Switching off the Fire Alarm

Nils Melzer
3 min readJun 12, 2021

Speech by UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, given on the occasion of the “Geneva Call to Free Assange”, 5 June 2021

Watch the video here: bit.ly/GenevaCall

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are here in Geneva. It is the city of the United Nations, the city of the Red Cross, and the city of human rights.

I am standing here, next to Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning. The truth is: all of them are being persecuted, mistreated and demonized for one thing and one thing only; for having told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the misconduct of Western democracies.

They are the skeletons in the closet of the West. Their persecution and mistreatment is what destroys the credibility of the West. When Western governments today protest against the persecution of Alexei Navalny and of Roman Protasevich, those other governments only laugh and ask, ‘Well, what about Edward Snowden who is being protected in Russia? What about Julian Assange, who is in solitary confinement without having committed a crime except telling the truth? What about Chelsea Manning, who has been persecuted to the point of almost dying in an attempted suicide?

Whistleblowers and journalists who publish such information are inconvenient truth-tellers. They are as inconvenient as the fire alarm in your house. When a fire goes off in your house and there is smoke, you hear the alarm. We all know the drill: we have to leave the house, we have to leave our work, our daily routine. It is inconvenient, and many voices come up and say: ‘just switch off the alarm’.

That is what these governments are trying to do when they persecute, isolate and silence these people. They are silencing the fire alarm in the building of democracy and the rule of law. And if I stand here on this chair today, it is because I was the fire alarm within the United Nations for this case. I rang the alarm bell, I wrote to these governments, and I informed the public, but they ignored the alarm. No one reacted.

So, we are inconvenient truth-tellers, the four of us and the millions of others out there that speak the truth. Inconvenient truths. You can switch off the fire alarm for now, and you will feel comfortable for a couple of more moments. But the next time you open your eyes, and you wake up and look around, the whole building will be on fire!

It is now in the hands of the public to react. Thank you, Geneva for hosting us here, thank you for giving us this platform - I know this voice goes out to the world!

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Nils Melzer

United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture; Professor of International Law; Vice-President of the International Institute of Humanitarian Law