A global human rights movement: realizing the dream

From China to Brazil people are active for human rights. Amnesty International Kenya and Amnesty International Nigeria put huge pressure on European governments when thousands of African migrants continue to die on their way to Europe. Amnesty International India is lifting poor people up from deep poverty, restoring their dignity. Millions of people are having a say in improving their own lives. Activists in Egypt, with Amnesty International’s support, have contributing successfully to the democratization of their country. We are no longer simply a movement made up of 90% of people from the North, but it is on the front line where millions of people still do not enjoy basic human rights. Amnesty International has become a truly global human rights movement.

How will Amnesty International look like in 2020? We are not just dreaming. During this 30th International Council Meeting we are taking the decisions that will put us on the path to realizing the dream. Secretary-general Salil Shetty presents his visionary case: “For too long we have thought that the struggle for accountability could not be waged by the people in the Global South, and that the struggle should be waged from the North. But look at the Middle East and North Africa. Accountability is a global desire.”

Is the dream too ambitious? According to Peter Pack, Amnesty International’s international chairperson, it is not. “It’s simply unacceptable that we still don’t have a presence in Brazil. Don’t tell me it’s ambitious to have 100.000 members in a country of 203 million people” he says, addressing young activists.

“Amnesty International is an international organization, not yet a global one”

In a less formal setting – at an evening party with Moroccans in traditional clothing dancing to German schlager music – Mohammed Alaziz, a former Tanger university professor and since 15 years activist in Morocco,  is touching upon the core challenges ahead: “Amnesty International is an international movement, but it will not be a global organization as long as it is not reaching a quarter of the world’s population in China, India,…”

Why is the movement still so small in the South, where people need our support the most? “Our real constituency in these countries are the people whose rights are violated. If we become more relevant for them, we will grow” says Shetty. It’s that simple. We will turn into a real movement fighting on the front line, where we can contribute most effectively to human rights change because change is increasingly driven from within societies and regions. “Egyptians were inspired by Tunisian activists to break the barriers of fear and finally take up the struggle for human rights in massive numbers” says Shetty.

Amnesty International Brazil

Only 5 days after the director of the new Amnesty International section in Brazil was selected, he is here at the International Council Meeting. Atila Roque addresses the movement: “I am proud to be here with all of you, as we are about to start an exciting work in Brazil. My country achieved progress in building the structures of a democratic state. It is a good moment for Amnesty International to move into Brazil. We will bring legitimacy and power to the existing human rights movement in Brazil.”

Amnesty International Brazil will first work on issues of local relevance to Brazilians. Millions of them are suffering from inequality, poverty, institutional violence. Amnesty International will amplify their voices on the political and media scene and force Brazilian politicians to listen. This will in turn pressure the Brazilian government to start championing human rights in its foreign policy, getting the most out of Brazil’s growing influence on the scene of international politics. There is also a growing middle class willing to support human rights work. I can only imagine how much we could grow by reaching out to people in the Global South.

“Closer to the darkness, the candle shines brighter”

In Kenya, this is no longer just a dream. Amnesty International sections in the North supported a growth project in Kenya to strengthen the people living in slums. “End human rights abuses that drive and deepen poverty by mobilizing youth, women and wider human rights constituency while establishing a strong Amnesty International local presence.” This was the aim. What is the impact?

2,500 young people are active, 700 people were mobilized on World Habitat Day, 450 people attended Human Rights Cafés. Amnesty International Kenya director Justus Nyang’aya: “This means a lot to these people, whose voices would otherwise be forgotten? We found thousands of affected women, men, youth taking up the call. We did not even know such strong people existed in the slums!” Nyang’aya is grateful: “You have worked with us to light the Amnesty candle in dark places such as the slums. Because the candle shines much sharper closer to the ground. This is the start of building a membership based organization in Kenya.”

Bringing research and campaigns closer to the ground

Amnesty International researchers are providing the movement with its core tool: strong and reliable documentation of human rights violations worldwide, and campaigns for activists to start tackling them. The research is the movement’s life blood. Needless to say improving the research is key to human rights change. Researchers regularly travel to the region they are researching, but they are all based in London, far from where most violations are actually taking place. This is why we want to bring research and campaigns closer to the ground. We need people on the front line.

Yesterday Syrian activist Haytham al-Hamwi addressed the audience through Skype: “Security services arrested me and sent me to a military court. Since the Syrian uprising began in March this year, 2200 people are dead, 15.000 people are detained. We hope Amnesty International will stand by our side in our struggle for prosperity in Syria.” This is what we are facing. Becoming stronger to confront it, is our responsibility.

About pieterstockmans

I coordinate the Israel/Palestine team of Amnesty International Belgium (Flemish). For 3 years in a row I have visited Israel and the Palestinian territories. I try to develop a deeper understanding of a number of pressing human rights issues on the ground. I took part in a restoration project in Taybeh and an encounter project between Israeli, Palestinian and European youth. Since 2007 I travel to the region every year. On this blog I post articles stemming from my travels in Israel and Palestine, from discussions I had with Israelis and Palestinians and from my work for the Israel/Palestine-team of Amnesty Belgium (Flemish section). 'Kafka in Israel and Palestine' refers to the sheer absurdity of so many situations in which people find themselves and the human rights violations connected with them. I write articles about how the absurd situations of the ongoing occupation impact the lives of normal people.
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