Today we once again marked Human Rights Day. A day that gives us an opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come as a society of nations and yet how far we still have to go before the aspiration of protected human rights is universally applied.
On the 10th December 1948, 72 years ago, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In theory, the UDHR gives everyone of us, wherever we live, an expectation of minimum rights. It outlines a framework of what we as citizens can and should expect from our political leaders. And it sets the rules for nation states about what is and is not acceptable.
As Eleanor Roosevelt stated when she addressed the UN Assembly on that fateful day:
“We stand today at the threshold of a great event both in the life of the United Nations and in the life of mankind, that is the approval by the General Assembly of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recommended by the Third Committee. This declaration may well become the international Magna Carta of all men everywhere. We hope its proclamation by the General Assembly will be an event comparable to the proclamation of the Declaration of the Rights of Man by the French people in 1789, the adoption of the Bill of Rights by the people of the United States, and the adoption of comparable declarations at different times in other countries.”
Index lives and breathes the UDHR. Our fight against censorship is based on Article 19 of the Declaration. We exist to promote and defend the basic human rights that were espoused that day.
Unfortunately, we remain busy.
There are still too many daily examples of egregious breaches of our basic human rights throughout the world. Index was established to provide hope to those people who lived in repressive regimes, so that they knew their stories were being told, not to be a grievance sheet but rather a vehicle of hope. But too many repressive governments are ignoring their obligations and persecuting their citizens. And too many democratic governments seemingly believe that the spirit of the UDHR (never mind their own legal frameworks) don’t necessarily apply to them.
This year alone we have learnt of the appalling Uighur camps in Xinjiang province, China; we’ve seen the Rohingya denied the right to vote in Myanmar; we’ve watched in horror as Alexander Lukashenko attempted to fix his re-election and then tried to crush the opposition in Belarus. We’ve seen journalists arrested in the USA for covering the Black Lives Matter protests; human rights activists imprisoned in Egypt and dancers arrested in Iran for daring to dance with men.
When you see the scale of the battles ahead in the fight to defend our human rights it is easy to feel overwhelmed. But there are things that each one of us can do to make a difference. As we approach the end of 2020 we’re asking you to send a message of hope to six people who are currently imprisoned for exerting their rights to free speech. Included in our #JailedNotForgotten campaign are the following brave individuals:
- Aasif Sultan, who was arrested in Kashmir after writing about the death of Buhran Wani and has been under illegal detention without charge for more than 800 days;
- Golrokh Emrahimi Iraee, jailed for writing about the practice of stoning in Iran;
- Hatice Duman, the former editor of the banned socialist newspaper Atılım, who has been in jail in Turkey since 2002;
- Khaled Drareni, jailed in Algeria for ‘incitement to unarmed gathering’ simply for covering the weekly Hirak protests that are calling for political reform in the country;
- Loujain al-Hathloul, a women’s rights activist known for her attempts to raise awareness of the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia;
- Yuri Dmitriev, a historian being silenced by Putin in Russia for creating a memorial to the victims of Stalinist terror and facing fabricated sexual assault charges.
We may not be able to send a message to every person currently being persecuted for exercising their right to free expression, but we can send a message of hope to Aasif, Golrokh, Hatice, Khaled, Loujain and Yuri. We will use our voices as much as possible to try and ensure they are not still in prison for the 2021 World Human Rights Day.