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Human Rights Defenders: In Their Own Words

Human rights activists and scholars from 28 countries gathered at The Carter Center recently for the 12th Human Rights Defenders Forum. This year’s theme was “Building Solidarity toward Equality for All,” and topics included global protection for activists, challenges for women defenders and peacemakers, and the importance of mutually supporting civil, economic, political, and social rights. Defenders talked about their struggles and frustrations but also offered words of wisdom and hope.

Here’s what some of them had to say:

  • "The right to defend human rights is a right already recognized. We have to be mindful and careful and state clearly that no one should be defamed, persecuted, prosecuted, or killed because they exercise their right to defend rights, regardless of their political position."
    CLAUDIA SAMAYOA
    Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos
    Guatemala
    and
    ALEJANDRA SERRANO PAVÓN
    Environmental Law Alliance
    Mexico

  • "We believe that if people understand the concept of human rights and are able to apply it to their lives, then there will be more peaceful coexistence. Then government can cut down on the bills for buying arms and ammunitions. Then development can take place because everybody's living peacefully and they're able to go about their normal businesses fully."
    HALIMAT JIBRIL
    Federation of Muslim Women's Associations in Nigeria (FOMWAN)
    Nigeria

  • "We have seen the rise of many youth-led movements around the world, and these young protesters are speaking out and standing up not just on the issue of environmental crisis, but also on land rights, on democracy. All of them are using the internet as a tool not just for communication but also for organizing and mobilizing these campaigns.  One concrete way we can support youth-led movements is to make sure that these internet tools remain accessible, safe, and truly empowering."
    RAYMOND “MONG” PALATINO
    Global Voices
    The Philippines

  • "The Palestinian people, just like all people around the world, are seeking the preservation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And when that is undermined in one part of the world, it is undermined everywhere. I feel like the Palestinian situation is just a microcosm of global injustice. If we can solve one, we can solve the other. But big problems require collective minds."
    WESAM AHMAD
    Al-Haq
    Palestine

  • "Every time that we've had significant change in our country, religion has been at the heart of it. It's been part of what motivates people. It speaks to our values. To neglect religion in thinking about human rights would be to neglect a huge part of the resources that we have in taking on the injustices we face."
    COLLEEN WESSEL-MCCOY
    Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice
    United States

  • "Solidarity is not about 'me'; it’s about 'we.' It’s about just being there – not being ahead of somebody or behind somebody, but standing with them."
    STACEY HOPKINS
    Activist
    United States

  • "The relationship we build between people is the greatest wealth we can have. It is beyond money. It goes beyond what you have in your bank account. When you have a good relationship with the people – your friends, your family, your colleagues – that is a good foundation to build a country."
    HALIDOU NGAPNA
    Carter Center Human Rights House
    Democratic Republic of Congo

  • "In 1996, we embedded human rights into our three-year program. Immediately, we started seeing change. It was like a revolution. Community members started coming out and promoting their own rights, started talking about their responsibilities. This was possible because we talked about all the aspects of human rights – economic rights, cultural rights, political rights, and civil rights. After people understood human rights, we started seeing changes in deeply rooted cultural practices, including female genital cutting and child marriage. They started having dialogues around gender-based violence against women and girls. Women started taking political positions, because they now understood they have the right to vote, and the right to be elected. Things started changing."
    GODFREY OCHIENG OKUMU
    Tostan International
    Senegal

  • "If you’re not indifferent, the world will be different. Challenging our own indifferences is extremely important."
    RAMESH SHARMA
    Ekta Parishad
    India

  • "In 2015, our lives began to change completely. We lost our jobs; we lost our homes; we lost our country; we lost our dignity. But we did not lose hope, and we will never lose hope."
    MUNA LUQMAN
    Food4Humanity
    Yemen

  • "The motto of our organization is taken from John 17:21, which says, 'That all of them may be one.' If all should be one, there should be no violence, there should be no quarrel, there should be no killing. For all of us to be one, there must be love. There must be peace. There must be unity. And there must be togetherness."
    VICTORIA BOLANLE IHESIULOR
    Christian Association of Nigeria, Women’s Wing
    Nigeria