Human rights defender's story: James Otto from Liberia

James Otto, an activist with the Sustainable Development Institute in Liberia, works tirelessly to advocate for human rights and sustainable development practices within his country, challenging the misperceptions of anti-development and striving to engage effectively with international human rights mechanisms.

James Otto is a dedicated member of the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), a grassroots organisation in Liberia that is part of the global federation of Friends of the Earth. Motivated by the disparities he observed in his youth and inspired by the global struggle for equity, James is driven to improve conditions in his country through advocacy and action.

Throughout his career, James has faced accusations of being non-development-oriented and anti-concessionist. These challenges stem from a misunderstanding of SDI’s goals, which aim not to halt development but to ensure that it is sustainable and just. His work often puts him at odds with entities that prioritise rapid economic gain over environmental and social sustainability.

James’s participation in ISHR’s training on Business and Human Rights offered him valuable insights into the workings of UN mechanisms. This experience has been instrumental in shaping his strategy for more effective advocacy. He emphasises the importance of collaborating with Liberia’s national human rights institution and broader civil society to ensure Liberia’s adherence to international standards as outlined in processes like the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

Looking forward, James aims to fortify a network of human rights defenders in Liberia, leveraging this collective to engage more profoundly with various UN frameworks. This strategy includes participating in the development of UN requirements and lodging complaints where violations are escalating.

James’s message to the international community is a call to action, urging them to move beyond the mere development of frameworks towards ensuring their implementation at the national level. By working alongside States to enforce UN regulations and criteria, James believes that significant progress can be made toward respecting and upholding human rights globally.