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In partnership with its 52 Global Partners from 27 Countries Presents


20 September 2023 | John Jay College, New York | Hybrid

In the Margins of the 78 th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA78), the Journalists and Writers Foundation, in partnership with 52 civil society organizations from 27 countries, organized the 8 th Annual SDGs Conference at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York on 20 September 2023, Wednesday. The Conference was also attended by more than 250 in-person participants and over one thousand online participants from more than 20 countries on Zoom and JWF`s YouTube channel.

The SDGs Conference 2023: In the Margins of the UNGA marks the highlight event of the JWF`s UNGA78 side-events and diplomatic engagements. 3-days of JWF events commenced with the JWF High-Level Reception on Monday, September 18, 2023, by hosting international delegations of journalists, human rights advocates, civil society members and academics from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Greece, India, Iraq/Kurdistan, New Zealand, Philippines, Romania, Russia, South Africa, Tanzania, and the United States. Experts from 15 different countries later participated in a 2-session Roundtable Discussion on the role of human rights defenders for sustainable peace and development and civil society best practices at John Jay College of Criminal Justice on Tuesday, September 19, 2023.

The SDGs Conference 2023, with its motto of “Transforming Our World”, offers a platform for diverse stakeholders to converge and deliberate upon the Global Agenda 2030. It serves as a nexus where innovative solutions, strategies, and policy recommendations are shared to propel the ideals of sustainable development, human rights, and the culture of peace. On the sidelines of UNGA, this global conference brings together an illustrious group of interdisciplinary panelists and high-level speakers to engage in thematic discussions. Interventions of expert speakers revolve around specific agendas aligned with the priorities of the current UNGA78, culminating in the proposal of comprehensive frameworks for action to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
At the heart of the UNGA Conference 2023 lies an unwavering commitment to successful achievement of SDG #17: Partnerships for the Goals. Recognizing that the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) hinges on robust global partnerships and cooperation, SDG 17 underscores the imperative for the UN to rally these partnerships in achieving all 17 Global Goals. The JWF plays a pivotal role in this endeavor, mobilizing its Global Partners to exchange best practices and initiate people-centric policy suggestions aligned with the UN Development Agenda 2030.

The action-oriented 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has invigorated all stakeholders, including the UN Agencies, the UN Member States, the private sector, civil society actors, and experts, to bridge the gap between policy and knowledge. It emphasizes the creation of vital interlinkages between the goals, accelerating progress in the implementation of the SDGs.

Hosting 21 notable speakers from 16 countries including the UN Ambassadors and diplomats, the SDGs Conference 2023 delved into three pivotal themes: (1) Building a New Momentum towards the 2030 Deadline for the SDGs; (2) Press Freedom as an Instrument to defend Human Rights for All; and (3) Widening Gap between the Erosion of Democracy and the Rise of Autocracy.



Cemre Ulker, the US Director, and Representative of JWF to the UN Department of Global Communications extended a warm welcome to the global audience attending the 8th Annual SDGs Conference 2023, which was organized in the margins of one of the most critical sessions of the United Nations General Assembly. In her address, she emphasized the significance of the 78 th Session UNGA, where Heads of State address the world's most pressing development, peace and security complexities. The central theme of the 78th Session of the UN General Assembly revolves around "rebuilding trust and reigniting global solidarity," with a focus on expediting action on the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals. The goal is to usher in an era of peace, prosperity, progress, and sustainability for all.

