Art is a powerful tool to call attention to human rights issues

Kyiv, 11 October 2016 – With UNDP support, the Centre for Civil Liberties gathered journalists, artists, human rights activists, and academics to discuss with Rasul Jafarov and Nadiia Chushak how to draw attention to human rights issues through art.

Miller12 129 LRG7958709879067iRasul Jafarov, a human rights activist and government critic from Azerbaijan known for his campaigns which gain wide international coverage, came to Ukraine to talk about his experience.
As an activist, Rasul has often used art to express his views on human rights issues. In order to highlight Azerbaijani rights abuses ahead of the Eurovision Song Contest 2012, Rasul organized the 'Sing for Democracy' campaign asking young people to stand up for justice through art, not violence.
In order to scale up the campaign, Rasul with activists came up with the long-term 'Art for Democracy' campaign. Aimed at engaging human rights defenders, journalists, and artists into discussion of human rights issues, the campaign consisted of shooting videos and documentaries about human rights, holding competitions for artists, cartoonists, and photographers, inviting musicians, singers, and filmmakers.
phoca thumb l pussyriot 19 3 19059302"Azerbaijani authorities decided to arrest human rights defenders, because they were becoming stronger. Via the campaign, activists attracted many people, even those who have never been interested in issues related to human rights. They lived their lives and were unaware of the situation. But work of art that we have been able to prepare under this campaign gave us the opportunity to draw people's attention to human rights issues," said Rasul.
In 2014, Rasul was sentenced to 6.5 years in prison. The charges have been widely dismissed as trumped up and linked to Jafarov's campaigning work.
International organizations and human rights activists around the world resolutely condemned the sentencing of Rasul and called for his immediate release. While under arrest, he was nominated for the prestigious Human Rights Tulip award. After prolonged international pressure, in March 2016, President of Azerbaijan signed a decree on pardoning 148 prisoners, including human rights activist Rasul Jafarov.
dsc 5157Ukraine is struggling for the release of at least 28 prisoners for political reasons in Russia and occupied Crimea, so the experience of nonviolent resistance to the authoritarian regime and the story of Rasul are of considerable interest to the Ukrainian society.
Nadiia Chushak, coordinator of the human rights programs of Docudays UA International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival aimed at promoting human rights in Ukraine, confirmed that art has a universal language and has a power to bring people together and to promote change.
"When you watch documentaries about the experiences of some group of people and their problems, you start to understand challenges they face in their lives. You understand that all of us are really united by universal values," said Nadiia.
This meeting - under the framework of UNDP's Democratization, Human Rights and Civil Society Development Project - provided a platform for civic activists to discuss how art can play a leading role in furthering human rights agenda in Ukraine.