Not simply adults in waiting: UN launches General Comment on the rights of adolescents

By Elizabeth Arif-Fear

On February 7th, the UN officially launched its new General Comment on the implementation of the rights of the child during adolescence – an event attended by our Director, Tricia Young, in Geneva. This timely document highlights both the capacities and vulnerabilities of young people, holding States accountable for recognising, upholding and implementing the rights of adolescents as individual, autonomous persons.

This is a much needed tool to draw the world’s attention to the need to encourage and protect adolescents, taking their political, educational, socio-cultural, economic and sexual development into account. Stereotypes of adolescents abound. It is a developmental period that is often demonised and pathologised; adolescents are often referred to as a homogeneous group who are irresponsible and selfish. Simply by being an adolescent, young people can face a distinct form of discrimination in addition to other marginalisation as a consequence of their gender, sexuality and / or disability.

As the UN Children’s Rights Committee highlights:

Adolescence itself can be a source of discrimination. During this period, adolescents may be treated as dangerous or hostile, incarcerated exploited or exposed to violence as a direct consequence of their status. Paradoxically, they are also often treated as incompetent and incapable of making decisions about their lives.

Contrary to the stereotypical views of children and teenagers as incapable, “adults in waiting”, young people in fact possess significant developing skills and capabilities. Not only are they more autonomous than their younger peers, but they are in general more outspoken, independent and more critically aware of their environment.

At the same time, they face specific challenges as they move through this critical time of physical, emotional and sexual growth. Particular groups of adolescents may also be more vulnerable to human rights violations as a consequence of disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity or other factors. Promoting and upholding adolescents’ rights therefore requires recognition of specific safeguarding and anti-discrimination measures, as well as support for them to develop their capabilities to become engaged, socially aware young adults.

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Adolescent participants in Child to Child’s life-skills project Hearing All Voices making a real impact by fundraising for Ebola-effected orphans in Sierra Leone

As a leading organisation promoting child participation, Child to Child has long been advocating for adults to not only listen to children and young adults but to also recognise the value they have in creating change in every aspect of their lives; whether social, political, economic, cultural or educational, both at home and in the wide public sphere – in their schools, communities, nationally and internationally.

Indeed, the UN General Comment expressly states that adolescents are “agents of change, and a key asset and resource with the potential to contribute positively to their families, communities and countries.”

The discrepancy between the capacities of young people and the lack of opportunity they have to play an active role is specifically pinpointed as a government issue in the General Comment. States neither recognise nor invest adequate time and resources to ensure adolescents enjoy their rights.

Child to Child has actively witnessed how participatory practices can transform adolescents’ lives – and the perceptions of adults who engage with them. Through our life-skills project, Hearing All Voices (HAV), previously marginalised and disengaged students were given the opportunity to participate and help citizens in both their local communities and those as far away as Sierra Leone. They grew in confidence, developed a range of skills and, most importantly: they learnt that they are agents of change in their own right.

The ideas and values expressed in this new General Comment are not simply for human rights or child practitioners but for all of us: parents, teachers, siblings, community members, religious leaders, civil servants and most crucially politicians and State leaders. If we are to respect human rights and the rights of children, then we must acknowledge, respect and advocate for the right of adolescents worldwide to participate in matters which affect them, recognising and harnessing the enormous contribution that they can make.

Copyright:

This article was first published on Child to Child (13/02/2017) (c)

Four facts about refugees the media ISN’T telling you…

There’s a lot of talk of refugees in the media at present but rather than presenting facts, what the tabloids present is predominantly anti-refugee rhetoricscaremongering and racist/Islamophobic discourse. As a result, many people are worried about the effect of refugees on their local communities and on a wider international scale.

The following statements represent typical “concerns” of certain sections of British/European society fed by the media:

“They’re claiming thousands of pounds of benefits.”

“It’s safe back home for them.”

“It’s just single young men coming over, never any women or kids.”

“We can’t possibly take anymore – why can’t any other countries take them?”

