Everyone should be a civil rights activist, not just those suffering

Graphic by • Althena Holenko, Holenkoa@mytjnow.com
Graphic by • Althena Holenko, Holenkoa@mytjnow.com

With all the information-sharing technology available today, it’s hard to not know of at least one issue going on in the world involving the abuse of human rights. From the ongoing crisis in Syria, to child-marriage in countries such as South Sudan, to the killing of those who support the rights of girls to attend school.

What is a bit easier for many of us, unfortunately, is forgetting that events like this are happening all the time and all over the world.

After all, the majority of us at Winthrop have never feared the falling of a bomb on our towns. We have never worried that our fathers would marry us to a man who we did not love so that our family could have money. We have never looked skittishly across campus, eyes alert for those who may shoot us for attending classes. It is not our reality, and therefore, it is easy not to think about or to believe that it doesn’t affect us.

That is a lie.

We may not be directly affected by human rights abuses. Our lives may continue as normal, never the worse off. This is no excuse for inaction. Human rights are possessed by everyone and are therefore meant to be defended by everyone.

The minute we let apathy and inaction take over, we become just as guilty as those who are violating those rights.

Would you stand by yawning while watching someone get robbed, or shrug uncaringly and continue walking as a girl gets raped? My guess is no. So why would you stand by and not do anything at all to help those whose human rights are being violated?

Mary Robinson, a former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights once said, “We must understand the role of human rights as empowering of individuals and communities. By protecting these rights, we can help prevent the many conflicts based on poverty, discrimination and exclusion (social, economic and political) that continue to plague humanity and destroy decades of development efforts. The vicious circle of human rights violations that lead to conflicts – which in turn lead to more violations – must be broken. I believe we can break it only by ensuring respect for all human rights.” Her statement further outlines how we all are responsible for defending those whose rights are abused.

I’m not saying you have to donate to every organization that defends human rights, or that you must champion every cause. That’s unrealistic.

However you can, do smaller things. Start by using Google to research human rights issues, and find some organizations that defend the rights you find yourself to be most passionate about. Perhaps learning about the egregious abuses against the homosexual community in Cameroon and other countries makes your blood boil. Maybe the thought of censorship and threat against liberty for those who speak out against the government has your fists clenching and unclenching.

Search through NGO websites and the websites of other organizations to find out their mission, where they work, and how you can get involved.

You don’t necessarily have to spend money. Amnesty International provides many opportunities for people to get involved without spending a dime. For example, they provide information on staging and participating in virtual protests, such as “Shine a Light on Azadi Square.” Another organization, Human Rights Watch, has ample opportunities for people to get involved as well. This is often in the form of sending a letter to officials who can affect change.

According to Amnesty International, Jean-Claude Mbede, who was imprisoned on charges of homosexuality in Cameroon, was granted provisional release in July 2012 as a result of letters sent by those who participated in a letter-writing campaign hosted by Amnesty International.

Winthrop also hosts cultural events where students can learn about human rights. Check out the events calendar and see if there are any such events scheduled. If there isn’t one, plan your own, or host a different kind of event to raise awareness about an issue. Perhaps you can set up a table on Scholars Walk and talk to interested students about the importance of the issue you present and how they too can become involved. Be as creative as you want. Maybe a nearby city or hometown is hosting campaigns or forums you can become involved in.

Whatever it is you decide to do, do something. With all the capabilities and technology available today, there is no excuse not to.

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