[From the web] 7th Asian Regional Human Rights Defenders Forum #AHRDF7 – Keynote by Michel Forst, UN SR on HRDs and Panel of Reactors -Forum-Asia

7th Asian Regional Human Rights Defenders Forum #AHRDF7 – Keynote by Michel Forst, UN SR on HRDs and Panel of Reactors

AHRDF7 Photo by Forum-Asia

AHRDF7 Photo by Forum-Asia

Michel Forst, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (UN SR on HRDs), was the keynote speaker during the opening  session of the 7th Asian Regional Human Rights Defender Forum in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Mr. Forst thanked the organisers of the Forum for inviting him again for the second time in a row, after the 6th Forum organised in Manila, the Philippines in December 2014.

The UN SR on HRDs described the hostile environment in which HRDs operate all over the world, where they are victims of stigmatization, harassment, intimidation, as well as judicial harassment, travel bans and enforced disappearances – in this regard, Mr. Forst remembered the disappearance case of Sombath Somphone in Laos.
The UN SR on HRDs underlined also how HRDs are confronted with a shrinking space both offline and online, with a multiplication of laws that restrict freedom of expression, assembly and association.

Mr. Forst looked then in particular at the situation of environment defenders, which are particularly under attack in Latin America and Asia, with an average of three defenders killed every week. What these tragedies have in common, it’s the passion and commitment of the victims in defending human rights. Many of these communities, men and women, don’t even realise they are human rights defenders as they are fighting to survive.

Finally, the UN SR on HRDs stressed how the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development and the Paris agreement on climate change raised hopes of civil society around the world. However, these initiatives will be meaningless if environmental defenders are not allowed to promote a fair and sustainable development. For this, states must urgently adopt a zero intolerance against killings of human rights defenders.

To learn more about the situation of environment human rights defender, click here to read the report of the UN SR on HRDs: https://t.co/Gwe98YmvIh.

The opening session was closed by a panel discussion moderated by John Samuel, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA. The three panelists reacted to the keynote speech of Michel Forst, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

The first speaker was Dr. Deepika Udagama, Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka. Dr. Udagama started by reminding the meeting in Manila, the Philippines, where FORUM-ASIA was founded in 1991 to address the concerns of human rights defenders across Asia.

Dr. Udagama noted how when we speak about HRDs, we do it as if we they are a category of very specialised people. However, in a democratic setting, everyone needs to be a human rights defender, highlighted Dr. Udagama. In this sense, we are all HRDs if we believe in justice and there is no need to have a specialised knowledge.

Addressing the issue of disappearances, Dr. Udagama stressed the need to find a common ground to work on this issue, by mobilising as many people as possible to promote and protect human rights. For this, it is needed to bridge movements and bring together groups working on civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural rights.

P.B. Gothwaman, Sri Lankan human rights defender, noted how if Sri Lanka wants to achieve a real change, this has to be reflected in legislative changes, where draconian legislations should be repealed.

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