Sound familiar? Well, here’s four myths the media likes to peddle and the real truth that they’re not telling you:

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Speaks volumes doesn’t it! So, next time someone thinks they’ve got their facts right: set them straight! Embrace diversity, protect human rights and welcome your global brothers and sisters! 🙂

Statistics: UNHCR, The Refugee Council (2015)

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Desperation in Dunkirk: French Jungle diaries (part 2)

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Photo: Elizabeth Arif-Fear

In an earlier blog blog piece, I featured a personal account of an aid trip run by Stafford Welcomes Refugees to “The Jungle” in Calais prior to its closure. Following utter chaos, the camp was later cleared. However help is still crucially needed across northern France. Whilst some refugees from Calais seek makeshift refuge in temporary new homes in other areas of France, more specifically in Dunkirk there lie many refugees in the official Grande-Synthe refugee camp, as well as those sleeping in ditches without shelter. Prior to the closure of the Jungle there were – and still are – many refugees in Dunkirk. Here volunteers have long been striving to help refugees in this lesser known area where conditions are harsh, numbers of children are high and various unaccompanied minors lie in wait and desperation to be reunited with their families. Aid is still crucial.

Dunkirk – refugees in desperation

The Grande-Synthe refugee camp – La Linère – located just outside Dunkirk, has received far less press than “The Jungle in Calais”. However, don’t let that fool you. Make no mistake: things are desperate. In fact, conditions in Dunkirk were previously cited as “far worse” than in the Jungle back in 2015, although things have since improved. In March 2016, Médecins Sans Frontières set up the camp on the site of the former illegal Dunkirk “Jungle” where conditions were so dire, volunteers found themselves setting up tents in muddy rat infested areas next to human excrement. Wooden huts have since been set up and unlike The Calais, Jungle this is now an officially recognised camp – but is however not run by the government. At present, there are 1000 people living in the camp, including babies, many children and 150 families. Based on figures from November (2016), there are 106 unaccompanied minors at the camp with family in the UK. Inside the camp, there is no electricity and refugees face the winter cold living in these wooden sheds. The media focus on France may have died down but the crisis is ongoing and aid is still essential.

Following the aid trip to Calais by local refugee organisation Stafford Welcomes Refugees, members of Stafford’s local Muslim community – Stafford Muslim Community Centre (SMCC) – headed back to France after the official closure of The Jungle in Calais to lend a helping hand. They met the wonderful Sofinee  of Kitchen in Calais from the last trip and found themselves instead directed to Dunkirk. Take a look into their trip, helping out our refugee brothers and sisters across the Channel.

Our Trip to Calais & Dunkirk (Yacoob, Bilal and Sulayman) 29th October 2016

This journey began with donations coming in a few weeks before our trip to Calais and Dunkirk. I had been in touch with the formidable Sofinee, a lady who has been at the heart of the Kitchen in Calais, and had adhered to the list of times she requested we took down. […] Friday evening arrived, our dear brother from Stoke-on-Trent, and experienced driver, Bilal, arrived […] with a big silver van. Several of us started filling up the van and whilst doing it, noticed a puncture in one of the tyres. We managed to pump air into it, however, a few hours later, it was flat again!! The entire van was emptied and the tyre replaced and this gave us peace of mind that we were good to go!

Alarm rang at 3am, a quick coffee and cooler bag in hand, my son Sulayman, 16, and I jumped into the van as Bilal had come to fetch us. It was 4am and we were already on the motorway. Almost two hours on the road, we needed to stop at the services near Beaconsfield for a break and morning prayer. Half an hour later, we were back on the road and fast approaching Dover. The glimpses of the white cliffs and seagulls approaching were an exhilarating sight and it was then the thought and realisation of this journey was fast becoming a reality…

We went through customs and parked the van up in the allocated bay and went up into the ferry for the duration of the journey. The grey skies dominated the rest of the journey until we reached Calais where glimpses of sunshine were caught. Once we disembarked from the ferry, within half an hour, we had reached our first destination, Calais. Here we were to meet Sofinee at the warehouse.

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Warehouse in Calais (top right), Dunkirk (bottom left/right)

We introduced ourselves and it was then that Sofinee figured that we were part of the famous Chris from Stafford’s circle of Helping Hands. Sofinee said that due the Calais jungle being razed to the ground just that week, unfortunately, they could accept only one trolley. They suggested that the rest of the contents of the van could be donated at Dunkirk. After a few phone calls arranging our visit there, we set off for Dunkirk.

