Denis O’Brien hails human rights defenders in speech to charity

Front Line Defenders’ patron lavishes praise on those who work ‘in the face of repression’

Kurdish activist Nurcan Baysal was presented with the 2018 Global Laureate award by the Front Line Defenders organisation on Friday. Photograph: Front Line Defenders.

Kurdish activist Nurcan Baysal was presented with the 2018 Global Laureate award by the Front Line Defenders organisation on Friday. Photograph: Front Line Defenders.

 

In a speech to a charity which he helped establish businessman Denis O’Brien has praised those who face defamation.

Mr O’Brien, who has taken multiple defamation cases, is the co-founder and chairman of Front Line Defenders which was set up in 2001.

It honours those globally who pursue human rights by non-violent means. Speaking at the annual award ceremony in Dublin, Mr O’Brien said the event was about “celebrating the fortitude of those who continue to work non-violently, in the face of repression, threats, defamation, criminalisation, torture and even killing, to build more just and equal societies and to stand up for the most marginalised around the world”.

Mr O’Brien praised Irish Aid for the financial support the charity received and hoped that it and other backers would continue to help Front Line Defenders.

The awards were presented in Dublin Castle by UN deputy high commissioner for human rights Kate Gilmore. Mr O’Brien described Ms Gilmore as having a “distinguished history of work for human rights and women’s rights. And it is great that at a time when the high commissioner is about to leave we have someone in a leadership role with such a strong commitment to the support of human rights defenders.”

Award winners

The five winners of the 2018 Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk were Soni Sori (India), Nurcan Baysal (Turkey), the Lucha movement (Democratic Republic of Congo), La Resistencia Pacífica de la Microregión de Ixquisis (Guatemala), and Hassan Bouras (Algeria).

Ms Baysal was chosen as the Global Laureate for Front Line Defenders. She is a Kurdish journalist and human rights defender and documented rights violations committed by Turkish troops against the Kurdish minority in 2016.

Ms Baysal was detained for speaking against the violence. And although later released, she now faces up to three years in jail in a separate case related to her writing.

“I am not nervous; these are the things that we expect. It’s part of our lives,” she said. “I will continue to write. We can’t close our eyes to this crime and I want history to record all of these crimes.”

Front Line Defenders co-founder Denis O'Brien praised UN deputy high commissioner for human rights Kate Gilmore as having a distinguished history of work for women’s rights.

Presenting Ms Baysal with the Global Laureate, Ms Gilmore said she was “one of the most inspiring examples that one could find of courage in the face of great force and great threat”.

Soni Sori, a women’s rights defender in the militarised Bastar region of Chattisghar, India, won the award for the Asia region. She was recognised for documenting violence perpetrated by paramilitary and police forces, including the razing of villages, rape of women and torture and sexual assault of tribes people.

In the Middle East and North Africa region, journalist Hassan Bouras is a leading member of the Algerian League of Human Rights and a founding member of the Rejection Front, a coalition against fracking to extract shale gas in Algeria.

Rights violations

Front Line Defenders said his reporting on corruption and torture has made him the target of authorities but he has continued to work despite raids on his home and imprisonment.

Two of the awards were given to groups. In the Americas, the Guatemalan La Resistencia Pacífica de la Microregión de Ixquisis was formed following what was described as human rights violations related to the “destructive”, government-backed mining and hydroelectric mega-projects in the region.

In Africa, Lucha is a non-partisan youth movement in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a region continually exposed to conflict. Initially focused on local issues such as access to drinking water, electricity, and youth unemployment, the organisation has grown but its peaceful demonstrations are “routinely attacked” by authorities.

“The defenders we’re honouring today work in some of the most dangerous areas of the world, sacrificing their own security to peacefully demand justice and human rights for their communities,” said Andrew Anderson, the charity’s executive director.