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Defenders Gather to Examine Global Human Rights in Age of Democratization




"Beyond Elections: Defending Human Rights in the Age of Democratization."

The May 23-24 Human Rights Defenders Policy Forum, sponsored by The Carter Center and Human Rights First, seeks to amplify the voices of those on the front lines of the struggle for human rights and democracy, and initiate action on pressing human rights issues to the international community.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter addressed the gathering at the opening session May 23. Read the transcript of his speech.

A live webcast with human rights defenders is set for 10:30 a.m. to noon (EST) May 25, hosted by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. Panelists include: Gustavo Gallón (Colombia), director of the Colombian Commission of Jurists, Bogotá, Colombia; Saad Eddin Ibrahim (Egypt), chairman of the board, Ibn Khaldun Center For Development Studies, Cairo, Egypt; Hina Jilani (Pakistan/United Nations), U.N. Special Representative to the Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders; Dzmitry Markusheuski (Belarus), press secretary of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee; and Sima Samar (Afghanistan), advocate for education, health care, and political rights for women and girls in Afghanistan.

For more information, visit; or view live webcast here.

ATLANTA…. Human rights defenders work toward democracy in places long forgotten by the global spotlight after headline-grabbing elections have come and gone. It is human rights defenders who sound the alarm early on, warning the world of emerging human rights violations and even genocide, as they did most recently in Sudan. These individuals seek to hold government officials accountable for their election promises and often become targets of harassment. They have a strong message for the international community: there is a better way to support human rights and democracy building.

The gap between the promise of elections and the greater challenges of building a democratic culture and government in places like Afghanistan and Haiti will be addressed by human rights defenders from 21 countries. They are convening in Atlanta on May 23-24 at The Carter Center. View list of participants and their biographical information (PDF).

They will be joined by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, and UN Special Representative to the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders Hina Jilani. The theme of this third annual forum is "Beyond Elections: Defending Human Rights in the Age of Democratization."

"President Bush rightly has asserted that democracy and human rights are desired and deserved by all people," said President Carter. "The question is not whether to make this a priority of global policy, but how to do it effectively. Young democracies must move quickly to build institutions that will vigorously protect the rights of all, while older ones must not allow human rights to be weakened, even in time of war. We have a great deal to learn from the courageous human rights leaders who have gathered for our forum from some of the most dangerous countries in the world."

Human rights defenders seek to emphasize to the international community that free and fair elections are the beginning of a long process of building a culture of democracy, with clearly defined and measurable human rights standards serving as the ultimate measure of a society's progress.

The Forum was made possible with support from The Reebok Human Rights Foundationand the Government of Ireland/Irish Aid.

Public Access:

This event is not open to the general public.

Media Opportunities:

Select portions of the forum are open to media coverage. View forum agenda and details on coverage access. Please use above contact information for credentials and interview requests.


  • Tuesday, May 23, 9 a.m., Day Chapel, Ivan Allen Pavilion: Opening remarks by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, and Maureen Byrnes of Human Rights First.
  • Wednesday, May 24, 3 p.m., Cyprus Room, Executive Offices entrance: Press conference with principals of the forum issuing findings and action agenda. Opening remarks by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter; additional remarks by Saad Ibrahim of Egypt, Yuri Dzhibladze of Russia, Hina Jilani, U.N. Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders, and Maureen Byrnes of Human Rights First.


Located at 453 Freedom Parkway in Atlanta, The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former US 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. Please visit to learn more about The Carter Center.

Human Rights First is a leading human rights advocacy organization based in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since 1978, we have worked in the United States and abroad to create a secure and humane world-advancing justice, human dignity, and respect for the rule of law. All of its activities are supported by private contributions. No government funds are accepted. Please visit
Carter Center Photo: D. Hakes

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, shown with Louise Arbour - U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights - addresses human rights defenders and other forum participants during the opening session May 23.

Read the full transcript of his speech.

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