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Slideshow | Voices for Peace

In 2016, The Carter Center convened dozens of human rights defenders from around the world to explore how to avoid violence while advocating for change. We asked several defenders to explain what human rights means to them. 

  • Halima Adan, project coordinator for Save Somali Women and Children, Somalia: "Human rights means a sustainable peace. That's a luxury in my homeland. We as an organization provide different services for women who have been victims of gender-based violence. It could be rape, it could be domestic violence. We also integrate teaching for them to think independently, and also make sure their sons and daughters don't go to these extremist groups such as Al-Shabaab and the like. Because it's all about economic empowerment, we integrate this service provision with an economic empowerment program."

  • Traci Blackmon, senior pastor, Christ the King United Church of Christ, Ferguson, Missouri: "Human rights are rights that I believe – because of my spiritual grounding – were divinely given and cannot be and should not be violated by any other being or system. When we engage in the activity of 'othering' people, we are dividing God against God's self and declaring that the God in me is somehow greater than the God that's in you. But it's the same God. When I mistreat others I mistreat myself, because I mistreat the God that's in them, which is the same God that's in me."

  • Arno Michaelis, educator, Serve2Unite, United States: "To me, human rights means understanding and acknowledging the interdependence that exists between all human beings. Once that's understood, then the value of all human beings becomes apparent. Because if we're interdependent, and I'm valued but you're not, what does that do to my value? The tricky thing is that a lot of the problems we face are because people don't value themselves. I know from experience (as a former white supremacist skinhead) that the people who perpetrate hate and violence do it because they don't value themselves as human beings."

  • Charo Mina-Rojas, national coordinator of advocacy and outreach, Black Communities' Process in Colombia: "We believe as South American people that rights are not only for humans, but for all living beings. We consider ourselves in contact with nature and land; we are interrelated, we are interdependent. So, we like to think of the rights of beings, considering that nature and all living beings need to be protected, need to be respected, need to be nurtured, and need to be developed."

  • Mossarat Qadeem, assistant executive director, PAIMAN Trust, Pakistan: "For me, human rights are basically the protection of physical security, the security of opportunities and access to opportunity; it is the security of access to justice. It is living in an environment which is free of fear and free of intimidation by anyone, including the state."

  • Joshy Jose, director of program implementation, Breakthrough, India: "Human rights means the freedom to express myself and a freedom to understand what's within me, both. There is always this disconnect between what I really am, within me, and what I am trying to project on the outside. If I don't really connect with the real me, and I'm always creating a persona as per the demand from the outside, I'm living a life which is not real. For human rights, the implication of that is, if I'm not real, for the people I'm representing, the issues are not real – not personalized."

  • Wang Zheng, professor of women's studies and history and associate research scientist of the University of Michigan Institute for Research on Women and Gender: "Human dignity is the most important thing. If anything – cultural systems, political systems, cultural norms, educational systems, or economic systems – cannot let people feel they can maintain their human dignity, that's a violation of human rights. That's actually a high bar. If you want to achieve human rights as a reality, you need to change people's way of thinking about systems and your understanding about yourself and your place in society. A feminist education is a key to that."

  • Khuzaima Mohammed Osman, executive secretary, Islamic Peace and Security Council, Ghana: "I want a level playing field for men and women to compete on the basis of equality. I am just a servant to Allah, and I pray always, asking for ways to serve him. Like Oliver Twist, always asking for more."

  • Sylvie Kinigi, former prime minister, Burundi: "When you talk about human rights, that means giving to people their right to express all their opinions on how they would like to build their life, to feel free to express their opinion on politics, to feel free to participate in thinking for their own community, their own country, and to influence politics. Human rights mean that our governments have an obligation to take policies to a level where all of us have a good education, good health. Without peace, we can build nothing; without peace, we can't develop; without peace, we cannot talk about human rights. Because the first arm against human rights is violence."

  • Sheikh Abdul-Wadudu Haruna, national executive president, Tijjaniya Sufi Muslim sect, Ghana: "The Prophet Muhammad said, 'Women are twin sisters of men,' so they are on the same level, they share the same value; the best among them in the sight of Allah are the most pious."

  • Robinah Rubimbwa, national coordinator, Coalition for Action on Resolution 1325, Uganda: "My mission is to make sure that the women and girls in Uganda can live in peace. We asked a 12-year-old girl what peace meant to her. She said, 'For me, peace is when I can leave home in the morning, and I walk to school and I study, and I walk back home in the evening without the boys and the men deciding.' I think that may have influenced how I look at human rights."

  • Mouhamed Cherif Diop, program coordinator, Tostan (Senegal): "Human rights means dignity for men and women. Simple. Dignity." (All photos: The Carter Center/ M. Schwarz)