In her opening remarks, Cemre Ulker highlighted the transformative role of the UNGA78 as a critical moment for accelerating progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. She emphasized that despite the UNGA being a hub of high-level diplomatic engagements, the world is currently off track in achieving the SDGs. There is a pressing need for transformative actions to ensure inclusive and gender-sensitive development processes. Ulker underscored the call from the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for all stakeholders to rethink, refocus, and recharge their efforts. She also stressed the importance of a modernized intergovernmental system, often referred to as "UN 2.0," to better support the SDG agenda. The themes of various UN events, including the Commission on the Status of Women, the ECOSOC Youth Forum, and the SDG Summit have paved the way for discussions on how to boost commitment, solidarity, financing, and action to align global goals with a better path and mark the beginning of a new phase of accelerated progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals with urgent transformative and accelerated actions leading up to the 2030 Deadline.
Mehmet Kilic, President of the Journalists and Writers Foundation delivered Welcome Remarks on behalf of the JWF and its 52 Global Partners from 27 countries. Mr. Kilic underscored the critical significance of unity and global partnerships in tackling most pressing challenges faced by the people and the planet. He acknowledged the complex interconnections among problems such as poverty, climate change, and conflicts, emphasizing the necessity for collective leadership and action. Despite past achievements, Mr. Kilic noted that substantial challenges persist, with only 15 percent of SDGs targets currently on track, and millions still enduring extreme poverty. To surmount these hurdles and achieve the SDGs by 2030, Mehmet Kilic called for renewed political determination, tangible actions, financial support, and global partnerships The President of the JWF also acknowledged the Pioneers in SDGs Awards, an initiative that recognizes both individuals and organizations for their innovative contributions to the SDGs. This year, the JWF introduced a new category, the “People’s Choice SDGs Awards,” focusing on sustainable peace and development. In his closing remarks, Mr. Kilic expressed gratitude to John Jay College of Criminal Justice for hosting the SDGs Conference and thanked the representatives of 52 Global partners from 27 countries for their unwavering support. He reaffirmed the Journalists and Writers Foundation’s commitment to the implementation of the SDGs through meaningful and effective global partnerships. Mr. Kilic conveyed his optimism, believing that through collective efforts, conference attendees can reshape the world for the better and have a lasting impact on the journey toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
Her Excellency Ambassador Thilmeeza Hussain, Permanent Representative of the Maldives to the United Nations was the first Keynote Speaker of the Opening Session at the SDGs Conference 2023. Ambassador Ms. Hussain began her remarks by emphasizing the critical role of freedom of expression, press freedom, and the access to information in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. She acknowledged the indispensable role of journalists who stand on the front lines of truth, justice, and accountability, serving as the voices of marginalized communities and holding organizations accountable. Reflecting on the state of the world, Ambassador Ms. Hussain noted that conflict, poverty, hunger, discrimination, and inequality continue to affect the progress of sustainable development. She highlighted the alarming climate emergency and the need for substantial actions from global leaders. Permanent Representative of Maldives praised the role of journalists in empowering the public to demand accountability and significant efforts from their leaders. Ambassador Ms. Hussain also shared updates on the SDGs achievement progress in the Maldives, highlighting their commitment to independent media and democracy despite the historical challenges. She mentioned significant improvements in media freedom rankings, emphasizing the government’s dedication to advancing the rights of media members. Ambassador Ms. Hussain stressed the importance of meaningful partnerships involving not only governments, but also civil society, academia, youth, and private sectors Ms. Hussain encouraged renewed commitment to the SDGs, fostering partnerships that would ignite new momentum, leaving a legacy of hope and progress for future generations.
Ambassador Dr. Carlos Garcia, Former Permanent Representative of El Salvador to the United Nations, emphasized the urgent need to build a renewed momentum for achieving the SDGs by the 2030 deadline. He discussed the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on global challenges, highlighted the trend of regionalism, and stressed the importance of aligning national interests and political commitments with the SDGs.

Presenting El Salvador as an example, he illustrated how a shift in the paradigm of human rights improved safety and aligned with SDG 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions). Ambassador Dr. Garcia also emphasized the importance of involving civil society and the private sector in SDG harmonization. He later discussed the geopolitical landscape's impact on SDG implementation, particularly in financing for development, and advocated for a common agenda connected to national interests to progress successfully with the SDGs. He encouraged viewing the SDGs as a flexible roadmap.


Professor Silvia Osman, an Associate Professor at the National University of Political Studies, and Public Administration in Romania, was the Moderator for Panel Session 1: Building a New Momentum Towards the 2030 Deadline for the SDGs. Prof. Osman is an accomplished author with over 20 books to her name and her research interests span literature, discourse, multicultural dialogue, paradigms in education, and multimodal approaches to communication.

Professor Osman emphasized the sense of a global community and the need for collective efforts to build momentum toward achieving the SDGs by 2030. Drawing on the analogy that it takes a village to raise a child, she suggested that a global village is required to realize the SDG agenda. Reflecting on the importance of human values and human rights, she stressed the need to creatively rethink frames and consider the benefit of others.

