On the sixth of April the conference for the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy gathered people from all around the Globe to shine a spotlight on the corruption that many nations face. I had the honour of attending this conference with five other classmates and English teacher Dr. Hambley. If I had to sum up this conference, it reminds me of a quote from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:
“Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”
And although this summit had nothing to do with space, I thought that this best reflects my feelings.
To explain this to you, I went into the conference room worried about a maths exam I had a couple of weeks from then. I was stressed because I just can’t seem to wrap my head around trigonometry, and those pesky triangles are going to lose me marks. I then sat through a speech from Tenzin Tsundue, Tibetan refugee & writer arrested sixteen times for his activism, completed 127-day Himalayan walk for Tibet. This was followed by speaker Rushan Abbas, who told a heartbreaking story of her sister, being kept a political prisoner by the Chinese authorities, because of her campaign for Uyghurs and activism. And I was worried about my Maths test. Compared to the problems that our world faces, it’s peanuts.
I also had the honour of interviewing two people. The first was Miguel Henrique Otero, founder and CEO of El Nacional, Venezuela’s last independent news outlet. El Nacional was started in 1943 by Otero’s father and grandfather. Beforehand, Otero’s father was a successful journalist and Otero’s Grandfather decided it was time to use his powers for good. So, they started this newspaper. The first modern, professional newspaper in Venezuela. He spoke about Former President Chavez, and his deceiving ways. “When Chavez won, we backed him,” he said. “He was not what he was afterwards… Rhetorically he was pro freedom of speech… The country was in a very bad situation so people voted for him. He became obsessed with staying in power forever,” he explained. The authoritarian regime overcame the country and bit by bit, freedom of speech disappeared. Currently, all media outlets in the country are blocked apart from the official government run one.
Otero explains how they have tried to encourage people to access El Nacional through a VPN, but it’s difficult and the newspaper is no longer able to reach the same amount of people. He continued to speak about the level of development in Venezuela, as if it took steps back. 75% of people live in Venezuela under the extreme poverty line, he noted. “Venezuelans were very very rich people 25 years ago and now they are the poorest in Latin America.”
Nevertheless, Otero persists. He is currently running the Newspaper from Madrid because it is too dangerous for him to return to Venezuela.
He still has a team of 50 (reduced from 1100) in Venezuela and explains the danger for his journalists: “They harass our journalists, they steal their equipment, they threaten them and some of them even had to leave the country because they had additional measures, etc.” he went on to explain how the government has tried to make it impossible for El Nacional to keep running, trying everything from making paper too expensive to print to fining them 13 million $ for no reason with no explanation and took over the building of El Nacional. They are no longer allowed into government press conferences and he has kept true to his values and chosen the news outlet over a sizable amount of money he was offered by the government.
Otero continued to speak about the corruption found within several governments, for “about 66% of countries in the UN are run by dictators”. He forecasts that Venezuela, like many other countries, will one day return to democracy. As an ending note he emphasises the power of the written word. “What comes out in the media is very very important to stop dictators, it weakens them… Journalism is a very important weapon to fight against these authoritarian regimes.”
We continued to hear from other people, such as Timothy Cho, a North Korean activist and a two time defector. He has been imprisoned four times in North Koreas and China. We even got to listen to Ugandan presidential candidate Bobi Wine who started his speech with a song:
Si, our leaders become misleaders and
si, our mentors become tormentors,
freedom fighters became dictators,
they’re killing our people in Karamoja,
We are fighting for freedom.
He explained how Musevini shut down the internet, the radio, any media outlets and any information about the elections before unfairly declaring himself winner of the 2021 presidential elections.
Never would I have thought that I would have lunch with political prisoners and almost Presidents.
We would like to thank the organisers of this event and English teacher Dr. Hambley for making it possible for us to be able to be a part of something as big and as moving this. It was a well needed wake up call for the need to take action and focus on the bigger picture, not just the peanuts!
-Celeste Barnett Trier