Further meetings will be held before the end of the year, bringing together organizations and individuals that are part of our history.
On May 23, Conectas officially began celebrating its 10th anniversary by bringing together members of its Board, partner organizations and donors for the meeting “On the frontline of human rights in the Global South: lessons learned by Conectas Human Rights and its partners”. (Click here to read the meeting report).
The meeting took place in the offices of the Ford Foundation, in Rio de Janeiro, and prompted a joint reflection on the successes and challenges faced by human rights organizations in the Global South. Further meetings will be held before the end of the year, bringing together organizations and individuals that are part of our history.
Held in the offices of the Ford Foundation, in Rio de Janeiro, the meeting was attended by 30 participants from South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Egypt, United States, Indonesia, Ireland, Mexico, United Kingdom and Tunisia (see program and list of participants
Throughout the day, the participants were invited to debate and reflect together on the successes and challenges faced by human rights organizations, particularly by those in the Global South (Africa, Asia and Latin America).
In the morning, Conectas presented its history to the participants, as well as its main objectives and activities over the past 10 years.
Malak Poppovic and Oscar Vilhena Vieira, founders of the organization, spoke of the motivation that led them to establish Conectas, in October 2001, and of the development of the organization’s projects and main results since then. “At the time, we noticed a strengthening of civil society in several Global South countries and a need to connect the organizations and the academics who were working on human rights, by promoting south-south dialogue and cooperation and by promoting engagement with the UN to give visibility to what was happening in each country,” said Malak Poppovic, currently senior advisor at Conectas.
Afterwards Juana Kweitel and Marcos Fuchs, respectively the Program Director and Associate Director of Conectas, presented the main strategies and programs currently developed by the organization.
Juana Kweitel emphasized that Conectas operates both nationally and internationally. In Brazil, it develops strategic litigation projects and participates in the constitutional debate. Internationally, Conectas conducts education, research, networking and advocacy activities. “In all our projects, Conectas always builds partnerships with other organizations, as we believe in working collaboratively in a network: a good example of this is the International Human Rights Colloquium, the organization’s first project, which since 2001 has brought together more than 870 participants from 50 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America”. (Learn more about this and the other projects of Conectas in the 10 year commemorative folder).
Bahey El-din Hassan, of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (from Egypt), and Bassett Hassen, of the Arab Institute for Human Rights (from Tunisia), reinforced the importance of collaboration between Global South organizations to find solutions that take into consideration the characteristics and contexts of each country. The two participants said they believe that south-south dialogue is essential for building a democratic future in the Middle East.
In the afternoon, the participants discussed the main challenges to the work and sustainability of human rights organizations in the Global South.
Representatives from the Ford Foundation, the Sigrid Rausing Trust, the Open Society Foundations and the Carlos Chagas Foundation were invited to share their experiences from the perspective of donor organizations.
One of the challenges identified was the difficulty of prioritizing goals while at the same time expanding the activities of human rights organizations. This is a daily challenge for organizations to strike a balance between their work in “traditional” areas such as combating torture and prison conditions, and “new” issues such as development and human rights, environment and the responsibility of companies in the protection of fundamental rights.
Another challenge debated by the participants was how to strengthen and ensure the sustainability of human rights organizations. According to Ana Toni, representing the Ford Foundation in Brazil, “it is essential to create a human rights infrastructure in the Global South and this includes strengthening civil society organizations working in these countries.” Reinforcing this viewpoint, Julie Broome of the Sigrid Rausing Trust stressed the importance of organizations securing long-term institutional funding. “It is important to support to institutions and not just specific projects,” said Broome.
The participants also discussed the importance of engaging the various sectors of society in the struggle for human rights. For Sandra Dunsmore, of the Open Society Foundations, “it is vital to create a national constituency in countries like Brazil so that organizations can be sustainable, not just financially, but in relation to the legitimacy of their demands.”
Finally, Martín Abregu, of the Ford Foundation, emphasized the importance of human rights organizations from the Global South and the role they can play nationally, regionally and internationally. “It is important for the organizations from the Global South to rethink their role in the new configuration of global geopolitics,” said Abregu.
Lucia Nader, the executive director of Conectas, said that starting the organization’s 10th anniversary commemorations by bringing together partner NGOs and donors had been an extremely valuable experience, since “we not only shared our history and achievements, but we also reflected together on the challenges faced by the different organizations.”
Conectas plans to stage other meetings before the end of 2011 with organizations and individuals that are part of our history and we would like to thank all those who joined us in Rio de Janeiro.