Professor Silvia Osman explored the concept of momentum, highlighting that it is determined by the actions of a moving body. She likened the SDGs to a roadmap, and individuals and their actions as the constant force needed to create momentum. Professor Osman quoted a fellow panelist who mentioned that "love is a verb," emphasizing the active nature of love and its importance as a human value. She called on all stakeholders of development including Member States, intergovernmental organizations, and civil society actors to roll up their sleeves, contribute to building momentum, and put their values to work, ultimately forming a global community of action to establish a roadmap for SDG achievement.
His Excellency Ambassador Stan Smith, Permanent Representative of the Bahamas to the UN was the Keynote of the Panel Session 1. He emphasized the challenges posed by the climate crisis to countries like the Bahamas, calling for innovative solutions. He highlighted the disconnect between politics, finance, and national interests in addressing global challenges, especially for Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Ambassador Mr. Smith proposed a sustainability resilience framework to integrate the private sector into the UN framework, enabling more effective partnerships and maximizing contributions. He urged adopting a systems-based thinking approach within the United Nations to address global challenges effectively. Ambassador Mr. Smith indicated: “Multilateralism has overemphasized bilateral solutions built on funding ourselves out of challenges. But we should be mindful that financing goals should not consume development ambitions into a solitary track. Funding is not the end of the development initiative: it is preparation for at least seven critical processes after – 1st – expertly, thoroughly, conceptualizing the initiative. We should physically integrate the private sector into the UN. The framework must be enabling to deal with the acceleration of negative development disruptions and the need for states to recover quickly and cost-effectively. This framework should give partnerships the implementation capacity for dealing with Managing the conceptualization process; Executing the initiative; Monitoring phases of the process and Managing delivery of outcomes.”
George Abualzulof, Senior Human Rights Advisor at the UN Development Coordination Office discussed “the latest progress of the Sustainable Development Goals halfway through the 2030 deadline” in his remarks. He highlighted issues like climate disasters, conflicts, economic downturns, and the impact of COVID-19 pandemic, which have caused setbacks, such as increased poverty and growing inequalities, especially among women and girls. The climate crisis was also a major concern.

While acknowledging some progress since 2015, Mr. Abualzulof stressed the need for substantial shifts in commitments, solidarity, financing, and actions to get the SDGs back on track for achievement by 2030. He called for a combination of strong political will, technology, resources, and knowledge to enable this progress. Mr. Abualzulof emphasized the significance of the political declaration adopted by the high-level political forum as a starting point for accelerating SDG implementation. He urged diverse stakeholders, including citizens, journalists, civil society, and the private sector, to advocate for urgency, ambition, and action to realize the SDGs, emphasizing that these goals represent humanity's blueprint for a better future.

Mr. Abualzulof said: SDGs are a blueprint for a more resilient, peaceful and inclusive future. When historians write about the twenty-first century, they will judge leaders and policymakers by whether they have succeeded in transforming this blueprint into reality. It is now up to all of us to ensure that the Global Goals are achieved – in full and on time.
The second Panelist of Session 1 was Patricia Garcia AO who is the Partnerships Development Manager at the Institute for Economics and Peace, headquartered in Australia. Patricia Garcia addressed “Contemporary challenges of development in the transitioning era of geopolitical complexities and conflicts” in her speech. She stressed the importance of collective action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. She highlighted the concept of "positive peace," which goes beyond the absence of violence and encompasses factors like governance, resource distribution, and more. This framework provides a guideline for achieving the SDGs.

Patricia Garcia also emphasized the significance of partnerships, especially under SDG 17: Global Partnerships, in addressing global challenges. She reminded the audience of the interconnectedness of the SDGs and shared a heartfelt poem titled “All One Race,” emphasizing the unity of humanity across differences. Garcia concluded her remarks by saying: “Efforts to progress the SDGs Agenda have been hampered by a lack of political leadership, financing and measurement. With the four cross cutting goals, SDG 5 the goal of gender equality , SDG 10 the goal of reduced  inequalities, SDG 16 the goal of peace, justice and strong institutions, and SDG 17 the goal of partnership collaboration and solidarity, IEP’s innovative research using an evidence -based model with a focus on the Positive Peace framework shows how the 8 Pillars of Positive Peace can be applied as a practical, monitoring and advocacy tool to support and advance a culture of peace, human rights and sustainable development.”
Dr. Ranjana Kumari, Director of the Center for Social Research located in India, spoke about “Sounding an alarm for urgent action on increasing internationally comparable, gender-disaggregated, available data collection”. As a prominent advocate for women's empowerment in India, known for her leadership as a gender expert, academic, and author, Dr. Kumari celebrated a significant achievement in Indian politics: the passage of a bill reserving 33 percent of seats in the Indian Parliament for women.

