The ongoing war in Ukraine has continued to keep Europe and the world on tenterhooks in recent weeks. While the tide seems to be turning and Ukraine is recording territorial regains, more aspects of the full extent of the horror of the war are coming to light. There is work to be done on all fronts. An incredible number of people in the country and in the host countries of Ukrainian refugees are in urgent need of help. In this grave situation, we are grateful for the opportunity to continuously expand our humanitarian aid work in Ukraine and for our strong team with strong structures on the ground. You can read more about this and our work in host countries for Ukrainian refugees but also for deserters and refugees from Russia and Belarus in the relevant articles in this newsletter. Although we oppose the war in Ukraine, we also maintain that racist attitudes toward any people, groups are wrong, including against Russians and Russian-speaking people. Criticize Russia’s political leaders for their war, but do not hold innocent people responsible. Even most of the young Russian soldiers dying in this war are just victims, as they did not choose to go to war. Our deep solidarity with the suffering Ukrainian people and the many refugees does not justify a new form of racism.
In the shadow of the news focus on the war in Ukraine, many open and smoldering conflicts in other parts of the world slipped out of the world’s attention. However, this does not change the fact that serious human rights violations are being committed every minute of every day around the world, and that peace and stability are under threat. It is one of our tasks to work against forgetting, covering up and concealing. Only the day before yesterday, we were jolted awake by the news of the renewed flare-up of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan – both countries where the ISHR is active.
Against this background, the existence of a democratic state as a living environment proves to be a great blessing and genuine happiness. Unfortunately, a happiness that is far from being shared by all people in the world (a special article in this newsletter is dedicated to the continuing misfortune of the existence of dictatorships on the African continent). We remember this and especially the many courageous and committed defenders of democracy on this International Day of Democracy. I am personally filled with pride and gratitude for the privilege of presiding over a worldwide network of human rights defenders who work every day to establish, maintain and defend democracy.
This newsletter is once again peppered with many reports from our sections, giving insights into their diverse activities. We would like to highlight our work in Kenya, which is currently undergoing a generational change: Bishop Kimani, a veteran human rights defender and valued colleague, is retiring and handing over the baton to Wanjeri Nderu, who continues our important work to promote human rights in East Africa with fresh issues of no less poignancy. Each new generation brings with it new issues and new forms of engagement – an essay in this newsletter is dedicated to this cross-cutting theme, penned by a young lawyer from Uganda who is currently on a working visit to our ISHR Secretariat in Bonn.
Finally, We would like to extend an invitation for today to an event of a special kind: For the first time, on this International Day of Democracy, we will pilot a conversation format on the platform “Twitter Spaces”. Together we will talk about democracy from different perspectives and cordially invite all partners, colleagues, friends and supporters worldwide to engage in constructive critical dialogue. We are pleased to see that there seem to be hardly any limits in the choice of communication channels for our important work and would like to encourage and strengthen all of you in this sense: On today’s International Democracy Day, seek out the conversation with other people. Be creative again and again in your choice of ways and means to pursue our common cause of promoting human rights and supporting human rights defenders worldwide.
Thomas Paul Schirrmacher