Approximately an hour later we arrived in Dunkirk. With police visibly present in full force and a few police checks later, we entered the heavily-fenced kitchen area. There was a clear distinction that the kitchen was off-limits to the refugees. As we parked up, we were met by a lovely team of Irish volunteers who had given up their time to support the cause of the refugees. When we opened up the door of the van and the volunteers saw what we had, they were in awe and overwhelming appreciation followed.

As we offloaded the donations and settled for a chat with the volunteers, we learned that the demographic make-up was interesting. Afghan, Kurdish, Iranian, were among the refugees that lived in this camp. There was an interesting combination of the languages spoken and the diversity was clear.

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With the volunteers in Dunkirk

Being mindful of the time, we had to wrap up our visit to Dunkirk by asking what they really needed. Oranges, yes oranges, was on the list! Hopefully next time. […] So, as we left and drove past this sad cold place, I hoped and prayed that these refugees’ plight would be alleviated in some way. […] Having seen some of life’s harsh realities, the smells and sights of this day was to be etched in our minds for a long time. […] Praise be to God, for having made this journey happen. Our job was done this time and more aid will be undertaken in the future, God willing!

Yacoob Patel (Director- SMCC)

Get involved:

So what can be done to help refugees in both Dunkirk and Calais? Here’s a few pointers:

  • Donate: food, clothing, toiletries are all needed. Check out: Help Refugees and Kitchen in Calais
  • Volunteer: if you can spare the time and have the funds, head over to France. Find out more here and here
  • Sign the UNICEF petition to reunite refugee children with their families in the UK
  • Get active on social media: blog, post, Tweet to raise awareness and help reunite separate families and give crucial refuge to these vulnerable refugees.

Credits and acknowledgments:

Text and images: Stafford Muslim Community Centre (SMCC)

A huge well done to all of you who supported and took part in the SMCC trip – God bless.

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Refugees are welcome here: French Jungle diaries (part 1)

On 26th October 2016, the Calais “Jungle” was officially cleared. Yet this didn’t mark the end of the “crisis”. The site may have been shut down but the problems haven’t gone away. Whilst the UK government transferred some young refugees to the UK, many remain cut off from their families in the UK. Other refugees were at the time taken to reception centres across France. Weeks later reports emerged of refugee children who had been taken to reception centres being forced to work on fruit farms and share accommodation with adults. This may seem shocking but the tragic conditions and neglect these children face is an ongoing nightmare following the days and months spent in the squalid jungle by adult and child refugees alike from across the world subsequent to the tragic journeys they took to reach French soil. Here, the only help these vulnerable refugees received was from small scale volunteer groups. No government body or international aid agency was present. Here is the account of Chris Plant – one member of the group Stafford Welcome Refugees (UK) – who along with Paul and Mohamed drove down to Calais themselves in September 2016 to deliver crucial aid gathered by members of the Stafford community prior to the closure of the camp.

When the current refugee crisis flared up, a group of locals in Stafford decided to organise a shipment of aid to the refugees living in squalid conditions in unregulated camps outside the port of Calais. After several weeks of careful preparation, we were finally ready. Three of us shared the driving and had a fairly uneventful drive to Dover. Once you reach Dover though, you become aware that things aren’t as they used to be. Agencies who are normally quite uninterested in your activities were keeping a close eye on those wishing to travel across the Channel. Although all the officials were polite and courteous, it was clear that they were taking note of all traffic in connection to refugees.

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Essential aid items: blankets, tinned and dried foods, fresh fruit and vegetables, scarves and clothes for Muslim women

On arrival at Calais, the first visual impact was made by literally miles of high fencing topped by razor wire. It was bleak and rather surreal. I couldn’t help but imagine that somehow I had strayed into a 1984 Orwellian world – it was all very depressing… My spirits were lifted considerably on our arrival at a large warehouse manned by a truly inspiring group  of young volunteers. They represented just about the best of humanity. They were a multinational group of volunteers from diverse cultures and ethnicities all driven by a shared need to alleviate the suffering of our fellow humans and to demonstrate through real action that decency had not destroyed by the obscenity of corrupt power politics. We proceeded to unload all of the tried and tinned foodstuffs, keeping the rather large quantity of fresh fruit and vegetables for another rather extraordinary enterprise right in the heart of The Jungle. After leaving the warehouse where everything was fairly organised, a few short miles later we came to a very different world. If you didn’t know that you were on the coast of one of the wealthiest most developed presumably “civilised lands” in the world, you could easily imagine that we’d strayed into a shanty town in a developing country. This is not the France that people normally imagine!

