June 17, 2009
[Marcin Artur Witkowski, blog moderator]: I have the pleasure to forward for your consideration this entry from our friend and collegue Gabor Horvath. It is unfortunate that our blog application is not able to support this document in its original very elegant word format. Let this nuisance not divert our attention though, from the message conveyed, which is the following:
Dear AEGEE Europe, IPWG Board and Participants of Concept Development Meeting,
As I unfortunately cannot attend the meeting about AEGEE’s next Flagship Project, Beyond Europe and be among you right now, I hereby would like to present my set of ideas about a possible “sub-topic” of the entire project, since I believe it is one of the most burning questions nowadays that must be mentioned when talking about issues in Europe and in all of the continents. Namely, the matter of Human Rights (henceforth HR); specifically, the crude violations of HR in the world.
I am suggesting this topic because I think my knowledge mostly fits to this chapter, due to the fact that I gained experience in it, on the one hand, by participating a student contest in my country.1 During my examinations of the issue I discovered an amount of irregularities and abuses of HR, such as the immigrant’s rights concerning – not to mention all of the cases – people from Mauritania in July 2008, or the mistreatment of the asylum seekers in Greece.2 Almost each of the European societies has the failure to integrate non-white immigrants into the fabric of European economic and cultural life.
On the other hand, I have recently attended an international student conference (ISWI)3 in the beautiful German university town Ilmenau (in Thüringen), which had the topic: “Human Rights – Right Now!”. The concept was divided up into several sub-pieces, such as “HR and politics”, “HR and culture”, “HR and philosophy”, “HR and media”, etc. During that week, young people from nearly 100 countries over the world were discussing about the violations of HR and were about to find the reasons of those inhumanities and atrocities.
AEGEE Europe has also been committed for the HR in its press release4 last year: “We in AEGEE want to celebrate this date [the 60th anniversary of Universal Declaration of Human Rights] the way we know better: working hard and contributing to a better Europe and a better world; striving to create active citizens that embrace the Human Rights as their own principles. […] Our association runs on a voluntary basis and we are proud to help the world coming closer to the inspiring utopy of a planet where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is followed without fault.”
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was 60 years old on 10. December 2008.5 It is time to act more effectively, time to apologize for failures (of politicians and other national authorities), and time to refresh the ideas the Declaration has been made for! But, with a good reason does the question emerge, why we in AEGEE should be more concerned about this issue if there was anyway lots of NGOs that have been raising its voice against barbarism and brutality, such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Human Rights Action Center, etc. Even so, I firmly believe that AEGEE could address this message well more feasible for the youth, could act more convincing for those young people who are reticent from real big NGOs or just feel distant from this topic. This is my point here.
Please, let me summarily call some issues in the world that rapidly need the consideration of the public and the action of the community. Just staying at the domestic issues (for me), it is quite obvious from the media that the Homosexual Pride Marches in Budapest (and also in Riga) clearly diverge from another homosexual marches in Western Europe. The prior ones were disturbed by riotousness of “counter-demonstrators” and were characterized by the lack of real political or societal solidarity.
If moving to a more dangerous situation of the China–Tibet issue there is always the question raised why China behaves that way. This issue has of course lots of answers from the side of the international politics, security policies and diplomacy, however, the Olympic Games – that was also threatened by the blockade appeal of the Tibet Help Association – should have led to an improvement concerning the global HR responsibilities. Anyway, still there are repression of the press and internet, the prosecution of civic activists and increased efforts to keep religion under the control of the state. Also Russia, as a reawaken global power should pay more respect to the HR issues, since the government has systematically weakened or marginalized independent media, advocates for democracy, and regime critics generally.
Just shortly mention the abuse of women’s rights, for instance in the Arabic – I do not necessarily mean ‘Islam’ – world.6 We also are the witnesses of aggression against women within families in several countries or the violence on Women Action Days. And finally, next to the law against terrorism in India – as well in the longer established democracies of North America, Western Europe, and the South Pacific – that is actually contra the norms of HR and civil liberties, we can mention all the terrifying conflicts in Africa.7 In addition, there was the government in Myanmar that used violence to stop political protest – even the marching monks have been arrested and violated.
