11 December 2009

Human Rights Day

I have heard from some people have doubts about the sincerety of human rights advocacy as they think it is "a lot of noise but then nothing happens" and consider providing services to victims of human rights abuses as more "useful". I have heard from others that although they were hired by what was supposed to be a human rights advocacy group that they were later told that politics is their real trade. And we all have seen certain Western governments yielding the flag of human rights when accusing other governments to uphold them while at the same time turning a blind eye towards what is happening in their own backyard.

I am writing this not to discredit the concept of human rights but to give you insight into some of the challenges faced...

Some people criticise that human rights is an empty concept. Others (like legal anthropologists for example) criticise its universal applicability, given that it was drafted in 1948 within a predominantly Western context (for a brief intro in some of the issues regarding the moral universalism vs. cultural relativism debate, see this link from Wikipedia). An extrapolation of this is the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights drafted by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) adopted in 1990 and eventually the Arab Charter on Human Rights from 2004. Luckily, there are great opportunities at SOAS and elsewhere to deepen one's knowledge regarding the contested compatibility of Islam and human rights. Yet others push governments in enshrining them in legislation while at the same time pushing states to hold non-state actors legally accountable for human rights abuses as well. And then of course, there is the broader definition of human rights in regards to ESCR (Economic Social and Cultural Rights) and their linkages with Corporate Social Responsibility.

About a month before Human Rights Day, Irene Khan came to SOAS to launch her book Poverty and Human Rights. To her credit, Amnesty's secretary-general said that although she has been credited with it, it is the work of many people. The concept itself, even though it has gained momentum recently, is not an entirely new one and moreover, has been picked up and engaged with by a lot of (I)NGOs, like for example UNESCO's human rights approach.

Having done my duty in human rights education for Human Rights Day, I shall not keep you any longer from the multimedia material from around the world. It was my intention to find documentation about how it was celebrated in different places on different continents (if at all), however, I could not find much presentable and not enough comparable material and so resorted to giving you a bit of Asia and two excellent documentary trailers.

Video by CEO of Asian Human Rights Commission (based in Hong Kong) to 60 years of UDHR last year:

Trailer of Burma VJ:

Armed with small handy cams undercover Video Journalists in Burma keep up the flow of news from their closed country. Going beyond the occasional news clip from Burma, acclaimed director Anders Ostergaard, brings us close to the video journalists who deliver the footage. Though risking torture and life in jail, courageous young citizens of Burma live the essence of journalism as they insist on keeping up the flow of news from their closed country. The Burma VJs stop at nothing to make their reportages from the streets of Rangoon. (www.burmavj.com)

Video reportage about peaceful Human Rights Day celebrations in Malaysia which were stopped by Police before it even started:

Trailer of War Child:

"18th Street Films presents War Child, a feature documentary film on Emmanuel Jal, former South Sudanese child soldier turned international hiphop sensation (ER, Blood Diamond, Live8).

War Child has been in production for over two years and has been shot all over South Sudan including the contested oil fields, the slums of Nairobi, the vast Kakuma Refugee Camp and in New Orleans, DC, and New York.

Please visit our website to learn more about the film and register for updates."

To blend this post off, a few inspiring quotes by notable people:
Vaclav Havel once said, "Genuine politics - even politics worthy of the name - the only politics I am willing to devote myself to - is simply a matter of serving those around us: serving the community and serving those who will come after us. Its deepest roots are moral because it is a responsibility expressed through action, to and for the whole." "Nations will rise and fall, but equality remains the ideal. The universal aim is to achieve respect for the entire human race, not just for the dominant few." (Carlos P. Romulo, Filipino diplomat and called "Mr. United Nations" by Kurt Waldheim)
"I am only one, But still I am one. I cannot do everything, But still I can do something; And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do."
(Edward Everett, US politician and former president of Harvard University)
Keep the flame alive!

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