Ceremony for EMAD BAGHI
Laureate of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA)
Victoria Hall, Geneva, 2 November 2009, 18h00
Your Excellencies, dear friends,
With my usual apology for addressing you in English, I warmly welcome you to the 16th ceremony of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. This event keeps changing and growing beyond expectation but hopefully not beyond recognition.
There are welcome elements of continuation, such as the partnership with the Ville de Genève, the City of Human Rights, and the unique cooperation among ten leading international human rights NGOs who form the Jury.
There are many positive changes, such as:
- the move to larger premises, and I want to thank the staff of this splendid Victoria Hall for their help;
- a new poster campaign as you will have seen on over 200 billboards throughout Geneva, for which I want to thank Sandrine Salerno who had the idea;
- in response to the request from last year’s audience, we had a short visual presentation of what the Martin Ennals Award stands for and I want to thank the True Heroes Foundation for this clip as well as the film images you will later in the programme;
- the international media are taking more and more notice of the award and have started to refer to the Martin Ennals Award as a kind of “Nobel” prize for human rights, to quote just Le Monde, El Pais and La Tribune de Genève
The Jury, meeting in Madrid on 19 May, did spend considerable time on the final selection. The difficulty was mostly the quality of the other nominees which were, as announced by Barbara Hendricks on 14 March, Mary Akrami (Afghanistan), Chea Mony (Cambodia), Wan Yanhai (China) and Maina Kiai (Kenya). That Emad Baghi - ultimately but unanimously - became the winner was the result of tough choices and long negotiation.
Emadedin Baghi is a theologian, a writer and journalist, who became an active human rights defender in the 1980s. He has been a vigorous and outspoken opponent of the death penalty in Iran based on a scholarly examination of Islamic law on the subject. Baghi has spent several years in prison over the past decade: in 2000 he was sentenced to 7,5 years imprisonment but was released in 2003. Marked by his time spent in jail, he founded the recently banned Society for the Defense of Prisoners' Rights. In addition, Baghi has been collecting information about all executions since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 (more than 10,000 by Baghi's estimate, including juvenile offenders). This inventory has been an important resource for UN human rights bodies as well as the whole human rights movement. He has published numerous articles and books about a variety of topics, including: democratic interpretations of Islam, the killing of dissident intellectuals in the late 1990s, the death penalty and executions.
Baghi was chief editor of the now banned Fath newspaper. In 2005 he created another newspaper, The Republic, with sections on human rights, but this one also got banned. He published some 20 books of which 6 are currently banned, but the others are more or less available, demonstrating again that most of Emad’s discourse cannot be faulted, even by a regime that uses any pretext to suppress dissent.
His latest arrest and conviction were in 2007. Currently out of jail, he still faces a suspended sentence. Baghi suffers from heart and kidney ailments. In addition, he and his family have to cope with serial harassment in the form of an extraordinary number of interventions from the police and the judiciary. Since 1995, Mr. Baghi and his family have been ordered to appear in court or the intelligence ministry 78 times.
Baghi’s space to be seen and heard in Iran is becoming more and more limited, which is dramatic as his assessment of how Islamic precepts can be used against the death penalty would greatly assist the human rights debate in Iran and the whole Muslim world. The more reason to give him the chance to be heard here in Geneva. This is what Emad had to say about the likelihood of him coming here: (1 minute images on screen).
While last year Mutabar Tadjibaeva from Uzbekistan was released from prison and allowed to travel abroad, this year in spite of numerous diplomatic interventions – including by all the EU countries – the Laureate’s passport was not returned to him. So, for the first time in the history of the Martin Ennals Award the laureate is not allowed to come and receive it in person. As is to be expected from the regime in Teheran, no reasons were provided for this refusal. Even Emad’s family was not allowed to come and represent him. This negative attitude only serves to underscore how bad the human rights situation is in that country and that Jury’s decision to award again – after Ganji in 2006 – a human rights defender from Iran is more than understandable. The new logo for the MEA ceremony turned out to be sadly appropriate this year: the Laureate has had his mouth torn off.
Emad’s name means ‘central pole’ or pillar and I believe that this is most appropriate. People like him are the ‘pillars’ of the future human rights building. We should demand – Emad would probably add that we should also pray – that he and other human rights defenders in Iran will be allowed to continue their work without harassment.
To my great regret I cannot call the Laureate on stage this year, but instead I have to honour to introduce the opera star and true human rights activist – what a rare combination! – Barbara Hendricks who will give a musical homage to our Laureate.
