Statement of Maureen Byrnes – Executive Director, Human Rights First
Human Rights First is honored to have once again co-sponsored the Human Rights Defenders Policy Forum with The Carter Center here in Atlanta.
President Carter has outlined a number of issues and recommendations that have been discussed over the past two days. One of the messages that has come out of the forum is that in some countries non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are experiencing increasing scrutiny, and indeed are being undermined, by new laws that threaten their ability to promote and ensure democracy and human rights. This is especially troubling in countries whose policies are mimicked by other governments in their respective regions.
This unique forum is an opportunity to learn first hand from the courageous individuals on the forefront of the struggle for human rights what policy-makers can do concretely to demonstrate a clear and consistent commitment to human rights so that democracy can flourish.
One specific recommendation that was put forward is for democratic states to work together, not unilaterally, to reverse the deterioration of human rights.
As it happens, there is an upcoming opportunity to do just that. The Group of Eight (G8) summit will be held in St. Petersburg this year, where fifteen years since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia is showing troubling signs of retreating from democracy. Defenders at the forum called on the United States and the other members of the G8 to use the unique opportunity they have during the July 2006 Summit to collectively send a strong and clear message to President Putin: Russia should respect its human rights obligations through its laws and their implementation and reverse the trend toward authoritarianism.
Human Rights First joins in this call to the U.S. government and the other G8 countries to work collectively to put pressure on the Russian government to uphold its commitments to human rights and democracy.
Specifically, Human Rights First urges the G8 states to jointly organize and attend a special meeting with independent Russian human rights defenders. Such an event would demonstrate the solidarity of these democratic nations with members of Russian civil society.
Human Rights First has been working with and supporting human rights defenders for nearly 30 years and it is an honor to stand with them today.