To mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights, located within Mansfield College, held a two-day event, which hosted former US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
The event titled “Confronting Illiberalism: The Role of The Media, Civil Society and Universities”, was held on 10th October to consider the ways in which three key institutions of liberal democracies, the media, civil society and universities are confronting the threat of illiberalism.
The day started with a keynote address by Secretary Clinton. Clinton started her address by discussing the role Eleanor Roosevelt played in the development of the UDHR and how it represented “a compass pointing people to freedom and dignity.” Though she did go on to say that Roosevelt “would be appalled but not surprised” at the current treatment of human rights today.
Her speech touched on a wide range of issues, and evoked memories of her 1995 speech at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, as she reiterated the message that: “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights,” and also added that “ Human rights are gay rights”, “ Human rights are data rights” and “Human rights are economic rights”.
Whilst considering the existing state of the world, she reflected on Roosevelt’s claim that to stand still is to retreat, and that instead we should be celebrating the pioneering work of many around the world who are bravely upholding human rights. She mentioned the work down by the Black Lives Matter group, the #MeToo movement, the protests in Guatemala and Nicaragua, as well as the extraordinary efforts made by investigative journalists, with a particular mention of Jamal Khashoggi, the currently missing Saudi journalist.
Clinton also expressed her concern about the response of Conservative MEPs to the attacks on human rights undertaken by illiberal democracies, such as Hungary and Turkey. She said that the the Tories had “come a long way from the party of Churchill or Thatcher”. This criticism follows the decision by the Conservative group at the European parliament to vote against measures to censure Hungary over its measures to reduce judicial independence and extend control over the media.
Clinton added: “I hope the EU and the people of Europe will resist the backsliding we are seeing in the east. It’s disheartening to watch Conservatives in Brussels vote to shield Viktor Orbán from censure, including British Tories.”
The most pertinent message of her address was to focus on a key quote by Roosevelt: “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home”. This focus on the “small places” led to her discussing the ways in which democracies, and people, should work to uphold the value of human rights. Her thoughtful and extensive speech, ended with her calling us to “continue the long trek they began” when introducing the UDHR.
Her speech today, followed her conversation with Baroness Helena Kennedy yesterday, in which she described that “democracy is under siege” and that we be looking to find ways to modernise and popularise human rights. This conversation saw her discussing an array of issues, including the factors that drove Trump’s victory, the role Russia and China are playing in undermining liberal democracy, as well as the recent confirmation of US Supreme Court Associate Justice, Brett Kavanaugh. In relation, to Russia, she insisted that she could not understand why the press, public and political establishment are “so reluctant to call out what the Russians have been doing” and was firm that the intersection of autocracy and technology imposed a severe threat to liberal democracies globally.
Today’s speech was followed by three panel events, discussing the forms of illiberalism faced by key institutions. The panelists included Timothy Garton Ash, the historian and journalist, John Sexton, President of New York University and the Louise Richardson, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford.
The event was live streamed via the Facebook page of the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights.