Conference to Address Increasing Threats Against Human Rights Activists and the Backsliding of Human Rights Worldwide

CONTACT: Kay Torrance

ATLANTA….U.N. Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan and U.N. Special Representative to the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders Hina Jilani will join former U.S. President Jimmy Carter for a conference Nov. 11-12 at The Carter Center on the troubling backsliding on human rights since the beginning of the war on terrorism.

"The escalating threats against human rights activists who challenge government policies, often at tremendous risk to themselves, are disturbing," President Carter said. "The best way to ensure our collective security is to help the champions of liberty to succeed in their own countries. We also must fight the war on terror in a way that will increase cooperation and determination among nations to root out extremism, while advancing justice."

The conference, Human Rights Defenders on the Frontlines of Freedom, will address cases where human rights and democracy advocates have experienced erosions of their rights since Sept. 11, 2001. Since the terrorist attacks, many governments have adopted anti-terrorist security policies, but some governments have used the war on terrorism as an excuse to crack down on dissidents and human rights defenders. These governments point to the United States broadening its police powers under the Patriot Act and the indefinite detention of combatants in Guantanamo Bay as justification for these new policies.

For example, Eritrea jailed journalists after accusing them of having terrorist ties, and all independent press outlets were closed in September 2001. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe recently called human rights organizations "politickers at the service of terrorism" and defended expansive police powers granted to public security forces, arbitrary detentions, and raids of civil society organizations. Also, members of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan were imprisoned on the basis of weak evidence and dubious trials for allegedly recruiting Islamic militants.

Ironically, the individuals and organizations being targeted are in the best position to press for legal and social policies that will create stable and less radicalized societies. The Carter Center conference will address the importance of the work of these human rights defenders as governments struggle with the problem of effectively combating terrorism.

Participants will include Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim of Egypt, an activist and professor at the American University in Cairo, who exposed fraud in the Egyptian electoral process and subsequently was sentenced to seven years in prison, convicted for "tarnishing Egypt's image" and "accepting foreign money without approval from the government," according to court documents. Dr. Willy Mutunga, executive director of Kenya Human Rights Commission, will address a proposed U.S.-supported anti-terrorism law that dangerously expands police powers in Kenya. Additional participants will come from other African and Middle-Eastern countries, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe.

The conference will culminate in a statement from human rights defenders with concrete recommendations to be presented at a press conference during the final day of the conference, Nov. 12 at 3 p.m. After the event, several conference participants will travel to Washington and New York to present these recommendations to U.S. policy makers and government representatives at the United Nations General Assembly.

The conference is sponsored in part by the Paul and Phyllis Fireman Foundation, The Reebok Foundation, and The Levi-Strauss Foundation.

The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health worldwide. A not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, the Center has helped to improve life for people in more than 65 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; improving mental health care; and teaching farmers to increase crop production.


Editor's Note: This event is closed to the public. Media who wish to attend the conference should R.S.V.P. to Kay Torrance at 404-420-5129 by 4 p.m. EST Friday, Nov. 7. The agenda is below.

Human Rights Defenders on the Frontlines of Freedom
A Conference at The Carter Center, Nov. 11-12, 2003

Co-Sponsored by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and The Carter Center
Co-Chairs: Acting High Commissioner Bertrand Ramcharan and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter
Featured Guest: Special Representative to the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders Hina Jilani


9 to 9:45 a.m. Opening remarks by President Carter and Bertrand Ramcharan
9:45 to 10:30 a.m. OPEN
Keynote Address: Saad Eddin Ibrahim
The Truth About Human Rights and Democratization in a Security-Minded Environment (2 Respondents)
10:30 to 10:45 a.m. Break
10:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.


12:30 to 1:45 p.m. Lunch on your own
1:45 to 3:15 p.m. OPEN
Keynote Presentations: Hina Jilani on Reinforcing the Frontlines of Freedom in a Climate of Retreat from Human Rights Commitments and Willie Mutunga of Kenya on Hard-Won Gains Under Threat
3:15 to 3:30 p.m. Break
3:30 to 5 p.m. BACKGROUND ONLY


8:30 to 10:30 a.m. BACKGROUND ONLY
Discussion co-chaired by President Carter and Bertrand Ramcharan: Generating Political Will to Stand Firm on Human Rights
10:30 to 10:45 a.m. Break
10:45 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Closing discussion, including reporting out on recommendations

3 to 4 p.m. Press conference with President Carter, Bertrand Ramcharan, and Hina Jilani
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