This evening I put forward my membership to Amnesty International UK. I do not want a big pat on the back, but, I would like to explain a bit about my motivation for doing so.
Amnesty work to protect men, women and children wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.
As a global movement of over seven million people, Amnesty International is the world’s largest grassroots human rights organisation. We investigate and expose abuses, educate and mobilise the public, and help transform societies to create a safer, more just world. We received the Nobel Peace Prize for our life-saving work.
In October 1960 a young barrister got on the London Underground, opened his paper and read a short article about a couple of students in Portugal who had been imprisoned for seven years after raising their glasses in a toast to freedom.
Sounds uneventful, but this was to become one of the most significant moments in the global movement for human rights. That barrister was called Peter Benenson, and his outrage at the imprisonment of the two men led to the birth of Amnesty International.
Now, over 50 years and a Nobel Peace Prize later, we continue to campaign for justice where ever it has been denied. We protect people, defending their right to freedom, to truth, and to dignity. We do this by investigating and exposing abuses where they happen. By galvanising our global movement of seven million people to intervene where individuals are at risk and by educating future generations so that one day the dream of human rights for all becomes a reality.
Human rights are the fundamental rights and freedoms that belong to every single one of us.
But the traumatic events of World War Two dramatically brought home that these rights are not always universally respected. So, in 1948, representatives from the 50 member states of the United Nations came together under the guidance of Eleanor Roosevelt to devise a list of all the rights that everybody across the world should enjoy.
This became the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – thirty rights and freedoms that belong to all of us. 60 years on and the rights they included continue to form the basis for all international human rights law.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Article one? We are all born free. We all have our own thoughts and ideas and we should all be treated the same way.
The rights included in the following 29 articles include the right to asylum, the right to freedom from torture, the right to free speech and the right to education.
No one can take these rights and freedoms away from us. They belong to everybody.
This document remains fundamental to our work. It provides the bedrock of most of our campaigning, and it gives a route to holding authorities to account when rights are abused.
Some key qualities of these rights were also agreed by the international community. It was agreed that human rights must be recognised as:
- Universal – they belong to all of us, to everybody in the world
- Inalieable – they cannot be taken away from us
- Indivisible and interdependent – governments should not be able to pick and choose which are respected
Why should you care about human rights?
Human rights are not just about the law. They are also about the decisions we make and situations we experience on a daily basis.
If we feel annoyed with something a politician does, most of us wouldn’t think twice about talking about it with our friends online or in a pub. But when you do, you are exercising a human right – your right to free speech.
That’s the thing about human rights. When they are being respected they go almost unnoticed. Most children in the UK don’t wake up on a school day celebrating their ability to exercise their right to education. But those who have fled countries in which they were denied the right to go to school may well appreciate it that bit more.
We often take our human rights for granted, because they are based on principles that are intuitive – dignity, fairness, equality, respect and autonomy. More often than not, it is only when our rights are being violated that we stand up and take notice.
Unfortunately human rights abuse is rife – thousands of people across the world are denied a fair trial, tortured and imprisoned because of what they think or believe.
Civilians are targeted at times of war. Children are forced to fight. Rape is used as a weapon.
That is why it is important that we do not take human rights for granted. And why it is important that they are enshrined in international law, so that we can hold states and people to account when they commit atrocities.