07/09/2014 02:42 pm ET Updated Sep 08, 2014

The Relay Race for Human Rights

Human rights defenders are gladiators, some are also marathon runners, working tirelessly on their long run to expose human rights violations to the international community. But this work is not just a battle or a long run; it's a relay race.

The race is run by a constellation of runners that collect information -- often in very difficult or dangerous situations -- to document and report human rights violations. They are the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Special Rapporteurs, Commissions of Inquiry, Independent Experts, investigators, researchers, translators, statisticians and many others who take their turn to carry the baton to the next runner. However, the batons are often hard to carry and hotly contested because human rights violations are not only complicated to deal with -- like ensuring respect for humanitarian and human rights law in armed conflict -- but can also be extremely brutal, like torture and execution.

It's a tremendous effort that does not end with a medal for any of the runners. Sometimes they even risk their lives, and face reprisals from authorities in their quest. The race ends with you and I walking freely without the fear of being detained for no reason. It ends with girls not forced into marriage or deprived from going to school. It ends with people with disabilities, religious minorities, indigenous peoples, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people enjoying their rights on an equal basis, free from discrimination. It ends with journalists and defenders of human rights not getting harassed, silenced or killed. It ultimately ends with all of us past a finish line where all human rights are protected and respected. This is a race where we all have stakes but those at higher risk of human rights abuse vitally depend on it. What is more, this race is not run by top sprinters or endurance runners, it is run and, more importantly, won by ordinary people committed to defend their rights and those of others.

This race is far from over but the United Nations Human Rights Council three-week marathon that just concluded in Geneva, marked an important 'heat'.