Carter Center Plans Forum Focused on Protecting Human Rights

Contact: Soyia Ellison,

ATLANTA — More than 70 activists, peacemakers, and community leaders from 31 countries will come together May 8-9 for the Carter Center’s annual Human Rights Defenders Forum to discuss strategies for protecting human rights in the wake of rising authoritarianism.

Freedom from Fear: Securing Rights in Challenging Times” will shine a spotlight on some of the obstacles human rights defenders are facing as governments in many countries clamp down on public debate and activism. The forum also will showcase the experiences of the courageous women and men on the front lines of this fight.

The forum includes two media opportunities:

  1. On Monday, May 8, at 6:20 p.m., former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders will engage in a conversation about important human rights issues. No press Q&A is planned, but media are welcome to cover their remarks.
  2. On Tuesday, May 9, from 3:50 to 5 p.m., President Carter will head a discussion on the forum’s conclusions. This will include a press Q&A.

Participants in this year’s forum include:

  • Hafsat Abiola, founder of the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy, is the daughter of Moshood Abiola, who was elected president of Nigeria in 1993 but died in detention before taking office under suspicious circumstances. Working with the government in Ogun State, she pioneered the use of cash grants to ensure access to care for poor pregnant women and helped develop special programs to address high youth unemployment.
  • Maryam Al-Khawaja, a special advisor on human rights in Bahrain for a number of nongovernmental organizations, played an instrumental role in the democratic protests that took place in Bahrain’s Pearl Roundabout in February 2011. Her father is currently in prison for his human rights work, and she is living in exile.
  • Rubina Bhatti, a founding member of Taangh Wasaib Organization in Pakistan, works to help train women’s groups to report on violence against women, support victims with counseling and legal aid, and initiate income-generation programs for women.
  • Maina Kiai, a Kenyan lawyer and human rights activist, just ended his time as the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.
  • Musa Mahmodi, executive director of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, has investigated human rights violation cases — including torture, war crimes and disappearance cases — and developed an initiative to help protect human rights defenders.
  • Abeer Pamuk, regional officer with SOS Children’s Villages, is a member of the SOS communications teams in both Syrian and regional offices and has used her platform to highlight the plight of Syrian refugees.
  • Olga Zakharova, founder and director of Russia’s Freedom Files, is a human rights and environmental activist who has assisted persecuted human rights defenders in several countries and worked with various international organizations to develop a stronger response to attacks on freedom of expression.

Media interested in attending the Monday night or Tuesday afternoon events, or in interviewing any of the human rights defenders, should contact Soyia Ellison at by Thursday, May 4. An official media photo ID will be required for admittance.

Forum Agenda

*All daytime sessions will be webcast live on*

Monday, May 8

1:30 - 2:45 p.m.

Welcome and opening remarks by President Carter and the former U.N.  Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

3:20 - 4:45 p.m.

“The New Normal: Mainstreaming Intolerance and Repression”

6:20 - 7 p.m.

Conversation between President Carter and Senator Sanders

Tuesday, May 9

10 - 11:15 a.m.

“Building New Alliances to Address Root Causes,” plus remarks by Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström and Andrew Gilmour, representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights

11:40 a.m. - 12:40 p.m.

“Building New Alliances,” continued

2 - 3:15 p.m.

“From Fear to Solidarity and Hope: Need for New Alliances”

3:50 - 5 p.m.

Conclusions and Recommendations, featuring Q&A with President Carter

Note: Schedule subject to change.


"Waging Peace. Fighting Disease. Building Hope."
A not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, The Carter Center has helped to improve life for people in over 80 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; and improving mental health care. The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health worldwide.