A memorial was launched in the Mansion House yesterday morning celebrating the lives of human rights defenders who have been killed in action since the since the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders came into effect in 1998.
The aim of the project is to show support and solidarity to the friends, family and human rights activists whose loved ones have been killed exposing the illegal activities and greed of Governments, multi-national corporations and the elite political class who attempt to hide their wrongdoings and keep the status quo. The event coincided with the charge of Nazi sympathiser Thomas Mair, who received a life sentence after murdering human rights activist and politician Jo Cox in June of this year.
The event was organised by Frontline Defenders, a non-governmental organisation founded in 2001 that specialises in protecting human rights defenders (HRDs) that are at risk, people who work, non-violently, for any or all of the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The memorial was a joint-network project with groups from international and national human rights organisations including but not limited to: ACI-Participa, Amnesty International, Article 19, Brazil (representing the Brazilian Coalition for the Protection of HRDs), CALAS, CIVICUS, East and Horn of Africa Defend the Defenders Programme, Forum Asia, Front Line Defenders, Global Witness, Meso American Initiative, Protection International, Somos Defensores, UDEFEGUA, Urgent Action Fund.
It’s estimated that around 4,000 human rights defenders have been killed since the declaration was enacted, with 205 of those killed in this year alone. Jim Loughran, head of the HRD memorial project explained how ‘these were people killed by their native governments, militants and those involved in protecting multinational interests’ and how the only crime these people committed was trying to ensure a safer, less corrupt world for all.
In attendance was President Michael D. Higgins who used his platform as keynote speaker to emphasise the importance of human rights defenders and their role in exposing the architecture of corruption and abuse that so many know too well. Speaking to the crowd, President Higgins explained how environmental activists in particular faced a heightened level of assault and murder, with 185 environmental campaigners murdered last year alone, 42 of which were related to anti-mining activities. He then went on to explain how the struggle for socio-economic rights is ongoing, but at which human rights activists and their organisations play a central role.
Reiterating the words of the previous speakers, President Higgins spoke about the importance of environmental rights and alluded to the need for governments and multinational corporations to be more accountable for ecological crimes. He also commended the work of non-profit organisations in exposing these crimes, saying ‘human rights defence is not a mere pass-time, but a calling. Nowadays the terms freedom is used to talk about the freedom of the market, and the commodification of our environment. We need our environment to be a safe and enabling place for all people everywhere’.
President Higgins spoke about the importance of environmental rights and alluded to the need for governments and multinational corporations to be more accountable for ecological crimes.
The event was followed by a brief reception at which a spokesperson for Frontline Defenders took the opportunity to remind people that next week there is an upcoming awareness campaign to highlight violence against women, with one new event launched each day to raise awareness about the issue.
Oisin MacCanna | Politics Editor