Geneva, December 2016(OMCT) – On the International Day of Human Rights, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) launched aten-day tribute to the human rights heroes the world is indebted to for theirlife-long dedication to defending the rights of all.
“December 10 is a bit like the birthday of all human rightsdefenders,” said OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock. “It serves to remindus that we actually owe them a celebration every day of the year.”
For human rights defenders who like OMCTPresident Hina Jilani are sharing their story today, usual treatment includes imprisonment, incarceration andtorture. OMCT is until 23 December profiling 10 human rights defenders fighting against torture from Colombia to Burundi to sharetheir plight and commend their achievements. Michael O’Flaherty, Director ofthe European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, rightly called them the “heroes of human rights”.
No human rights violation is uncovered without them. Theyprovide information to put an end to impunity to international mechanisms suchas the Committee Against Torture(CAT). They protest and speak out when no one wants to hear. They triggerchange. 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 humanrights defenders killed this year alone. What is more OMCT documented cases of harassmentagainst 1,066 human rights defenders and 116 organizations.
Every year, OMCT protects more than 600 humanrights defenders at risk around the world by alerting the internationalcommunity about their plight, mobilizing support for them, and offeringtraining, legal advice, material assistance, and relocation to safety.
Complaining is takingresponsibility
As her fellow activists, Ms. Hilani believes one cannot complainabout violations occurring unless one is willing to take the responsibility to undowhat one does not want to see happen. The existence of torture is like the tipof the iceberg, serving as a revealer of pervasive and grave human rightsviolations that slow economic development, hinder social cohesion and exacerbateinequality. It is an occurrence some people find intolerable and act upon inthe name of humanity.
“I think torture goes to the very core of human dignity. This isperhaps one of the reasons why torture has become one of the most serious humanrights violations but also an international crime,” she said in an interview.
Amidst a political rhetoric challenging human rights in the nameof 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-Torturenetwork’s cohesion to raise its voice. An award-winning lawyer from Pakistan withmore than three decades of hands-on experience in promoting peace and humanrights, Ms. Jilani has litigated several cases in her home country that havebecome landmarks in setting human rights standards.
Ms. Jilani believes it is particularly important today to makethe commitment of human rights defenders visible globally to eradicate torture,and to end violations and impunity. She points out an emerging challenge oftoday’s work as some Governments, in the name of security threats, areheightening the risk of torture and undermining some of the universallyrecognized principles.
An outspoken woman inPakistan
Pakistan’s first all-women law firm and co-founded Pakistan’sfirst legal aid centre in 1986. In 1991, Ms. Jilani helped set up a shelter forwomen fleeing violence and abuse and presented one of the first cases ofdomestic violence in the country and created Pakistan’s Women Action Forum, aprominent women’s rights group whose campaigns have been at the heart of thedemocracy movement in the country.
“Gender-based violence can sometimes be ignored and especiallywhen a situation of torture occurs, rape as a method of violating a person’sdignity and also undermining work that they do, is something that we have tounderstand,” she said.
Ms. Jilani has also been recognized as an authoritative figure atthe international level thanks to her broad experience. She was for instance thefirst United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General on thesituation of Human Rights Defenders, and was the first woman to hold this post inoffice, from 2000 to 2008.
OMCT is short for the World Organisation AgainstTorture – in French, as the organization created in 1985 is headquartered inGeneva, Switzerland.
On top of protecting human rights defenders andpromoting NGO participation before the CAT, OMCT works for, with and through aninternational coalition of over 200 non-governmental organizations – theSOS-Torture network – fighting torture, summary executions, enforceddisappearances, arbitrary detentions, and all other cruel, inhuman anddegrading treatment or punishment in the world.
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