Former President Jimmy Carter and Karin Ryan, senior policy adviser, react during the12th Human Rights Defenders Forum at the Carter Center on Tuesday, October 15, 2019. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Carter wants center to preserve the stories of human rights defenders

The 12th Human Rights Defenders Forum in Atlanta wrapped up Tuesday, but former President Jimmy Carter said he’d like to see such activists honored in a more permanent way at his namesake facility.

According to the United Nations, 431 human rights defenders were killed worldwide in 2017. The Carter Center should tell those 431 stories, the former president said.

Carter has been calling for the center to increase its presence in the human rights arena. He closed out the three-day forum held there, though his eye was still a bit swollen from a fall he took about two weeks ago.

“We ought to have a common place where we can get that information,” he said. “We ought to have a way to communicate with others so that, when people are abused or killed, their stories will be told.”

Karin Ryan, the Carter Center’s senior policy adviser for human rights, said the narratives often get muddled.

“The Carter Center has the ability to amplify the stories of human rights defenders, and the Carter Center has a reputation of speaking out and speaking truth to power,” Ryan said. “President Carter believes that we should be doing more and has challenged us to have a more comprehensive plan to get it done. When defenders start dying, what happens to society?”

About 50 activists, peacemakers and community leaders from 28 countries participated in the forum, which focused on “Building Solidarity toward Equality for All.” The group talked about global protection for activists, challenges faced by women fighting for human rights, and the best ways to support civil, economic, political and social rights.

“Events like this are special because it makes us appreciate other agents and agencies that are doing good work around the world,” said Bashir Y. Mundi, a native of Nigeria and the director of the Development Initiative of West Africa. “This work can be under-appreciated and challenging, as evident by the stories you hear about the people who paid the ultimate sacrifice and lost their lives and freedom.”

Carter, who recently celebrated his 95th birthday, has remained active despite injuries from his fall on October 6. He suffered a black eye and received 12 stitches.

He attended the forum with his wife Rosalynn and held a brief question and answer session Tuesday before dinner. Last week, the couple was in Nashville building houses for Habitat for Humanity.

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