Elizabeth Chyrum meets President of the Federal Republic of Germany in Geneva

Ms Chyrum was one of five Human Rights defenders who attended a meeting with the German President. The others were representatives from Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Kazakhstan and North Korea who had gathered to discuss the human rights situations in their respective countries with Mr Gauck, himself a staunch defender of human rights. Ms Chyrum said of this meeting:

"On behalf of HRCE I wish to express my  great appreciation of Germany's President, Joachim Gauck, and of how profoundly moved I was by the speech he gave at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on 25/02/2013, and  to a small group of human rights defenders with whom he had so kindly agreed to spend some time on the same day, so that we could each present the human rights situations of our respective countries. It was wonderful to meet someone who understood so well the language of human rights defenders. His willingness to meet human rights defenders when he had only two days in Geneva is hugely encouraging."

In his speech Mr Gauck spoke eloquently and movingly about  how important it is to protect the greatest good known to mankind - the protection of human rights, and of how these rights must be observed in all countries without distinction. He pointed out that it is human rights defenders who bring abuses into the open; that although these rights are enshrined in law they are still frequently violated. Calling our countries to account in the international community is encouraging to those who are suffering abuses, he said.

It is important, said Mr Gauck, that we always remember the people who suffer under these inhumane regimes, and that it is people like us who strengthen them in their struggle for fundamental freedoms. Torturing and killing is wrong in any country, any culture. Rights cannot be played off against each other, said the President: one cannot say, "today we give you bread, tomorrow we'll worry about your freedom". For a country to be credible in terms of human rights advocacy it must be completely open for others to question its achievements with a critical eye.

One must speak openly about human rights violations without sparing anybody's feelings, regardless of the country's size or 'importance' even if that means criticising neighbours and friends. Human Rights Council must intervene quickly wherever human rights violations take place.

President Gauck continued by asking that we encourage governments to investigate human rights violations thoroughly and take appropriate action;  that governments should view NGOs as partners and not adversaries. Human Rights organisations should expose deficiencies and advise governments. He said that citizens active in this field contribute to the positive development of all states, just as free media and the rule of law do. He expressed his pleasure that representatives from human rights organisations were present that day and thanked us for our courage and commitment! human rights, he said,  need protectors. Human rights need defenders.

Governments may reject criticism, but that does not give them the right to intimidate critics, to abuse or even kill them. A country that suppresses criticism is an unjust country!

Together with others, said the President,  I experienced how apparently powerless people can bring down an all-powerful, inhuman state, can bring down an entire regime; it has been my experience that whoever ignores the call of human rights will sooner or later be on history's losing side.

"Hearing these words spoken by Joachim Gauck, I know that he is more than a president, he is a brother and a fellow human rights defender" said Ms Chyrum.

Ms Chyrum also said, "Meeting  the President  and his  delegates was a great opportunity to highlight Eritrea's gross human rights violations. The German president was shocked and visibly moved by my account of the evils that beset Eritrea".

Joachim Gauck  himself an example of how suffering can be overcome even after a people is deprived of basic freedoms. He knows what it is like to be imprisoned. He has not forgotten. His own father, a human rights defender, was sent to Siberia. The president said he would take the pain with him, and his  sincerity cannot be doubted" said Ms Chyrum.

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