Facing a growing crackdown on dissent around the globe, human rights advocates are engaged in a creative and critical fight to defend fundamental rights. With “serious threats” to civil freedoms documented in more than 100 countries in 2015, there is a systematic attack on human rights values, institutions, and activists by governments worldwide. Maina Kiai, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association, observes that the world is experiencing a “democratic recession” with states passing restrictive laws governing the operation of NGOs, policing freedom of speech, and engaging in extra-legal forms of harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders. As world leaders openly deride democratic institutions like the judiciary and the free press, there is an urgent need for global activists to come together and share common struggles and strategies to defend dissent.

The 2017 annual conference leverages the interdisciplinary strengths of the Robert L. Bernstein Institute for Human Rights and draws together leading human rights activists, lawyers, and scholars from countries including China, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Russia, South Africa, and Turkey to spotlight strategies and tactics to safeguard crucial spaces for dissent. These strategies encompass litigation, legal empowerment, network building, and leveraging the Internet as forms of resistance. Speakers will share stories of resistance and build solidarity to defend human rights in the face of rising repression.

We are incredibly grateful to the Bernstein family for their extraordinary leadership, philanthropy and deep commitment to human rights. Through their support, the Robert L. Bernstein Institute for Human Rights has made it possible to educate the next generation of human rights leaders at NYU School of Law and keep the institution at the cutting edge of legal education, research, and practice.  Defending Dissent honors the legacy and vision of Robert L. Bernstein, a leader and tireless defender of human rights and fundamental freedoms around the world.

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