Thoughts on Human Rights Day

Richard Branson looking pensive
Owen Billcliffe
Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 10 December 2020

Human Rights Day is more than a commemoration of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by UN member states on 10 December 1948 – in and of itself a real accomplishment of a weary human family emerging from the bloodshed and terror of World War II. 

It is a good reminder that the idea of universal human rights must never be taken for granted. Millions around the world continue to live under constant threat of discrimination, intimidation, detention, persecution, torture and even death for standing up for their human rights and those of others. Many continue to languish in prisons for speaking truth to power, for demanding recognition and respect, for challenging authoritarianism and oppression. 

Perhaps the most tragic part for many is that their voices are never heard, their stories never told, and their names never known. That’s why I’m so grateful for organisations like Amnesty International and many others, who never tire to take up the case of human rights defenders and share their plight with the world in hope for lasting change.

Part of Amnesty’s annual celebration of Human Rights Day is the brilliant Write for Rights campaign, encouraging the global community to take action and write to governments in support of those who have been imprisoned, disappeared and attacked. 

Among those featured in this year’s Write for Rights campaign are Melike Balkan and Özgür Gür, who stood up for LGBTQ+ rights at their university in Ankara/Turkey, engaging in peaceful protest that led to arrest and criminal charges. Both are now facing up to three years in prison. Write to Turkey’s Minister of Justice and remind him that they and their friends were exercising their right to peaceful assembly and should therefore be acquitted of all charges against them.

In Algeria, Journalist Khaled Drareni was one of the first independent journalists to cover the weekly protests of an emerging human rights movement and made sure to document police violence when it occurred. This placed him at odds with the authorities who targeted him, detaining him many times. In March, Khaled was arrested and charged with inciting an unarmed gathering – despite the fact that he was simply doing his job as a journalist. He has been sentenced to prison. Write to the President of Algeria. Tell him to free Khaled immediately and unconditionally, and drop all charges against him.

And in Myanmar, 22-year-old student leader Paing Phyo Min (aka De Yay) is a member of the Peacock Generation, a poetry troupe dedicated to Thangyat – a traditional version of slam poetry. In 2019, Paing Phyo Min and other Peacock Generation members were arrested after performing Thangyat dressed as soldiers and poking fun at the country’s military. Paing Phyo Min was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison. Support Paing Phyo Min and tell Myanmar authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally.

Melike, Özgür, Khaled and Paing Phyo Min stand for countless others we must not forget today. As respect for the rule of law has eroded in so many places, and human rights and human dignity have come under attack from populists and authoritarian rulers alike, this is the moment to stand up, speak our minds and demand change. 

Head over to Write for Rights to learn more and do your part.