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Dissidents & political prisoners' families gather for summit

Dissidents and political prisoners' families from around the globe have gathered in Geneva for a two-day summit that opens tomorrow at the United Nations European headquarters, aimed at giving a voice to victims of the world’s worst human rights abuses.

The 11th annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, organized by an international coalition of 25 human rights NGOs, opens Monday at the seat of the UN Human Rights Council, on the heels of its main 2019 session which wrapped up on Friday without adopting resolutions on most of the countries represented by the activists, including China, Cuba, Turkey, Venezuela, Burundi and Vietnam.

The summit organizers say they will focus on issues the UN session—under pressure by its powerful members—omitted from its agenda.

Former political prisoners from China, Tibet, Turkey, Vietnam will join the family members of existing political prisoners in Iran, Saudi Arabia and other countries that will be announced only at the session.

The teenage children of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who live in Canada, will speak for the first time.

Richard Ratcliffe, whose British-Iranian wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, has been detained in Tehran for three years on trumped-up spying charges, will speak publicly for the first time since UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced that he was granting her diplomatic protection—a highly rare move that elevated Nazanin’s case from a consular matter to a formal legal dispute between Britain and the one in which she remains prisoner.



In separate ceremonies on Tuesday, the summit will give its 2019 Courage Award to Tibetan filmmaker and former political prisoner Dhondup Wangchen, and its 2019 International Women's Rights Award to Nimco Ali, a Somali-born campaigner against female genital mutilation.

Diego Arria, one of the leading Venezuelan opponents to the Maduro regime and the former president of the UN Security Council, will be one of the keynote speakers, along with Michael Levitt, chair of the Canadian Parliament's foreign affairs committee. See list of presenters below.

With numerous diplomats attending, the acclaimed annual conference is timed to take place in Geneva days after the UN Human Rights Council ended its main annual session, to ensure the world does not forget critical human rights situations.

"The annual Geneva Summit, founded in 2009, has become a focal point for dissidents worldwide," said Hillel Neuer, executive director of United Nations Watch, which for the 11th year in a row will be organizing the annual event as part of a cross-regional coalition of 25 other human rights groups.

The global gathering is acclaimed as a one-stop opportunity to hear from and meet front-line human rights advocates, many of whom have personally suffered imprisonment and torture.

"The speakers’ compelling and vivid testimonies will aim to stir the conscience of the U.N. to address critical human rights situations around the world," said Neuer.

Subjects on the program this year include political prisoners, discrimination against women, jailing of journalists, prison camps, religious intolerance, and the persecution of human rights defenders.

Videos of past speaker testimonies are available here.

Admission to this year’s main session on March 26, 2019 is free and open to the public, but registration is mandatory.


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