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Human Rights. “You are the Voice”

“To promote human rights for people everywhere and to make governments accountable. This is our goal at UN Human Rights Council in Geneva”. Father Edward Flynn, CSSp, Vivat International Geneva Representative, talks about his experience.

The core of our advocacy effort is to secure space in our world for the flourishing of dignity for all, to promote human rights for people everywhere and to make governments accountable. The principles of non-discrimination and inequality are an essential part of any such attempt to improve the lives of people at the margins of today’s indifferent world. Keeping those principles at the forefront of our daily efforts is central to remaining focused.
But we need to turn these principles into a plan of action and ensure that we don’t complicate matters. The general statement needs to be translated into equal rights for all.
Raising awareness among our members about patterns of human rights violations is an important first step in the development of our advocacy. Reporting on how these abuses are dealt with at the human rights council in Geneva through reports, dialogues and resolutions, is linked to the work of promoting awareness. These monthly reports are sent to a wide network of VIVAT members and individuals internationally. Also sharing information, as it becomes available, on specific countries with our contacts in these countries is an important part of the work.
VIVAT International (VI) is a Non-Governmental Organization (NGOs) with more than 30 thousands brothers, sisters and priests from 10 religious Congregations working in 130 countries along with lay people and NGOs.
VIVAT International collaborate with other NGOs to influence the implementation of human rights in countries where VIVAT International has members. Two current examples of this collaboration are:
– participating in the inter-governmental working group comprising NGOs and government representatives on the development of a Declaration on the Rights of Peasants, and
– participating in the work of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances in so far as it relates to six member countries, and to assist those who wish to bring appropriate and reliable information about human rights violations, to the attention of the ten Treaty Body Committees that monitor the implementation of human rights in countries around the world.
There are many ongoing discussions that take place within the United Nations (UN) at Geneva. Much of these debates are about developing human rights standards on individual topics, such as the right to development, or on the rights of peasants. The participants in these dialogues include representatives from States, NGOs and UN agencies. These meetings offer us an opportunity to make a positive contribution by providing information from our contacts in different regions.
We also share relevant information with colleagues on the ground about human rights. For example we were able to inform and prepare our people in the Central African Republic for the recent visit of the Special Rapporteur to that country. Hopefully they were able to link up with him during his visit. In a similar way I send news and information about the UPR process and follow this up with individual reports on certain countries.
During sessions of the human rights council we develop joint statements and submissions on specific issues with like-minded groups. For instance: we worked with the Good Shepherd sisters here in Geneva on the UPR report of El Salvador in 2014. We submitted information to the country desk officer in the Office of the High Commissioner for human rights on the situation of prisons in Malawi in Jan 2015. The Comboni Missionaries and the Marists joined us in this work.
At the September 2014 session of the Human Rights Council, I delivered a Statement on discrimination in West Papua. This was based on my visit to West Papua in the weeks preceding the September meeting. With participation from Franciscans International, we wrote and submitted an urgent appeal about killings in West Papua to the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial and summary executions (Dec 2014).
We also provide support to the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation contact persons of the constituent congregations of VIVAT International which are mainly in Rome. This support is extended to specific country offices or VIVAT International members as required, such as in Indonesia, India or the UK.
There are many challenges for those who work in the field of advocacy. Communications with people in the regions and individual countries is vital to our work and needs a lot of attention, if we are seeking to be more effective. Our best contribution is the reliable reporting of events and facts from our people who work closely with local communities, indigenous peoples and minorities.
We also receive encouragement from time to time from government representatives, for example, a few years ago a Swiss diplomat reminded us that, “You are the voice, the voice that is not usually heard.” He had an encouraging message for civil society, urging us to be active in the Council and to push Member States to work on issues that are difficult to address.

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