of torture is like the tip
of the iceberg, serving as a revealer of pervasive and grave human rights
violations that slow economic development, hinder social cohesion and exacerbate
inequality. It is an occurrence some people find intolerable and act upon in
the name of humanity.
“I think torture goes to the very core of human dignity. This is
perhaps one of the reasons why torture has become one of the most serious human
rights violations but also an international crime,” she said in an interview.
Amidst a political rhetoric challenging human rights in the name
of security, Jilani pledged to convince the world that it should never use torture,
with as immediate objective for her four-year term to boosting the SOS-Torture
network’s cohesion to raise its voice. An award-winning lawyer from Pakistan with
more than three decades of hands-on experience in promoting peace and human
rights, Ms. Jilani has litigated several cases in her home country that have
become landmarks in setting human rights standards.
Ms. Jilani believes it is particularly important today to make
the commitment of human rights defenders visible globally to eradicate torture,
and to end violations and impunity. She points out an emerging challenge of
today’s work as some Governments, in the name of security threats, are
heightening the risk of torture and undermining some of the universally
An outspoken woman in
Pakistan’s first all-women law firm and co-founded Pakistan’s
first legal aid centre in 1986. In 1991, Ms. Jilani helped set up a shelter for
women fleeing violence and abuse and presented one of the first cases of
domestic violence in the country and created Pakistan’s Women Action Forum, a
prominent women’s rights group whose campaigns have been at the heart of the
democracy movement in the country.
“Gender-based violence can sometimes be ignored and especially
when a situation of torture occurs, rape as a method of violating a person’s
dignity and also undermining work that they do, is something that we have to
understand,” she said.
Ms. Jilani has also been recognized as an authoritative figure at
the international level thanks to her broad experience. She was for instance the
first United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the
situation of Human Rights Defenders, and was the first woman to hold this post in
office, from 2000 to 2008.
OMCT is short for the World Organisation Against
Torture – in French, as the organization created in 1985 is headquartered in
On top of protecting human rights defenders and
promoting NGO participation before the CAT, OMCT works for, with and through an
international coalition of over 200 non-governmental organizations – the
SOS-Torture network – fighting torture, summary executions, enforced
disappearances, arbitrary detentions, and all other cruel, inhuman and
degrading treatment or punishment in the world.
For more information, please visit:
For our latest campaign #HumansAgainstTorture:
Follow #OMCT30Forum this week and read us online:
For all media inquiries: Lori Brumat, OMCT Head of
OMCT wishes to thank the Republic and Canton of Geneva and the OAK Foundation for their support. Its content is the sole responsibility of OMCT and should in no way be interpreted as reflecting the view(s) of the supporting institutions.