Over 150 human rights defenders gathered in Paris on Monday to kick off a three-day summit focused on sharing challenges and strategies for the repression and sometimes lethal obstacles they and their fellow activists face across the globe.
"Governments, companies, and other powerful figures are harassing, spying on, jailing, torturing, and even killing human rights defenders—just for defending the fundamental rights of their communities," said Andrew Anderson, executive director of Front Line Defenders, on behalf of the convening organizations of the Human Rights Defenders World Summit.
The coalition of groups that organized the gathering also includes Amnesty International, the Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID), the International Human Rights Service (ISHR), and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).
Human rights defenders, said Amnesty in a statement, are "ordinary people with extraordinary passion" and "are driven by their deep belief that people everywhere should be able to enjoy and exercise their rights." Notably, they "pose a challenge to authoritarians, corrupt officials, and those who put profit over the protection of natural resources and communal rights to land."
These challenges don't come without a price, as data from Front Line Defenders highlights. It says 312 human rights defenders were killed in 2017—an uptick from 281 in 2016. Forty-nine percent of those defenders killed in 2016, the Dublin-based group adds, were working on land, territory, and environmental issues.
Speakers include United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, the I Project founder and Chicagoan Eva Lewis, and Sudanese activist and engineer Mudawi Ibrahim Adam. Among the plenary speakers is also Anielle Franco, sister of murdered Brazilian civil rights activist Marielle Franco.
"As long as we have the strength, we will demand justice and we will do that by occupying the streets and public spaces. My sister was from the resistance, and this is how we will be until the end," said Franco.
Some attendees took to social media to highlight speakers' comments and motivational messages:
"What human rights defenders teach us is that all of us can stand up for our rights and for the rights of others, in our neighborhoods, in our countries and all over the world. We can change the world, #WeAreAllDefenders" - @mbachelet #HRDWorldSummit pic.twitter.com/RtFZnq688w— Front Line Defenders (@FrontLineHRD) October 29, 2018
I’m excited to announce ya 19 year old shorty from the south side of Chicago is the sole representative of the USA at the Human Rights Defenders World Summit in Paris Thanks to everyone who supports me and my work in fighting for the liberation of Black and Brown folk pic.twitter.com/k3Vor901cH— eva maria (@imyagirleva) October 28, 2018