However, she also emphasized that, globally, progress toward gender equality has been slow, citing a lack of accurate, gender-disaggregated data as a key obstacle. Dr. Kumari called for increased investment in data infrastructure, capacity building for data collectors, and standardized, globally comparable data to drive informed advocacy and policy change for women's rights. She urged governments, organizations, and individuals to collectively address this data gap and work toward a more equitable world for all genders. Dr. Kumari underlined that we must have gender-sensitive critics and datasets to prove the alarming realities of setbacks on women`s rights and girls’ empowerment. “When you have up-to-date available data, you keep policy makers and advocacy leaders aware. This is extremely important for all of us, who may be working on different kinds of peacemaking areas this way, policy makers are kept cautious to design correct action plans”.
The last panelist of Session 1 was Jenifer Vaughan, Spokesperson of the UN Special Envoy for Syria based in Switzerland, who attended the conference in her capacity as senior communications adviser with experience at organizations like CNN, and Al Jazeera. Ms. Vaughan talked about “Strengthening media institutions and political commitments for sustainable peace and security”. She emphasized that journalists often face threats, especially female journalists who endure online and offline abuse. Jenifer Vaughan stressed the importance of bolstering media institutions, protecting press freedom, and encouraging media pluralism. She also called for diverse funding sources, media literacy programs, and public engagement to combat disinformation. Vaughan emphasized the need for collaboration among governments, international organizations, and civil society to create an environment that fosters free and responsible journalism for peace and democracy.

Ms. Vaughan underscored that “Strengthening media institutions is essential for the promotion of democracy, to enable the free flow of information, and to protect the interest of society. United Nations has its primary objectives of preventing conflict and promoting international cooperation and since its founding, it has addressed global issues including the vital role of media. The UN also recognizes the importance of media in conflict resolution, prevention, and peacebuilding. The news media dictates what conflict and conflict aspects are covered, how much airtime or frontpage news get covered, and how much attention conflicts receive”. That is why frameworks presented by media organizations act either as weapons of violence spreading hate and false information or instead provide accurate information from conflict zones, which is critical for survivors to stay safe and receive global attention.


Panel Session 2 started with a virtual Keynote addressed by Ms. Ulziisuren Jamsran, the Representative of the UN Women Kyrgyzstan Country Office with extensive international development experience. She emphasized the vital role of gender equality in sustainable development at an SDGs conference. Jamsran expressed concern about recent setbacks in gender equality and shared UN Women Kyrgyzstan's approach to achieving SDG 5 (Gender Equality). This approach involves creating safe spaces for partners, fostering acceptance of different worldviews, negotiating common goals, and sharing risks and responsibilities. Jamsran highlighted the significance of facilitation tools and social norm holders in driving transformative change and achieving concrete results, such as empowering women to speak out about their experiences. UN Women Kyrgyzstan Representative Ulziisuren Jamsran invited further collaboration and discussion on these initiatives.
Tania Bozaninou, a journalist from Greece with extensive experience working since 1997 for To Vima on Sunday as its editor-in-chief, was the moderator for the Panel Session 2: Press Freedom as an Instrument to Defend Human Rights for All. Bozaninou highlighted the evolving definitions of press freedom, emphasizing the 21st-century definition that includes protection from various threats faced by journalists. She shared concerning findings from the World Press Freedom Index, which revealed that the press freedom environment is problematic in many countries worldwide.

Tania Bozaninou discussed modern threats to press freedom, such as media capture, where politicians and businessmen collude to control media outlets and the use of intimidation lawsuits (SLAPPs) to silence journalists and human rights defenders. She concluded on a positive note, mentioning efforts by the European Commission to combat SLAPPs and the existence of anti- SLAPP laws in several countries. Bozanino's remarks underscored the ongoing challenges and the need to safeguard press freedom in the face of evolving threats and passed on the microphone to the first panelist.
Batya Ungar-Sargon, Opinion Editor at Newsweek and an accomplished journalist with years of experience brought valuable insights to the conversation on press freedom. During her speech, Ungar-Sargon discussed “State of Press Freedom under Autocratic Regimes: State`s Control of Media as a Venue of Propaganda” highlighting the perilous situations faced by journalists. She also addressed the issue of press suppression in democratic nations, citing government and social media intervention as key factors. Her message emphasized the vital role of a free press in democracies, emphasizing the need for journalists to uphold unbiased reporting and informed decision-making. Ungar-Sargon's contribution provided a deep exploration of press freedom challenges and a compelling call for journalistic independence.

