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The movie is a story of friendship and tender love between two young women in Kenya amidst family and political pressures. "Rafiki" was initially banned by the Kenya Film Classification Board "due to its homosexual theme and clear intent to promote lesbianism in Kenya contrary to the law". The film had its international premiere at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.
The event also marked the 20th anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. As a prelude to the movie short video clips on the work of human rights defenders were screened, produced by EU Delegations around the world to honour the work and invaluable contribution of individuals and civil society organisations in the promotion and protection of human rights. Ahead of the event Ambassador Walter Stevens from the EU Delegation stressed that support for human rights defenders is an integral part of the European Union's external policy on human rights. "Human Rights Defenders represent natural and indispensable allies in the promotion of human rights and democratisation in their respective countries, in particular given the current worrying trend of the shrinking space for civil society," he underlined.
After the screening, Stavros Lambrinidis, EU Special Representative for Human Rights, and Gianni Magazzeni, Chief of OHCHR's Universal Periodic Review Branch, engaged in a discussion with the audience, moderated by Manon Schick, Director of Amnesty International Switzerland. As a reaction to the movie and its link to LGBTI rights Mr. Lambrinidis stressed that “the basic power of human rights resides in their universal nature, yet this universal nature has been questioned on the basis of notions of cultural relativism,” he said and added: “Human rights have always been the universal voice of the powerless against the powerful, they are made to protect in particular vulnerable minorities.”
Mr Lambrinidis also referred to the importance of changing the narrative around human rights and making it more positive in order to counter the current trend where it is often argued that human rights are irrelevant. In this context he announced that the Good Human Rights Stories Initiative, which was launched in September in the margins of the UN General Assembly, will also soon be brought to Geneva, the capital of human rights.
Mr. Lambrinidis and Mr Magazzeni also discussed the role of civil society and actions taken from the grassroots for the protection of human rights. They both expressed their concern about the current trend of a shrinking civil society space. Mr Magazzeni stressed that the discussion between civil society organizations and the governments is essential in order to achieve positive changes to laws and practises. Civil society also has a strong role to play when it comes to changing the mind set of people on the ground, both argued.