Thank you for your attention, Hans Thoolen
Mr. Director General,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to be here at the 2009 Martin Ennals Award ceremony. This prestigious award honours the courage of those who risk their lives to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Eleven years ago, the General Assembly adopted by consensus the Declaration on Human rights Defenders. Yet, human rights defenders across the globe are increasingly coming under attack. Human rights defenders, and in particular women, continue to pay a high price for their peaceful engagement in promoting and defending human rights. In all parts of the world, they are killed, tortured, sexually abused, disappeared, and arbitrarily detained. Their freedom of opinion, expression, association and peaceful assembly are illegitimately restricted. The Martin Ennals Award is therefore particularly important as it celebrates the ideals and work of human rights defenders. It signals that the international community is proud of them and constantly mindful of their wellbeing. Thus, your award contributes to the enhancement of defenders’ protection.
I warmly congratulate this year’s award recipient, Mr. Emad Baghi, an outstanding Iranian human rights defender, but deeply regret that the authorities of his country did not allow him to travel to Geneva to receive his award. Because of his tireless efforts in campaigning against the death penalty, as well as the sacrifices he has endured over the past decade, Mr. Baghi is a source of tremendous inspiration for all human rights defenders around the world. Unfortunately, his many years in prison have left him in very poor health. I find it particularly worrying that since 1995, Mr Baghi has been ordered to appear in court or summoned to the intelligence ministry 66 times, and still faces charges related to his human rights activities.
I salute Mr. Baghi’s commitment to human rights. He truly deserves this prize and our admiration. Many in Iran and elsewhere, I am sure, will draw fresh impetus from the recognition of his selfless work.
Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain. From a poem by the Persian poet Sa'adi 1210-1290
Ladies and Gentlemen,
These lines are from Sa'adi, a renowned Persian Poet, and grace the entrance of the UN in New York. Your ceremony is the manifestation of such classic and deep desire. This day for me is an historic event, but unfortunately I cannot be there in person to receive this honor because I am being denied a passport which would allow me to leave this huge prison. For this reason I have to speak with you through this message.
Despite the fact that there is a lot to say about the challenges of human rights in the world and its solutions, I want to emphasize just on four points here:
1- Human rights organizations should be more effective in the political arena. Power and its organs have powerful facilities. So the human rights organizations must use their powerful forces against those who abuse political power. But because the professional human rights activists have to keep distance from power, it is necessary to rethink our strategy and find a new guarantee for success in the public arena, a kind of “human rights force”. Without it we waste energy and achieve little. Although the development of human rights activities will improve things, many people will still be suppressed and crushed. It is necessary for the international human rights organizations to call on the viewpoints of the activists around the world and ask them to contribute to the mechanism by which we exchange views and acquire collective wisdom to find a solution to the problem. Such a call will strengthen and improve the sense of participation and collective responsibility. One example of a human rights force is that in March 2008 an Austrian company declared that investment in Iran must be stopped until the execution of children is ended. Human rights campaigners can convince well-known companies and universities worldwide to use every opportunity, even if it is outside of their direct responsibilities, to promote human rights.
2- The reason why in some countries human rights are being violated systematically is that there is no independent judiciary. In another words, the judges and prosecutors are under pressure of or subjected to security forces or political powers. Thus, instead of protesting against the illegal and unlawful sentences, one must take into account the lack of judiciary independence. And the international society must not recognize such sentences issued by such judiciary systems unless it proves its independence from the security forces and political powers.
3- "Prison" is a universal and enduring issue. Even if someday the death penalty is abolished, prison will remain. The prison systems have close links to human rights violations such as torture, diminishing of human dignity, etc. The experience of Guantanamo, Abu Graib, as well as in other countries and recently the torture in the prisons in Iran, which caused deaths of my fellow country men and women, proves that in the onset of the third Millennium we still encounter an immense violation of the human rights in prisons both in the developing and the developed world. This is a chance for me to reiterate my proposal to declare in the UN an International Day in Defense of the Prisoner. I am looking forward for the declaration of such day and have drafted already some ideas, which you can obtain from the Secretariat of the Martin Ennals Award.
4- At the moment in most Islamic countries the death penalty is prevalent and the reason is the traditional view that abolishment is against particular verses of the Qu’ran. This shows that in Islamic countries we need a transformation in the minds of people to re-interpret the Holy Book and show the humanistic base of Qu’ran. In this regard, on the occasion of the Arab Campaign for Human Rights and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, my book “The Right to Life” was translated into Arabic, published and distributed in the Arab World. This book argues that the abolishment of the death penalty is not against Islam.
Emadeddin Baghi, 2 November 2009
Mesdames et Messieurs,
Dear Mr Emad Baghi,
This ceremony is dedicated to you and to your fight for justice and human dignity. You are honoured today by the human rights movement, whose guiding light is respect for human rights and the struggle against any form of death penalty. The images and words expressed here, like your universal message, transcend government-imposed boundaries, and I know that you are among us, as you know that we are with you.
