Facing a growing crackdown on dissent around the globe, human rights advocates are engaged in a creative and critical fight to defend fundamental rights. With “serious threats” to civil freedoms documented in more than 100 countries in 2015, there is a systematic attack on human rights values, institutions, and activists by governments worldwide. Maina Kiai (below, right), the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association, observes that the world is experiencing a “democratic recession” with states passing restrictive laws governing the operation of NGOs, policing freedom of speech, and engaging in extra-legal forms of harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders. As world leaders openly deride democratic institutions like the judiciary and the free press, there is an urgent need for global activists to come together and share common struggles and strategies to defend dissent.
The 2017 annual conference leverages the interdisciplinary strengths of the Robert L. Bernstein Institute for Human Rights and draws together leading human rights activists, lawyers, and scholars from countries including China, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Russia, South Africa, and Turkey to spotlight strategies and tactics to safeguard crucial spaces for dissent. These strategies encompass litigation, legal empowerment, network building, and leveraging the Internet as forms of resistance. Speakers will share stories of resistance and build solidarity to defend human rights in the face of rising repression.
Day 1 April 13, 2017
Panel 1: Global Crackdown on Dissent 10:00-11:30am
This opening panel will provide an introductory, analytical framework on the global crackdown on dissent with specific commentary on the state of civil society within the focus regions. Presenters will establish a common vocabulary on the various tools used by governments to silence dissent.
- Melissa Hooper, Director, Human Rights and Civil Society, Human Rights First
- Sida Liu, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Toronto
- Biraj Patnaik, South Asia Director, Amnesty International; Convener, CSO Support Cell
- Ed Rekosh, Visting Professor of Law; Director of Human Rights Initiative, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law
- Emerson Sykes, Legal Advisor for Africa, International Center for Not-for-Profit Law
Panel 2: Network Building 11:45-1:15pm:
This panel will examine innovative strategies used to build, strengthen, and protect in-country networks of human rights lawyers and activists committed to the protection of fundamental freedoms. The discussion will highlight the power and challenges in creating sustainable networks in light of rising government repression.
- Moderator: Sharon K. Hom (right), Executive Director, Human Rights in China; Director, China and International Human Rights Law Research Program, Robert L. Bernstein Institute for Human Rights, NYU School of Law
- Yu-Jie Chen, Doctor of Juridical Science, NYU School of Law
- Shannon Green, Director, Human Rights Program, Center for Strategic & International Studies
- Olga Sadovskya, Deputy Chair, Commission of Prevention of Torture
- Yara Sallam, Director, Criminal Justice Program, Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
Panel 3: National Litigation 2:15-3:45pmSpeakers:
Lawyers and activists have turned to the national courts to challenge laws and restrictions limiting civil society space and pushing for expanded human rights protections. This panel will examine the success of litigation efforts in democratic countries like India, Kenya, and Botswana. The session will also explore strategies undertaken by advocates in China to secure human rights victories in the courts
- Moderator: Jerome A. Cohen, Professor of Law, NYU School of Law; Faculty Director, U.S.-Asia Law Institute, NYU School of Law
- Ira Belkin ’82, Executive Director, U.S.-Asia Law Institute, NYU School of Law
- Suba Churchill, Convener of Civil Society Reference Group
- Tashwill Esterhuizen, Lawyer, LGBTI and Sex Workers Programme, Southern African Legal Centre
- Mathew Jacob, Director of Programs, People’s Watch; National Coordinator, Human Rights Defenders Alert
Panel 4: Legal Empowerment 4:00-5:30pmSpeakers:
Legal empowerment puts law in the hands of people. This panel examines legal empowerment strategies and methods used by human rights advocates to strengthen the capacity of affected communities to identify, monitor, and defend their rights against the global crackdown.
- Moderator: Nikki Reisch ’12, Legal Director, Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, NYU School of Law
- Sukti Dhital, Deputy Director, Robert L. Bernstein Institute for Human Rights, NYU School of Law; Co-founder, Nazdeek
- Vivek Maru, CEO of Namati
- Mikhail Golichenko, Legal Counsel, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network
- Pauline Vata, Executive Director, Hakijamii
Day 2 April 14, 2017
Despite upticks in government surveillance and censorship, digital activism remains a powerful tool to mobilize and organize against repressive regimes. This panel weighs the challenges and opportunities in leveraging the Internet to support resistance efforts at local, national, and international levels.
Panel 5: Internet Resistance 9:00-10:30am
- Moderator: Margaret Satterthwaite ’99, Professor of Clinical Law; Faculty Director, Robert L. Bernstein Institute for Human Rights, NYU School of Law
- Zelalem Kibret, Zone 9 Blogger; Scholar in Residence, Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, NYU School of Law
- Qiang (right), Adjunct Professor, Berkeley School of Information; Editor in Chief, China Digital Times
- Zara Rahman, Data & Society Research Institute
- Bilge Yesil – Associate Professor, College of Staten Island, City University of New York
Panel 6: Technology, Business & Human Rights 10:45-12:15pm
This panel will open with a discussion on Internet governance and the responsibilities of technology companies to respect human rights. The presenters will then explore legal and policy measures to hold the commercial spyware industry accountable for state surveillance of human rights defenders.
- Moderator: Heidy Rombouts, Coordinator, Litigation Project, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Maina Kiai
- Nate Cardozo, Senior Staff Attorney, Electronic Frontier Foundation
- Danna Ingleton, Research and Policy Advisor on Human Rights Defenders, Amnesty International
- Sarah McKune, Senior Legal Advisor, The CitizenLab
- Jason Schultz, Professor of Clinical Law, NYU School o f Law
Panel 7: Lessons to Confront Closure at Home 1:15-2:45pmSpeakers:
With democratic institutions like the judiciary and the free press under attack, this panel will draw lessons from the strategies and tactics raised in the conference to address the impending crackdown on dissent in the United States.
Moderator: Michael H. Posner, Professor, NYU Stern School of Business; Co-Director, Stern Center for Business and Human Rights
- Baher Azmy ’96, Legal Director, Center for Constitutional Rights
- Tor Hodenfield, Policy and Research Officer, CIVICUS
- Sarah Kendzior, Journalist
- Biraj Patnaik, South Asia Director, Amnesty International; Convener, CSO Support Cell For all interested participants, an open space to network, share experiences, and build solidarity.
3:00-5:00 Open Space
Moderator: Deborah Alejandra Popowski, Executive Director, Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, NYU School of Law
[Speakers include partners of the National Endowment for Democracy].