A Groundbreaking Global Gathering

By: Brandon Silver, Global Shaper (Montreal), World Economic Forum

A few weeks ago, on the eve of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s main annual session, the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy assembled hundreds of courageous dissidents and human rights heroes to shine a spotlight on situations of mass domestic repression that require global attention.

They sought to mobilize awareness of the plight and pain of political prisoners and their families while opposing the activities of major human rights violator countries — responsible also for their imprisonment — who sit on the United Nations Human Rights Council and other UN bodies.

They were supported by leading human rights activists, diplomats, journalists, and students, who listened to their testimony and joined hands to plan action strategies. Working together in common cause, they sought to establish a constituency of conscience to stand up and speak out against injustice, and in favour of human rights and democracy.

The Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, for which I serve as Director of Projects, was proud to be a co-sponsor of the Geneva Summit, along with leading human rights NGOs from around the world.

Indeed, IRA-Mauritania, a group at the forefront of the struggle against slavery was an active participant. The address of the organization’s founder Biram Dah Abeid was as troubling as it was transformative. He described the criminalization of freedom in Mauritania, where the law enshrines the violent exploitation and subjugation of people based on the colour of their skin. A true hero of humanity, Biram has faced torture and imprisonment for challenging the slavemasters of Mauritania and the impunity in which they operate. He called on the world to stand in solidarity with those facing oppression, and to break the global silence that enables the Mauritanian Government to engage in such flagrant violations of the most basic human rights.

On May 26th, Biram will be coming to Montreal as part of the “Rights City” international conference, where he will be sharing his story and how Montrealers can support his movement for freedom. In honour of the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation, the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights is celebrating Canada’s honourary citizens. Biram represents the very best of human rights leadership; His struggle against racism and hate, and in support of freedom and human dignity, is very much within the spirit of Nelson Mandela’s. Consequently, he will be speaking as part of our honouring of the legacy of this Canadian honourary citizen and human rights champion.

Anti-slavery Leader Biram Dah Abeid speaks at the Geneva Summit

Another hero of humanity who was highlighted at the Geneva Summit was Raif Badawi. Indeed, in 2015, the Geneva Summit championed the case and cause of this imprisoned Saudi Blogger, awarding him their prestigious Courage Prize.

The Montreal Hub of the World Economic Forum Global Shapers has joined the campaign to #FreeRaif, calling for his release and reunification with his wife and children, who refuge in the Hub’s province of Quebec.

A digital call for his release — spearheaded by the Raoul Wallenberg Centre and supported by the Global Shapers Montreal Hub — reached close to 1.5 million people and was joined by leaders of civil society and Parliaments from across the globe. The success of the international campaign has continued to grow, with Saudi Arabia having recently lost its bid for observer status at La Francophonie, with both Prime Minister Trudeau and Quebec Premier Couillard referencing Badawi’s continued imprisonment as the reason for Saudi Arabia’s exclusion.

It is through the strength of an engaged citizenry that such developments in this international justice movement have been secured, and through which further will be achieved.

Indeed, as Vaclav Havel put it, “genuine civil society is the truest fundamental of democracy.” In both word and deed, the Geneva Summit and the WEF Global Shapers Montreal Hub have embodied and given expression to this statement.

Ensaf Haidar holds a photo of her husband, imprisoned Saudi Blogger Raif Badawi

We strongly encourage other Global Shaper Hubs and civil society groups to pass a resolution re: Raif’s case and cause, building on the momentum of recent events and the actions of the Montreal Hub.

Motion passed by the World Economic Forum Global Shapers Montreal Hub:

Whereas Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression;

Whereas Saudi Arabia has a lively community of online activists and some of the highest numbers of social media users in the Middle East;

Whereas flogging as punishment is strictly prohibited under international human rights law, including the United Nations Convention against Torture, which Saudi Arabia has ratified;

Whereas, on June 17, 2012, Raif Badawi, a Saudi human rights activist and blogger, was arrested, and brought to court on a charge of creating and administering an Internet site and publishing comments on his Facebook page that “infringe on religious values”;

Whereas in November 2014, Raif Badawi was sentenced to ten years in prison, 1000 lashes, a fine of one million riyals, and an additional ten-year prohibition on leaving Saudi Arabia;

Whereas the judgment against Raif Badawi was rendered contrary to Islamic law, Saudi procedural rules and the national and international standards on the right to a fair trial.

Whereas on January 9, 2015, Raif Badawi was subjected to the first 50 lashes of his sentence;

Whereas Reporters without Borders awarded Raif Badawi its 2014 Netizen Prize for Press Freedom;

Whereas the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy awarded Raif Badawi its 2015 Courage Award;

Whereas PEN awarded Raif Badawi its 2015 Pinter International Writer of Courage Award;

Whereas the European Union awarded Raif Badawi its 2015 Sakharov Prize for Human Rights;

Whereas Raif Badawi has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize;

Whereas the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined that Raif Badawi’s imprisonment was illegal and called for his release;

Whereas a series of UN Special Rapporteurs — including the UN Rapporteurs on Torture, and on Freedom of Expression — have called for Raif Badawi’s release;

Whereas the Canadian House of Commons and Quebec National Assembly unanimously called for Raif Badawi’s release and reunification with his family in Canada;

That the World Economic Forum, being “an international organization integrating leaders from business, governments, academia and society at large into a global community committed to improving the state of the world”, the Global Shapers Montreal Hub:

Stands in solidarity with Raif Badawi;

Calls on Saudi authorities to end the corporal punishment of Raif Badawi, release him, and permit him to reunite with his wife and children in Canada.