“We can all be human rights defenders”

Happy Human Rights Day!


I really like the Human Rights Day speech from the United Nations High Commissioner Navi Pillay. In her speech, she notes that there are many famous people who have made a difference in promoting human rights…

“But these inspirational figures could not have done what they did without the help of many others whose names we don’t know. Efforts to end slavery spanned 1,000 years, and still continue with adults and children being trafficked for sex and indentured labour. After a mammoth struggle that lasted more than 150 years, women have won the right to vote almost everywhere, but still lack many other fundamental rights.

We owe the progress we have made to the enormous efforts of hundreds of thousands of largely unsung heroes, known collectively as human rights defenders.

Human rights defenders come from all walks of life, ranging from princesses and politicians, to professionals such as journalists, teachers and doctors, to people with little or no formal education. There are no special qualifications. All it takes is commitment, and courage.

We can all be human rights defenders, and – given how much we owe to others for the rights many of us now take for granted – we all should be human rights defenders. At the very least, we should do our utmost to support those who do defend human rights. Every year, thousands of human rights defenders are harassed, abused, unjustly jailed and murdered. That is why Human Rights Day 2010 is dedicated to Human Rights Defenders and their courageous battle to stop discrimination of all sorts. We need to stand up for their rights as much as they stand up for ours.” (emphasis mine)

With 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo in jail in China and his wife and family members and friends banned from attending the ceremony today, it could not be clearer why it’s important to help the defenders of human rights when too often their opponents jail them – and in other cases murder them.

I also want to pick up on the part of the speech that I made bold: “There are no special qualifications. All it takes is commitment, and courage. We can all be human rights defenders, and – given how much we owe to others for the rights many of us now take for granted – we all should be human rights defenders.”

I feel choked up thinking about the many human rights defenders I know. I started to list them but I deleted my list because it is so long and I’d also hate to miss acknowledging someone. In one way or another, most people I know are doing something human rights-related and all of my role models are too (and that’s why they’re my role models).  They inspire me and keep me from losing faith in humanity.

Each person who shares their stories on this blog and does anything else to speak out against, raise awareness of, and work to end street harassment is a human rights defender. After all, it should be everyone’s human right to be safe and un-harassed in public spaces and to have equal access to them! So thank you for everything you are doing to make public places safe and welcoming for everyone. You inspire me to do as much as I can to make the world a better, more humane place.

If you need ideas for how you can do more to defend the human right of safe access to public spaces, check out my new blog page Do Something! which lists lots of ideas, many of them from other human rights defenders. And feel free to share other ideas in the comments section.

As Pillay said, making a difference only takes commitment and courage. Human rights are worth that effort.

One Response to “We can all be human rights defenders”

  1. alan says:

    the quote by anne frank comes to mind….I don’t have it memorized, but something like,

    “…I was happy to realize that making a difference only means I have to try…”

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