“Human rights abuses against journalists, murder, culture of violence and impunity are atrocities that cannot be compared to anything else. When it comes to state`s oppression of speech and states` control of media as propaganda, unfortunately, many democratic regimes have begun to engage in a culture of repression and combination of often ironically in the name of fighting misinformation and disinformation.”
The next panelist was Paula Penfold, investigative journalist of Stuff Circuit from New Zealand, who spoke on “Gender-based violence and violations against women journalists”. Penfold shed light on the challenges faced by journalists in her country. Despite New Zealand's high press freedom ranking, she highlighted a growing hatred towards journalists, with women being disproportionately targeted. Penfold shared her personal experiences of threats and harassment while covering violent protests.

She emphasized that this issue is not unique to New Zealand but is part of a global trend linked to rising authoritarianism. Journalists often face online attacks that lead to self-censorship and reduced media presence. Penfold called for efforts to rebuild trust in the media, transparency in journalistic processes, improved legal protections for journalists, and enhanced media literacy initiatives. She stressed that addressing this problem requires a collective societal approach. Her message highlighted the urgent need to safeguard press freedom and protect journalists, particularly women, from threats and harassment.

“New Zealand is described as a model for public journalism. We are having a high degree of press freedom. It is relatively true that no journalist dies in New Zealand because of our profession, there is no state-sponsored invasion of reporters’ homes or extreme judicial imprisonments. Unfortunately, the World Press Freedom Index is wrong when it says journalists in New Zealand work in an environment free from violence. It is not the state that is the problem in our country but our fractured society and growing distrust, hatred towards journalists, disproportionately towards women journalists.”
Session 2 continued with Abdulhamit Bilici a Turkish journalist living in exile, a media executive who once held a prominent role as the last Editor-in-Chief of Zaman, Turkey's widely circulated newspaper. With a background in journalism and media leadership, Mr. Bilici has witnessed and experienced firsthand the complex relationship between press freedom, human rights, and the rule of law. Mr. Bilici shared a deeply personal perspective on the dire state of press freedom and its profound implications for human rights and the rule of law in Turkey. He began by describing the challenges he faced, including the shutdown of his newspaper and his exile, as well as the imprisonment of some of his colleagues. Abdulhamit Bilici highlighted the alarming deterioration of press freedom in Turkey, which was once seen as a rising democracy and an economic success story. Mr. Bilici presented two striking statistics to underscore the extent of the decline: Turkey now ranks 165th out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index, compared to 59th out of 126 countries in 2014 in the Rule of Law Index.

Mr. Bilici emphasized the intricate relationship between press freedom, human rights, and the rule of law. While press freedom is essential for a healthy democracy, it does not guarantee that all media outlets will use that freedom to support human rights. He provided examples of how some media organizations in Turkey targeted individuals and contributed to human rights abuses. Despite the challenges and risks, Mr. Bilici believes that real journalism involves printing what others don't want to be printed. Journalists often become targets when they uncover uncomfortable truths. However, the scale of the threat can vary, from losing one's job to facing imprisonment or even violence. Mr. Bilici underscored the need for journalists to remain unbiased and empathetic, especially when covering minority groups and diverse perspectives within society.

Abdulhamit Bilici`s speech served as a cautionary tale about the fragility of press freedom and its profound impact on a nation's human rights and the rule of law. His experiences in Turkey offered valuable lessons for understanding the interplay between journalism, politics, and societal dynamics, and the potential consequences of eroding press freedom.
The last panelist of this session was Christina Piaia, the ProJourn Legal Manager at the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, who has a diverse background that includes journalism, law, and advocacy for press freedom. In her speech, she addressed “Upholding the Rule of Law for the Protection of Journalists: Increasing legal harassment towards media members”.

As a former journalist turned lawyer, Ms. Piaia emphasized her deep respect for the challenging work of reporting the news. She discussed how journalists are increasingly targeted with legal tactics that hinder their work and highlighted the rise in assaults on journalists, primarily by law enforcement, in the United States since 2017. Ms. Piaia also touched on the importance of local journalism and community reporting but noted that even these small news organizations face legal threats, such as challenges to their non-profit status, which can disrupt their ability to report.

