Today is World Human Rights Day – a day that crystallises our commitment, not only to our work but to our way of working. Who we are and why, how and what we do is rooted in our belief that human rights matter. Why? Because it is the right of all citizens, irrespective of where they find themselves on our planet, to live happy, health, free and safe lives.
Human rights are a set of inherent and agreed international standards applicable to all human beings regardless of the circumstances of their birth. They are captured in the ground-breaking Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed in 1948. And whilst many of these rights have been refined and strengthened over the years to make them even more applicable for our times, the core principle is timeless: that human rights derive from the dignity and worth inherent in the human person.
Let us not forget that this was the year that saw the deeply disturbing reality of a three year old boy, Aylan Kurdi, and his five-year-old brother, Galip, and mother, Rehan, washed up on a beach in Turkey. I wrote at the time:
It’s deeply disturbing that it took images of drowned children and babies sleeping on railway tracks to shock Europe’s leaders into action.
Surely, that image needs to be a universal wake up call. We need to be reminded that Article 14.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – that guarantees the right to seek and enjoy asylum in other countries – is more than simply a legal principle. It is about a sense of humanity and justice for the most vulnerable and powerless.
For Plan International Ireland, children continue to be our main focus not only because they are often the most vulnerable when it comes to human rights abuses, but also because they are powerful agents of change.
Today, we need to reflect on the terrible abuses of human rights against children which is ever present. 22,000 children die each day due to poverty; 121 million children will remain out of education worldwide; 1.2 million children are trafficked every year. But let’s also remember those brave human rights defenders, like Yousafzai Malala, who are willing to challenge and confront all the odds to speak out for what is right.
In October we hosted a screening of “He Named Me Malala” which instantly sold out. The film told of her fight for justice, for equality, and for every girl’s right to an education as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Her story is very real, and her message is simple: “One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen, can change the world.” That’s the power and simplicity of human rights.
But Malala is not alone as a truly inspiring global citizen. We need to celebrate and recognise all the activists around the world that are standing up every day for our rights and for change. It’s a reminder to each of us that we have a responsibility to speak out and to act if we want to protect and promote human rights.
Ireland’s commitment to human rights is renowned internationally. Irish people standing up for human rights has gained international attention on many occasions, ranging from the Dunnes Stores workers that took a stand against apartheid in 1984, to the triumphant passing of the Marriage Equality Referendum earlier this year. Human rights has formed the cornerstone of our foreign policy and has been championed by our leaders, a reputation we should be proud of.
But all around the world we see countless examples of civil freedoms under threat and human rights violations occurring on an endemic scale. That’s why it is as important as ever to not only defend human rights, but to empower people and communities with the knowledge and skills to do so. We need to support women and men, boys and girls to have the confidence and strength to find their voice and influence decisions that affect them. Most will be familiar with the adage, ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’. We take it further, ‘teach men, women and children about their rights and how to claim them, and you tackle the structural causes of poverty’.
2015 proved to be a hugely significant year for human rights globally with the signing of the Sustainable Development Goals by 193 heads of state. Years of campaigning and lobbying around the globe culminated in global leaders pledging a renewed commitment to uphold and protect human rights. But our work is not finished, we must now hold them accountable to those commitments.
As we look to the year ahead and the immense challenges facing the global community, we need to ask ourselves how we, as global citizens, can ensure that human rights remain at the forefront of the global agenda. For Plan International Ireland we will be focusing on three key areas: to establish a unified, authoritative voice on child rights in Ireland; to lobby for more resources to be allocated to help vulnerable children; and to be ready and willing to challenge practices that are in breach of children’s rights.
Nobel Peace Prize winner, Muhammad Yunus said that:
“Poverty is the absence of all human rights. The frustrations, hostility and anger generated by abject poverty cannot sustain peace in any society.”
We know we can’t afford a bandaid approach to the work we do. We can’t afford to simply stem the bleeding. Instead we need to apply a human rights lens that tackles the root causes of poverty and injustice and to ground our work in the principles of equality, inclusion and accountability.