In October 2016, human rights defenders from Zimbabwe, Lithuania and Venezuela came to Geneva for a week of advocacy around the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).
The week was organised by ILGA in cooperation with COC Netherlands and took place around UPR-Info’s “UPR Pre-sessions”.
A training session was how the UPR advocacy week started: the four human rights defenders gathered in the ILGA office to receive advice on how to best engage with diplomatic missions, review what recommendations they would – or would not – like made, and fine-tuned their statements ahead of the UPR-Info Pre-sessions.
At a few bus stops’ distance, it was then the time for the ritual inaugural picture in front of the Palais des Nations, and the week really got going: human rights defenders immediately began engaging with diplomatic missions, meeting government representatives and informing them about SOGIESC-related issues in their countries.
Attending the UPR pre-sessions and getting in touch with the missions: that was actually the whole purpose of me being here (Quiteria Franco, Union Afirmativa, Venezuela)
Human rights defenders had the opportunity to have conversations with a lot of countries within a very short time frame, and to directly make their own contribution to the review of the human rights situation of their country.
Our time was not wasted at all. ILGA asked also for meetings with missions that were not on their suggested list, simply because we asked for it. They took in consideration our aspirations in terms of what we were asking for (Humphrey Ndondo, Sexual Rights Centre – SRC, Zimbabwe)
Making their voices heard, letting states know what is really happening on the ground and backing up reports and documents with lived realities was all that mattered.
It is with personal stories that human rights defenders can best explain that many people around the world are not asking for “special rights,” but just to enjoy the same human rights as every other person. It’s as simple as that. And these stories are powerful.
You inspire us. You transmit us inspiration and passion for us to champion on this cause, a diplomat from a Latin American recommending state told them.
Human rights defenders from Zimbabwe and Venezuela also participated in the UPR Pre-sessions of their country, making presentations to government representatives together with other advocates working to see more human rights concerns addressed.
These are the human rights defenders who have been involved in this UPR advocacy week:
Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius (Lithuanian Gay League – LGL , Lithuania)
Quiteria Franco (Union Afirmativa, Venezuela)
It was indeed a busy time for them, but they were able to build up an amazing team in just a few days’ time.
The chance to meet with other activists who are coming here from a different context, and trying to understand their experiences, how they are doing their work, exchanging tips and giving mutual hope has been a great experience. Sometimes you come from a very hostile context, and you think that things are never going to be OK. And then you meet activists from countries that were hostile at some point, and sometimes that makes you feel that maybe change is not impossible after all. (Diana Mailosi, GALZ, Zimbabwe)
With more than 25 meetings with missions held, and with such a strong and committed team of human rights defenders, this has definitely been a UPR advocacy week to remember.
This group of advocates was a very special one: I think all of them understood each other very well, and that helped to build not only an effective working environment, but also a sense of a stronger, broader movement for equality (Diana Carolina Prado Mosquera, UN Programme officer, ILGA)
And surely there was no lack of team-building occasions!
Throughout the week, ILGA has been there for human rights defenders to support them and share advocacy skills.
This week has been very encouraging, professionally: I have learnt and developed a lot as an activist (Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius, Lithuanian Gay League – LGL , Lithuania)
“We felt like we had a partner in every single stage,” one of the advocates involved commented. “The resources that ILGA shared with us were really valuable, because sometimes we are not aware that those resources even exist. This is very important for us, because we will be able to use them once we will go back home.”
And indeed their work now continues at home. Human rights defenders will be involved in more meetings with embassies, still encouraging governments to make recommendations. Their countries will be reviewed at the UN on November 1st and 2nd. We will all be watching to see what recommendations are made. Then begins the crucial task of using them to help bring about change that matters. ILGA’s support continues throughout all this process.
Until next spring!
 Every year, the governments of the world meet at the UN in Geneva to review the human rights record of a new small group of countries and make recommendations to them.
ILGA therefore also organizes “UPR Advocacy Weeks” to coincide with the crucial period in the run-up to reviews. During these days, NGOs meet with countries from around the world in Geneva, taking the chance to share in detail the human rights situation on the ground and what recommendations they would like these countries to make to their own governments.
During these advocacy weeks, the ILGA team – this time together with partner COC Netherlands– assists human rights defenders in the preparation of oral statements and summaries to be delivered during the pre-sessions, facilitates meetings with diplomatic missions and gives advice on how to strategically conduct advocacy in Geneva.