Activists share strategies, denounce abuses and discuss the state and the future of protests
The 14th International Human Rights Colloquium drew to a close on Friday, May 29, issuing a challenge to its more than 150 participants: how, beyond local contexts and experiences, can social movements and organizations work together to guarantee, on a global scale, the right to the streets?
Clues to finding the answer to this question may be found in the more than 20 speeches, debates and workshops that occurred over the course of the week. All the activities were held at Praça das Artes square, in São Paulo.
From analysis of the most recent and important street movements to complaints about how the State has reacted to demonstrations, while questioning the effectiveness of participation channels and addressing the need to deepen democracy, the conference presented the main voices and narratives of the international discussion on protests. Split up into the themes “Agenda of the streets”, “Right to the streets” and “Legacy of the streets”, the program permitted a comprehensible and almost chronological journey through the topic.
On the first day of the week-long event, on Monday May 25, the participants heard accounts by activists who are or who have been on the front line of demonstrations in the United States, Egypt, Turkey and Mexico. They also debated the right to land and to the city, and the scope of the international norms that regulate and assure the right to protest.
In a debate on the right to protest, activists share cases of violations
On Tuesday, May 26, the debate was centered on the reaction of the State, usually violent, to popular protests. Discussions included the role of the police in the repression of demonstrations and the use, often illegal and disproportionate, of less-lethal weapons against the civilian population. In the afternoon, the participants could display the work of their organizations in an Ideas Fair.
Activists exhibit materials from their organizations on day two of the Colloquium
Day three was dedicated to the internet and to the new forms of surveillance and criminalization of civil society – in particular the passage of laws that restrict the work of social organizations. The participants spent the morning in two workshops, held simultaneously, on internet security and online mobilization. In the evening, an open debate was staged on the U.S. prison at Guantanamo and the CIA’s torture program.
Symbol of disrespect for human rights, U.S. prison is topic of debate in São Paulo
On Thursday, May 28, the participants took part in debates on tools for action: first, on the importance of research and communication for organizations; then, on tactics to guarantee physical safety during protests and on the use of video to record human rights violations. In the afternoon, the group staged a simulation of the UN Human Rights Council. The delegations reproduced the vote on a real resolution on protests.
In a simulation of the Human Rights Council, participants vote on the resolution on protests
The last day was dedicated to making an assessment of the impact of the streets on democracy and on the State itself, based on real experiences. First thing in the morning, the participants heard accounts from Brazil and Chile on the importance of the channels and mechanisms for public participation in the decision-making process.
The final panel of the conference featured statements by Kumi Naidoo, who spoke about the movement against apartheid in South Africa, and Vera Jarach, of the Mothers of May – Founding Line. Jarach moved the audience when speaking about how important it is for movements to continue their struggle on the streets. “Democracy is not perfect, but it is ‘perfectible’. With hope and willingness, we can be optimistic,” she said.