According to a report of the Freedom House8, the number of free countries in the world has not remarkably changed in the last period of 5-10 years. The survey findings note that the percentage of countries designated as “free” has failed to increase for nearly a decade, which heavily contribute to the situation, so-called “freedom stagnation”.9 Some peculiar trends that presented particular problems in all kind (free–partly free–not free) states: the decline in freedom of expression and freedom of the press; the weakness in the rule of law; and corruption and a lack of government transparency. The main tactics are the suppression on NGOs, the restriction of the freedom of assembly, or the marginalizing of the press.
The Human Rights Watch also raised its voice against the abuses of rights to expression and association of Kurdish regions in Iran. Iranian authorities use security laws, press laws, and other legislation to arrest and prosecute Iranian Kurds and imprison (mostly female) HR activists solely for trying to exercise their right to freedom of expression and association.10 The other large-scale issue would be the “big stick policy” against political opposition in Cuba where the government should immediately and unconditionally free the dissidents who have been arbitrarily detained.
I hope my suggestion seems to be worth that you consider all angles of the question and negotiations can be hold about it during the meeting. To give you also some practical idea, according to my projection the realization of the concept could be brought into effect as follows. Like in the abovementioned conference in Germany (ISWI), the division of HR can be carried out easily that each AEGEE-event will have a specific aspect of HR violation (media – censure; movement – immigrants; life in dignity – torture, etc.) during the term of the project. However, there should be an enormous difference to ISWI, namely the function of the consequences. Whereas the former one “just” made the participants aware of the hot issues in the world (enforcing them to act privately to stop them in the future), AEGEE should also act on a governance-level by creating a concept paper (the voice of the youth) to the policymakers – like it did during Y Vote this year.
As we see, the time has come – after 60 years – to effectively change the approaches and personal equations to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights…
Wishing you the best during the meeting in Brussels. Hugs from Hungary.
Member of IPWG and DWG
1 The competition was called “TézEUsz 2011” and dealt about the future strategies of the EU-presidency of Hungary in 2011 by giving new ideas to the main issues such as agriculture, free trade, common energy policy, etc. One of the topics would be the Justice and Home affairs, therefore, I have chosen its “sub-topic” about the legal and illegal immigration to EU, which also has – of course – a lot of relations to HR. (http://www.euvonal.hu/index.php?op=tezeusz2011 – Hungarian site of the student competition)
2 Whereto children came from war-torn countries, including Afghanistan, Somalia, and Iraq in December 2008.
3 http://blog.iswi.org/ – webpage of the International Student Week in Ilmenau
4 AEGEE Europe Press Release: 60th Anniversary of Human Rights Declaration – Online at: http://www.karl.aegee.org/aeg-info.nsf/PRelByIssue/r200815?OpenDocument
5 I have surprisedly faced a small commemoration in the Netherlands (during the Y Vote on Citizenship conference in Groningen), at a stand of Amnesty International with hot chocolate, cookies and a remembrance on the street made from candles forming a huge “60” on the pathway.
6 One example could be the stoning to death Aisha Ibrahim Duholow in Somalia last year.
7 Kenya – after elections crises; Uganda, Sudan – murder, rape and violence on black inhabitants; Zimbabwe – post-election struggles; civil war in Democratic Republic of Congo, etc.
8 PUDDINGTON, Arch: Freedom in the World 2007: Freedom Stagnation Amid Pushback Against Democracy – Online at: http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=130&year=2007
9 For the past nine years, since 1998, the proportion of countries designated as free has remained essentially unchanged at 46 percent. Globally, there is a trend whereby countries achieve a modest level of freedom and then experience a failure to move forward to liberal democracy.
10 See the case of Ronak Safarzadeh, member of Free Life Party of Kurdistan and the Campaign for Equality.