Globally, Ms. Piaia noted that governments have become skilled at using complex legal maneuvers to target journalists, making it increasingly difficult for them to navigate these challenges without expert legal counsel. Ms. Piaia called for greater support for journalists, including robust legal infrastructure, training, and access to legal assistance at every stage of their work, as well as the need for an expanded pool of attorneys to provide counsel to journalists facing a wide range of legal challenges.
Ivy Murugi, the Global Youth Representative at the World Organization of the Scout Movement, joined Panel Session 2 to deliver a Youth Statement. She emphasized the significance of press freedom, and the challenges journalists encounter worldwide. Ivy Murugi, based in Kenya, acknowledged the vital role of journalists in fostering dialogue, igniting change, and ensuring accountability. Ivy celebrated the diverse and growing media landscape, both mainstream and digital, for its positive impact on global society. Recognizing the sacrifices made by courageous journalists globally, she commended their commitment to uncovering truths and sharing stories of change.

Ivy Murugi stressed the crucial role of press freedom in sustaining democracy and called for multi-sectoral efforts to protect it. She highlighted instances of threats faced by journalists, even from elected leaders, who aim to silence critical voices. Ivy urged the safeguarding of press freedom and freedom of expression to uphold democracy and human rights. She encouraged journalists to persist in their pursuit of truth and accountability, emphasizing the importance of their work in providing accurate information to the public.


Melissa Mahtani, an Emmy-nominated Reporter and Senior Producer with nearly two decades of international journalism experience, moderated the third panel discussion. In her introductory remarks, Mahtani highlighted the critical importance of democracy, emphasizing that it relies on free and fair elections, accountability, pluralistic political systems, freedom of expression, an independent judiciary, and respect for human rights. She cautioned that democracy could erode slowly through seemingly small steps, such as stifling opposition, media censorship, restrictive voting laws, and disinformation campaigns.

Melissa Mahtani noted that this erosion is happening in both countries historically known for their democratic values and in autocratic regimes that are becoming more ruthless. She emphasized the need to identify warning signs and seek solutions to strengthen democracy globally. She called on the audience to recognize their power to shape the world they want to live in and to safeguard democracy for future generations. Melissa Mahtani quoted Nelson Mandela, stating that "Freedom can never be taken for granted. Each generation must safeguard it and extend it," urging everyone to play a role in strengthening democracy worldwide.
The Keynote for Panel Session 3: Widening Gap between Erosion of Democracy and Rise of Autocracy was addressed by Mr. Naseer A. Faiq, the Chargé D’affaires of the Permanent Mission of Afghanistan to the United Nations. He expressed deep concern over political upheavals and coups in various African nations, which threaten democracy. Mr. Faiq then turned his attention to Afghanistan, emphasizing the dire situation since the Taliban took control in August 2021. He highlighted the rapid rise of autocracy and the Taliban's oppressive measures, especially against women and girls.

“After 20 years, the Taliban took over the control of Afghanistan in August 2021. There is no slight positive hope for the future for the 28 million people who are in dire need of humanitarian assistance: millions of Afghan refugees, disabled people, youth, and most importantly women and girls. As the events folded in Afghanistan serve as a stark reminder of the conflict interplays between democracy and autocracy. I, with the international community, have had to witness the appalling erosion of democracy in my beloved country. Under the Taliban rule, autocracy has been on a rapid rise and continuing to consolidate power and authority through repression and isolating the people of Afghanistan.”

The main message of his speech was focused on the erosion of democracy and the rise of autocracy poses significant challenges to global order and democratic values. Mr. Naseer Faiq stressed that genuine democracy must emerge from within a nation's context and history, and external interventions can only support this process. He called on the international community to unite in defending democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, emphasizing the need for a nuanced approach to promoting democracy worldwide. Mr. Faiq urged countries to fund humanitarian appeals and take tangible actions to ensure that the spirit of democracy prevails across all nations. His remarks underscored the importance of upholding democratic principles for justice, freedom, and dignity for all.
The session continued with Berta Valle, a prominent Nicaraguan television presenter, journalist, and human rights activist, highlighting the dire human rights situation in Nicaragua, where the regime led by Daniel Ortega is systematically undermining democracy and persecuting human rights defenders. Berta Valle spoke on “Keeping a spotlight on human rights defenders in distress and advocating for the release of political prisoners”.