As mentioned, this is the first time in 16 years that a laureate has been prevented from attending the ceremony of the Martin Ennals Award. I remain deeply shocked by this fact.
En votre absence, il m’incombe une responsabilité toute particulière de représenter la Ville de Genève à cette 16ème cérémonie de remise du Prix Martin Ennals.
Le Prix Martin Ennals est un peu le « Prix Nobel des droits humains », si l’Académie royale de Suède m’autorise cette comparaison.
En effet, s’il existe un prix Nobel de la Paix, qui est parfois décerné à des chefs d’Etat, il n’existe pas de Prix Nobel des Droits humains qui honorerait l’engagement personnel et sur la durée, de femmes et d’hommes qui se lèvent, au nom de la justice universelle contre la raison d’Etat. C’est exactement la mission que remplit le Prix Martin Ennals pour les défenseurs des droits humains.
Geneva has a special commitment to the peace and humanitarian movement, who have been able to operate in our secure environment in order to expand and reinforce their institutions.
If we seek to understand the history of the human rights movement over recent decades, we can grasp perfectly well why it is in Geneva that the Martin Ennals Award must be presented and why, for the second year, the City of Geneva has decided to reinforce its support for the Martin Ennals Award.
Genève a une histoire très particulière avec le Prix Nobel de la Paix. Sur une centaine de lauréats, il a été remis 10 fois à l’un des ses ressortissants ou à une organisation siégeant sur le sol genevois.
Le premier prix Nobel de la Paix fut remis, en 1901, à Henri Dunant, le fondateur du Comité international de la Croix-Rouge et promoteur des Conventions de Genève, dont nous fêtons cette année le 60ème anniversaire. Le CICR a reçu le Prix par trois fois depuis lors : 1917, 1944, 1963.
Le deuxième prix, en 1902 fut remis à Elie Ducommun et Albert Gobat, secrétaires du Bureau international de la Paix.
Comme vous le savez, le Prix Martin Ennals a été créé en 1993, lors de la Conférence mondiale sur les Droits de l’Homme, qui s’est tenue à Vienne du 14 au 25 juin 1993.
Adopté par l’Assemblée générale des Nations unies en décembre 2003, le Programme d’action de Vienne accorde une place importante à la démocratie et au développement, considérés comme partie intégrante des droits humains. Il appelle tous les États parties à créer des institutions nationales garantes de ces droits.
L’année passée, nous fêtions le 60ème anniversaire de la Déclaration universelle des Droits de l’Homme, mais il a fallu attendre 40 ans et la Chute du mur de Berlin (que nous commémorons cette année) pour que l’universalité des droits humains, s’inscrive dans le champ de la gouvernance mondiale.
La Conférence de Vienne aura été un jalon déterminant dans l’histoire mondiale des Droits humains qui s’institutionnalise, d’année en année, par le renforcement notamment du Haut Commissariat et du Conseil des Droits de l’Homme de l’ONU.
In 1993 the founders of the Martin Ennals Award showed great political insight: they were bold and visionary. Since then, they have unceasingly defended not only human rights as moral and legal norms, but above all the women and men who suffer physically as they struggle to guarantee their respect.
For the City of Geneva, the Martin Ennals Award, of all human rights prizes, has the highest authoriy. Why? Because the nominees and laureates are chosen by ten international NGOs that are among the most representative in the field of promotion and defence of human rights – organisations whose strength resides in their political independence and the courage of their leaders and activists.
Every year, I have great pleasure in naming them one by one:
the International Commission of Jurists,
the International Federation of Human Rights,
Human Rights First,
Human Rights Watch,
the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT),
the International Service for Human Rights,
Some have their headquarters in Geneva, others do not – but all know that they are welcome in this city. Why? Because I believe that the stronger and more organised civil society becomes, the more governments will endeavour to abide by the treaties they have signed, and the more citizens will be guaranteed their rights. Global good governance comes at no less a price! Governments have a duty to respect the law, but someone is always needed to remind them of this.
We are proud that Geneva, on its own scale and in its own way, is helping to meet this challenge.
Mr Emad Baghi, I have the greatest respect for your commitment and your faith in human life. As is often the case, it is not easy to find words that pay homage to persons who compel our admiration. But I will try to say, in so many words, that I am deeply impressed by your courage, your determination and your selflessness.
The Martin Ennals Award bears an extraordinary significance. By highlighting individuals and their singular efforts today, you, Mr Baghi, and your struggle against the death penalty, shed light on the millions of people who, all over the world, express their indignation and fight as best they can for the cause of dignity and justice.
Mr Baghi, thank you for what you are, for what you represent and for what you give to us!