The Ambassador of Switzerland to Bangladesh, Dr. René Holenstein, and the Senior Human Rights Adviser to the UN Resident Coordinator, Ms. Heike Alefsen, spoke at the event. The Chief Executive of Nagorik Uddyog and human rights activist, Mr. Zakir Hossain, women’s rights activist from Chattogram, Ms. Jasmeen Sultana Paru, as well as Mr. Ismail Mintu, who represented the young Bangladeshis, took part in the panel discussions. Mr. Ranjan Karmaker, Executive Director of Steps, moderated.
The panellists talked about the relevance of human rights today, 70 years after the adoption of the UDHR, and explored key human rights topics in Bangladesh. The event was widely attended by human rights and civil society activists from Chattogram as well as a large number of young Bangladeshis, mainly university students. The discussions followed a lively interaction with the audience, who shared their views about human rights and the challenges they encounter in exercising human rights in the society. The award winning Swiss film “Sonita” featuring women’s rights issues was screened at the event. The film depicts the struggles of Sonita, an Afghan refugee, who pursues her aspirations, overcoming various obstacles such as attempts of her relatives to make her enter into early marriage against her wish.
Highlighting the important role of civil society, human rights defenders and journalists in promoting human rights, the Ambassador of Switzerland said, “Freedom of expression and press freedom are important benchmarks for human rights in any society.” The UN’s Human Rights Adviser noted that “the importance of the Universal Declaration cannot be overemphasized: it put countries on the road to rights, sustainable development and justice for all, leading away from discrimination and violence”.
The event in Chattogram is part of an international human rights film tour in over 45 countries organized by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN country teams, the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights in Geneva. Since May 2018, the film tour has successfully travelled to six major cities in Bangladesh, including Dhaka, Rangpur, Khulna, Rajshahi, Barisal and now Chattogram, providing people a platform to talk about their rights. More events around the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are being planned.