Early next month we will be meeting at The Carter Center in Atlanta with leading human rights defenders from some twenty countries for the fourth Human Rights Defenders Policy Forum. This unique event, co-chaired by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, brings human rights defenders directly into contact with senior policy makers from governments and intergovernmental organizations to discuss policy issues of pressing concern to human rights defenders.
This year, our substantive focus will be on the role played by human rights defenders in addressing mass violations of human rights, including crimes against humanity. Activists from Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guatemala and the former Yugoslavia have direct experience of responding to these most serious of human rights crises. We will work together to produce recommendations for governments and multilateral organizations that we hope will contribute to improved international mechanisms to put an end to these all too frequently recurrent crises.
At this year’s Forum, we will be seeking to engage with faith communities, especially in the U.S., to encourage their support for those around the world who are working to uphold respect for human dignity through the promotion and protection of human rights. Please check our website for updates about our activities in Atlanta and the follow up efforts in Washington D.C. and elsewhere.
In June 2007, Human Rights First awarded Colombian human rights defender Iván Cepeda the 2007 Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty. Motivated into activism by the brutal assassination of his father, Iván is currently the Spokesperson for the National Movement for Victims of State Crimes.
Guatemalan Congress Approves Innovative International Commission to Combat Impunity
Human Rights First’s long running campaign to establish an international commission of experts to help investigate and prosecute organized crime in Guatemala came to a successful culmination on August 1, 2007. The Guatemalan Congress voted to establish the commission which will hopefully reduce levels of violence and create a safer environment for human rights defenders. Many of you have taken action on our alerts on this topic over the last year. Most recently, just prior to the Congressional vote, over 1,000 of you signed a petition urging the Guatemalan Congress to establish the commission. On August 2, we issued a press release welcoming the groundbreaking decision.
Tunisian Lawyer Mohamed Abbou Released from Prison
On July 24, 2007, the Tunisian President Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali ordered the release on parole of human rights lawyer Mohamed Abbou. He was arrested on March 1, 2005 following the publication online of articles in which he denounced the use of torture in Tunisia. After an unfair trial in April 2005, Mr. Abbou was sentenced to three-and-a-half years’ imprisonment and detained at el-Kef, a town that is more than 100 miles from his family home in Tunis. Human Rights First (HRF) has followed the case of Mohamed Abbou since his arrest, has repeatedly called for his release and issued several Alerts in which many of you participated. On a recent joint mission to Tunisia with the Ireland-based organization Front Line in May, HRF focused on calling for Mr. Abbou’s release. During a meeting with a representative of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, our delegation demanded the immediate release of Abbou. The delegation also visited his family in Tunis and accompanied his wife in her weekly trip to el-Kef to visit her husband. On July 18, 2007 during a meeting with the Tunisian ambassador in Washington D.C., HRF called again for his release. Mohamed Abbou’s release is a welcome step by the Tunisian government. However, Human Rights First hopes that it will be followed by further positive moves by the government to put an end to its practice of restricting and harassing human rights defenders.