She emphasized the crucial role of journalists as human rights defenders and the need for international intervention to pressure the regime into change. Berta Valle also shed light on the global issue of threats faced by human rights defenders worldwide, stressing the importance of solidarity and collective action. She called on advocates to keep a spotlight on these struggles, as they are the guardians of human dignity and fundamental rights and underscored the shared responsibility to protect democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Her message serves as a poignant reminder that the fight for these values is a global endeavor that requires united efforts to prevail over autocracy and oppression.

“In the last 16 months, over 20 private universities have been closed and seized, and media outlets face censorship, leaving no free space to express oneself anywhere in the country, whether public or private. Those who dare to dissent face repression, confinement, or exile; being a journalist and covering a religious event can result in an 8-year prison sentence. Anyone can be jailed or exiled for publishing a tweet or making any public or even private denunciation on social media, which are obsessively monitored by the regime.

The totalitarian model has taken a further step, as the confiscation and theft of properties from individuals, businessmen, and private parties have become commonplace throughout the country; any attempt at protest can be met with death, exile, or imprisonment. Nicaragua is at a turning point. With the right international intervention, the regime could be pressured to make changes and avoid an economic collapse. However, the plight of the Nicaraguans largely goes unnoticed,especially by international agencies and development banks that continue to fuel the government's totalitarian state agenda and project.”
The following panelist Guilherme Stolle Paixão e Casarões, a renowned Professor of Political Science and International Relations based in Brazil, discussed “Rising trends of populism: Threats to global peace and security”. He outlined the key features of populism, including its division of societies into binary terms, skepticism towards global governance, and preference for bilateral relations.

Professor Casarões emphasized that populism is not strictly authoritarian or right-wing but often leans towards authoritarianism and homogeneity. Populists can also be reluctant to support Sustainable Development Goals, and they tend to cooperate only when there is no one else to blame. Despite these challenges, Professor Casarões expressed hope that global peace and security could be promoted through strong institutions, brave activists, and increased international cooperation.

“Populists thrive on chaos and insecurity. They feed from people`s anxieties, resentments, and fear and they can transform it into an unstoppable political force based on hate. It is also important to underline that populists are not. Populists may not be necessarily authoritarians although they might easily be slipping into authoritarianism as they do not like political institutions that hold them back. They also advance an idea of a homogeneous society and most of the times leave no room for the pluralism of civil society.”
The discussion was continued with, Johan Heymans, Managing Partner at Venote Criminal Law and Human Rights in Belgium. Heymans is an international human rights lawyer who, along with his team of 35 individuals, works extensively on human rights issues worldwide. In his remarks, he highlighted “Strengthening the rule of law to combat the rise of authoritarianism: Intergovernmental Responses. He underlined two types of abductions: domestic abductions, which are on the rise, and international abductions, where countries operate beyond their borders to eliminate perceived opponents or critics.

Mr. Heymans said: “There is a need for more peace and justice and stronger institutions because we see that in today`s world, the rule of law is under threat, under pressure. There is one particular tendency that I would like to underline that is really close to my heart: abductions. I have been a rapporteur delving into this human rights violation. This is a tendency that is increasingly taking place in today`s world. These techniques are used to eliminate political opponents and critical voices in most cases.”
Presenting Turkey as a case study, Johan Heymans described how this worrying trend affects individuals, even those with double nationalities or who have lived outside their home countries for extended periods. He emphasized the importance of various actors, including civil society, human rights defenders, and judges, in addressing these challenges. Heymans also shared best practices, such as the Turkey Tribunal and Universal jurisdiction, to hold those involved in abductions accountable and emphasized the potential for collective action to bring about positive change in upholding democracy and the rule of law.
The last panelist of Session 2 was Dr. Fatih Demiroz, a non-resident Research Fellow of the European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS), who addressed the intricate dynamics between populists and democracy as populists assume power. He highlighted the decline of liberal democracy globally, examining how populists, when in power, either sideline, dismantle, or co- opt and manipulate the bureaucracy, often reshaping its structures, budgets, cultures, and values.

Dr. Demiroz showcased instances of populists both working with and undermining bureaucracy, illustrating how the balance of control over the bureaucracy should be contingent on an organization's capacity and nature of work. While acknowledging the term "Deep State" and its implications, he emphasized that excessive bureaucratic autonomy could yield unaccountable systems. Dr. Demiroz stressed the necessity of transparency, accountability, and adherence to the rule of law to counterbalance political control while preserving democratic principles.