None of us can take human rights for granted

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights will turn 70 this year, but as Amnesty’s Secretary General Salil Shetty said: “It is abundantly clear that none of us can take human rights for granted”. 

Amnesty International have launched their annual report, 'The State of the World’s Human Rights'. The report makes bitter reading. Covering 159 countries, it documents a worrying rollback of human rights for millions of people over the last year. 

Reflecting on 2017, it’s difficult to feel positive about the current state of human rights around the world. From the deadly war on poor people in the disguise of drug policy waged in the Philippines to the crackdowns on LGBT+ communities in Chechnya and Egypt, each example of discrimination is as heartbreaking as the next.

The report also highlights the ongoing human rights crises in countries like Yemen, South Sudan and Syria. Amnesty calls out the feeble response from governments across the world  in the face of injustice. It’s true – inaction is often not far away from complicity and has contributed massively to the gradual erosion of hard-won protections of human rights we should all strive to uphold: the right to speak our mind; a free press; equality under the law; freedom from harm, and the right to a fair trial. But for hundreds of millions of people, and the number seems to be growing, these are still far beyond reach.

Sadly, true leadership in support of human rights has been on the decline in many places. As governments from Turkey to Venezuela preach illiberalism and intolerance; justice, pluralism, tolerance and civility become casualties.

One of the most tragic examples of this has been the plight of the Rohingya population in Myanmar. It is far more than a refugee crisis. It is a crime against humanity, perpetrated by a brutal regime that must be brought to justice. The suffering of the hundreds of thousands subjected to a brutal and coordinated military campaign of ethnic cleansing must not go unpunished.

In times like these, speaking out against injustice has become increasingly dangerous and frustrating. And yet, there are many who refuse to look the other way. I am humbled by the heroic and selfless work of human rights defenders in many countries. Their daily courage and intrepidity in standing up for universal human rights deserves our support and our attention.

It is often the bravery of individuals that inspires movements. Since the 2017 Women’s March in the US - one of the largest human rights protests in history – there have been a number of activist achievements to be proud of. The evidence shows that governments are listening, from the #MeToo movement to marriage equality in Taiwan and the lifting of the abortion ban in Chile. 

Over the last two weeks, it has been immensely inspiring to see the role high school students are playing in pushing for gun control in the US. My first venture, Student Magazine, was set up to give young people a voice and we went to great lengths to protest the Vietnam and Biafra wars. All these years on, it is heartening to see a new generation of students rise up for the things they believe in.

It is activists like these that remind us that the fight for universal human rights has often been won by people taking action in their communities, working from the grassroots. Organisations like Amnesty who never tire to expose injustice where they see it are an important catalyst of these movements.

As a proud member of Amnesty International’s Global Council, I hope this report will not just raise awareness, but inspire real, tangible action. This year, we must be prepared than ever to unite in solidarity and stand up to protect the human rights of all those in need. 


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