In April 2018, ILGA and COC Nederland welcomed six human rights defenders to the United Nations in Geneva, for a unique opportunity to raise awareness of SOGIESC issues in their own countries and regions at the international level.
As their countries were getting ready to see their human rights record analysed by other UN member states, the defenders joined a week of advocacy around the Universal Periodic Review. Over just five days, they met with governments from every region of the world and shared snapshots of their communities’ lived realities, highlighting recommendations they would like to see made at the upcoming UPR.
“We are very ambitious, but we hope to see that the recommendations that we have made will be taken into account to help improve the conditions of LGBTI people in my country.” Jean Paul - Humanity First, Cameroon
“I really hope to bring a more in-depth understanding of the situation of LGBT people in Colombia: despite all the progress, there are still several challenges, and issues that we should pay attention to.” Gustavo - Colombia Diversa, Colombia
Before a rather intense week of work really kicked off, the defenders took part in an interactive training session: a crash-course on how to most effectively engage with diplomatic missions, highlight human rights concerns that they can best respond to, and follow-up on advocacy efforts.
A moment of the training session...
... before heading to the United Nations
It was a much-needed entry to the week before they got ready to set foot into the United Nations and dive into meetings. In only five days’ time, the defenders met with representatives of more than 20 countries from across the world – sharing stories from their communities, highlighting everyday challenges, and pushing for change by proposing priority recommendations to be made.
“People who in the beginning hardly knew about trans issues really gave me the impression not only to have learnt something, but also to have taken to heart what I talked about. There might be a real chance for a new gender recognition legislation (in Germany), but we fear that it won’t happen if our government doesn’t get a little push: that is actually what the UPR is good for.” Jonas - Bundesvereinigung Trans*, Germany
Then, it was time for... (*)
... meetings with missions to start
Human rights defenders had the chance... (*)
... to raise awareness of SOGIESC issues in their countries and regions
Gaining strength and inspiration from each other as the week unfolded, the defenders left a tremendous mark - a mark that will eventually lead to bring about progress.
It was an intense week of meetings... (*)
...followed by moments of debrief in the Ariana Park at the United Nations
“There were delegations that had never heard about the situation of LGBT people in Azerbaijan, and I was able to make them aware. This whole week has been a priceless experience for me: my country has never received SOGI recommendations, and just being here, learning, being part of this advocacy work and making better for LGBT communities in Azerbaijan makes it a historic moment.” Javid - LGBT human rights defender from Azerbaijan
ILGA supported the defenders at each stage of the UPR – from providing feedback on their submissions, to sharing advocacy tips and facilitating meetings with diplomatic missions – allowing them to overcome the barriers of a mechanism that can at times seem intimidating,and to ensure they make the most out of their advocacy to really change their countries’ human rights situation for the better..
“The work of ILGA had an impact on my own activism: now I feel more confident about my own skills, and I feel like I have a strategy in fighting for the rights of the community I want to fight for.” Daria - organisation and country not mentioned for security concerns
Strategy is indeed important, as the work of the defenders is still far from over. Their countries and 7 more will be reviewed in May 2018, and ILGA is ready to follow closely what recommendations will be made. Then begins the crucial task of using them to help bring about change that matters. Our support continues throughout all this process.
“My advice to other defenders who wish to engage in the UPR would be not to just come to Geneva to receive recommendations, but to work further back in your countries. There is a huge work to be done also at the national level, building strategies on how to make sure that the recommendations received will be implemented.” Aizhan - representing LGBT communities in Uzbekistan
Meanwhile, the memories of such an intense week won’t fade away easily.
“This has been a truly amazing advocacy week, we had defenders from all around the world and representing all the different identities. All of them built a nice dynamic, learning from each other, sharing their strategies, improving their advocacy every day. It has been a successful advocacy week!” Diana, ILGA’s UPR Programme & Advocacy Officer
The group of human rights defenders at our latest SOGIESC UPR Advocacy Week (*)
“I met wonderful people in this advocacy team”, Javid told us. “This is the first ‘income’ for me. It will stay forever.”
The energy created in these days will hopefully expand well beyond Geneva: “What I would love to achieve is that the LGBT community in Uzbekistan would feel that they are supported by other activists, and that they are not alone,” Aizhan concluded. “We are helping each other in different directions and spaces: this cooperation, the feeling that we belong to each other, is very important.”
These are the defenders who took part in the UPR Advocacy Week:
Gustavo Pérez, Colombia Diversa, Colombia Javid Nabiyev, LGBT human rights defender from Azerbaijan Jean Paul Enama, Humanity First, Cameroon Jonas Hamm, Bundesvereinigung Trans*, Germany Aizhan Kadralieva, representing LGBTI communities in Uzbekistan Daria - family name, organisation and country not mentioned for security concerns
Photos in the article marked with (*) were taken by J. Andrew Baker
 Three times a year, the governments of the world meet at the United Nations in Geneva to review the human rights record of countries and make recommendations to them: the Universal Periodic Review, or UPR.
ILGA organises “UPR Advocacy Weeks” – this time together with COC Nederland - to coincide with the crucial period in the run-up to these reviews. During these days, NGOs meet with the Geneva representatives of governments from around the world, to share 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 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 and back home.
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