Osnat Lubrani: ‘What does it mean to be a human rights defender’?
Round Table with civil society members organized by the OiK and the OHCHR
‘What does it mean to be a human rights defender’
08 December 2011, 13:00-15:30
Ms Osnat Lubrani
UN Development Coordinator Kosovo
Dear Mr Kurteshi, Dear representatives of civil society, Dear ladies and gentlemen,
• I am pleased and honoured to be here today among prominent human rights defenders, invited by the UN Human Rights Office in Kosovo and the Ombudsperson Institution, on the eve of the International Human Rights Day, the 10th of December.
• Sixty-three years since the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, this document which is the most widely adopted human rights instrument, remains as relevant as ever.
Year 2011 which is almost behind us, taught us a lesson!
• Starting from the events related to the so called ‘Arab Spring’ to those that spread across Western Europe and the US, we heard the voices of millions of ordinary people who were very clear in their demands. They were asking for more human dignity; freedom from fear and want; more participation in the public sphere; they also demanded transparency in all political and economic process in their countries.
• Those countries had diverse development records, some were developed, some were marking significant progress in fighting poverty and overall economic growth. However, we were all able to hear over and over again, ordinary people in the streets passionately chanting against inequality and discrimination, lack of decent jobs, political reprisals, denial of their right to free speech, association and participation; People were standing up against censorship and torture.
• So, as I stated, these events taught the world a lesson. They taught us that no economic development can be sustainable and meaningful, and no real progress can be achieved if we only look at the surface of what looks like economic growth at the macro level. The world learned what the UN has been promoting through its development efforts for many years – no real progress can be achieved if economic growth serves only a limited number of groups in the society. Equal distribution of opportunities and resources, participatory processes without discrimination, and accountability are the key to realization of civil, political, economic, and social rights; This is what we heard from people in hundreds of cities across the world. As the UN Human Rights High Commissioner reaffirmed in her statement this year ‘Ignoring these demands is no longer an option.’
• Last year, when I addressed the Kosovo public, I pointed to the role of all those ordinary men and women in Kosovo who have struggled in the past to protect their rights, or the rights of the others with a lot of commitment and courage. I mentioned also that at one point in history many teachers, doctors, academics, artists, journalists, civil servants became human rights defenders. Those people like you around the table were fighting discrimination in the public lives and within their communities. Due to your inspiring work, Kosovo has achieved today tremendous progress in many fields of human rights.
• Therefore, and referring at the world-wide developments since last year, I am sure that we all agree ladies and gentlemen that the work of human rights defenders is as important as ever before. You may be working in a different environment today, your challenges may be different in nature, and your methods have changed. It doesn’t always need to be a revolution, but it still requires the same amount of motivation and persistence to stand up against injustice in all of its forms.
• Like many other countries in the region, Kosovo is experiencing positive economic growth but let us not forget the lessons learned during this extraordinary year. Let us as all – development agencies, government and other public institutions, and you human rights defenders and activists - consistently commit ourselves for all those many people who live in extreme poverty and multiple forms of discrimination only because they are Roma, Ashkali, Egyptian, because they are women, disabled, because they have a different sexual orientation, because they were denied equal opportunities…or simply because they decided to speak about human rights violations committed in the past.
• I will finish my speech today by wishing you an inspiring discussion and by conveying you one of the UN Secretary General, Mr Ban Ki-moon’s message for the day:
Human rights belong to every one of us without exception. But unless we know them, unless we demand they be respected, and unless we defend our right -- and the right of others -- to exercise them, they will be just words in a decades-old document.