In April 2017, human rights defenders from Ecuador, Indonesia, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Poland, South Africa and Tunisia 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.
It all kicked off with a morning-long training session: human rights defenders were hosted in the offices of the Association for the Prevention of Torture, where they began to know each other and received the first advices on how to best engage with diplomatic missions. Assisted by ILGA’s UN programme staff, they reviewed what recommendations they would – or would not - like made to their countries, the agenda of the week and different questions about advocacy.
What lay ahead was a week that all of them couldn’t help but define as “incredibly intense,” but also full of opportunities for their advocacy efforts. But first, some group pictures at the Palais des Nations were de rigueur to freeze the moment in everyone’s memories: We are doing this: our voices will be heard at the United Nations.
Once those memories were saved in their smartphones, it was time for human rights defenders to really dive in the week: they immediately began engaging with diplomatic missions and meeting government representatives, informing them about SOGIESC-related issues in their countries.
In just five days' time, human rights defenders had the opportunity to engage in conversations with almost 30 different diplomatic missions, raising awareness of the LGBTI human rights situation of their own countries.
And, in some cases, the process was as urgent as ever.
“This may not be the only way to advocate for our rights, but since we’re sadly heading towards criminalization (in Indonesia), it is really important for us to meet (representatives of other countries) and at least make them aware of what we are facing.”
(Mario Prajna Pratama, Arus Pelangi, Indonesia)
The whole week looked like a continuous process of exchange. Best practices in governments’ provisions, information about human rights situations, details on how discriminatory laws impact on people’s lives: all of this was constantly shared with dozens of diplomatic missions and government representatives.
“First-hand information and data are incredibly important for States to understand our realities, but sometimes they do not have this kind of evidence. This is why it is necessary to work to provide them all the information they need, so that they can weigh in with recommendations to other countries.”
(Efraín Soria, Fundación Ecuatoriana Equidad, Ecuador)
Of course, such exchanges happened not only with states, but also among defenders themselves. Spending together five incredibly intense days, they kept supporting and learning from each other. Meeting after meeting, debrief after debrief, and with discussions on human rights over one too many cups of coffee, they built up an incredibly committed and sympathetic team. As one of the defenders told us: “It’s a strengthening process: not only while advocating, but also with each other. I can feel the energy!”
"The exchange of experiences is great: (other defenders) always give me new things, and I always try and observe them to learn new advocacy skills."
(Islèm Mejri, Mawjoudin, Tunisia)
"I really feel that this enlightening week has benefitted me as an activist: it has given me a wider view on activism at the global level."
(Fire Sia, SideB Philippines)
"Every country has different issues and priorities, but it’s actually the spirit of activism brought by LGBTI human rights defenders that make the experience valuable. The spirit of activism is incredible: you feel like you are not the only one dealing with the UPR process, but like you are part of a larger movement."
(Ryan Silverio, Asean SOGIE Caucus, Philippines)
Apart from meeting several missions, some of the defenders also participated in the UPR-Info Pre-sessions of their countries, making presentations to government representatives together with other advocates working to see more human rights concerns addressed.
ILGA supported defenders throughout the week, standing by their side just as it did since they have begun to engage in the UPR process: sharing advocacy skills, facilitating meetings, coordinating activities and networking possibilities.
"Without ILGA I wouldn’t have made it, because I did not know so much about UPR and they helped me with every single step: from writing the two pager to choosing the countries I should meet, or to arrange all the meetings… It’s been a pretty amazing experience: it was the first time at the United Nations for me, and it’s been an invaluable opportunity to see how things actually work here, and to talk to some many diplomats from so many countries. I don’t get a lot of chances (in my country) to talk to decision makers who actually care about LGBTI issues”
(Mirosława Makuchowska, Kampanii Przeciw Homofobii, Poland)
“Without the help of ILGA, we simply wouldn’t have been able to meet so many states, and raise awareness of the human rights situations we face in our countries.”
(Bochra Triki, Chouf Minorities, Tunisia)
“ILGA has done a tremendous job in arranging meetings with diplomats, and we know how hard it would have been to catch them one by one. We did not have to arrange anything: all we had to do is conducting much focused discussions on what is happening in our countries, and I believe the messages were well delivered.”
(Damar Hanung, ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, Indonesia)
"I believe that ILGA’s role in the UPR process is very important: there have been no recommendations on intersex issues for years, and countries started to ask for more information about intersex only after the organisation began to step up its efforts on the UPR process. This is already a huge step forward, and I would not be surprised to see more intersex-related recommendations in the future, especially from some of the countries we spoke with during this advocacy week."
(Miriam van der Have, NNID and ILGA Intersex Secretariat, The Netherlands
“During the past 9 months we have been working with some of the defenders, and having them here in Geneva advocating for their recommendations with different missions and presenting their country situations is always a learning process: for us, for them and for the diplomats. This has been an amazing group, I have learned so much from them: their attitude, their energy, the strength that they have, make everything in this process worthy.”
(Diana Carolina Prado Mosquera, UN Programme and Advocacy officer at ILGA)
By sharing skills, ILGA also hopes to empower other organisations to step up their future advocacy efforts, both at the local and at the international level.
"I work for a regional trans organisation, and it's important for me to assist other organisations in the region for the UPR work. ILGA has always been there throughout the process, and of course it doesn't end now: five years down the line, I hope that we will come back and say 'this is what we learnt from you.'"
(Sheriff Mothopeng, Gender Dynamix, South Africa)
These were the human rights defenders that joined the UPR Advocacy week:
Efrain Soria, Fundacion Ecuatoriana Equidad, Ecuador
Bochra Triki, Chouf, Tunisia
Islèm Mejri, Mawjoudin, Tunisia
Mario Prajna Pratama, Arus Pelangi, Indonesia
Damar Hanung, Asean SOGIE Caucus, Indonesia
Ryan Silverio, Asean SOGIE Caucus, Philippines
Fire Sia, Side B Philippines, Philippines
Mirosława Makuchowska, Kampanii Przeciw Homofobii, Poland
Nikki Brörmann, COC Nederland, The Netherlands
Miriam van der Have, NNID, The Netherlands
Sheriff Mothopeng, Gender Dynamix, South Africa
Their work does not end with this advocacy week in Geneva, but rather continues at home. They will now be involved in more meetings with embassies, still encouraging governments to make recommendations. Their countries will be reviewed at the UN in May 2017, as the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review begins. 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 autumn!
 Every year, the governments of the world meet at the United Nations 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.