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Inside the warehouse – volunteers at work!

Having reached the warehouse just outside the camp, we headed onwards towards The Jungle itself. Upon arrival we were stopped at the entrance by the French CRS police who questioned us about our reasons for coming. After carefully checking the contents of our van they allowed us to proceed. They were coldly efficient throughout our brief encounter. We drove on through… The Jungle was huge. We had to wait for a guide to direct us to our final destination and after a while a cheerful young man or Middle Eastern origin joined us and escorted us through a maze of muddy garbage strewn alleys to our destination – which was truly remarkable.

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Activities in the Jungle and living conditions…

We were then taken to meet Sofinee in the heart of the Jungle. Now, Sofinee is one of those rare individuals whom fate throws your way at time of genuine crisis. A small little Malaysian lady wearing a niqab with only her expressive eyes visible, she radiated personality, energy and unquenchable optimism. She was the life force around which her world revolved. That world was the Kitchen in Calais – a truly inspiring enterprise which she and her husband had created here in the midst of squalor and degradation. Sofinee and her husband had originally journeyed from their home in Durham in the north of England to see the conditions in the Jungle for themselves. Being utterly appalled by the what they found, they decided there and then that they were going to make a difference. From literally nothing, they constructed a kitchen producing hundreds of hot properly cooked meals for those living in the camp. They relied entirely on voluntary donations for supplies, which had never yet let them down.

Fresh fruit and vegetables in toe, alongside scarves and clothes for Muslim women who wanted to retain their sense of modesty, we were chuffed that Sofinee was delighted with our donations, especially with our van load of fresh fruit and vegetables which we had brought the previous night. So, it was with some satisfaction that we bade farewell to our many new friends in Calais, leaving with renewed commitment to be active members of the world wide movement to counter the tidal wave of bigotry, racism and oppression which currently afflicts our world.

Christopher Plant (Stafford Van Aid – Stafford Welcomes Refugees)

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Sofinee and Chris

Stay tuned for part two when Staffordians later return to Calais after the “closure” of the camp and later head over to Dunkirk – another tragic but less well known site where aid groups are working hard to give these vulnerable people a helping hand in their struggle to survive and find hope, security and peace.

Credits and acknowledgements:

Text written by Christopher Plant (Stafford Van Aid – Stafford Welcomes Refugees) (additions and edits: Elizabeth Arif-Fear)

Photography: Paul Jacks, Christopher Plant and Elizabeth Arif-Fear (Stafford Van Aid, Stafford Welcomes Refugees)

Huge thanks to Chris, Paul, Mohamed, members of Stafford Welcomes Refugees and the people of Stafford for all their generous donations, time and efforts which helped to make the trip such a success. To Sofinee, her husband and all the volunteers at Kitchen in Calais, the warehouse and inside The Jungle: fabulous work! God bless!

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Welcoming child refugees means listening to them

img_20160917_125813The plight of child refugees in Europe has been an ongoing issue, in particular since the Syrian crisis spiked in the last few years. Last spring, following pressure from civil society and charitable organisations, politicians voted on the Dubs Amendment, announcing it would be accepting 3,000 child refugees from overseas. Just a few weeks ago, according to figures from Safe Passage UK, there were over 1,000 unaccompanied child refugees living in makeshift refugee camps across the Channel in northern France, including the infamous “Jungle” in Calais – aptly named due to the unregulated mass of makeshift tents and complete lack of regulation, assistance from international aid organisations, sanitation facilities or infrastructure.

Here, thousands of refugees fleeing war, poverty and human rights abuses from all over the world including Afghanistan, Eritrea and Syria lay in wait to start a new life. In the Jungle in particular, there were around 387 children legally entitled to come to the UK under the Dublin Convention due to the UK residency of their family members. Some tried to start their own journeys to their families – including a 14 year old boy from Afghanistan who this September was killed on a French motorway whilst trying to reach the UK.

Until this point, the only progress being made was for those children referred on the Safe Passage UK programme, a project set up by the organisation Citizens UK to establish safe legal routes to the UK for unaccompanied child refugees and vulnerable adults in Europe. However, after announcing it would be building a wall to block access from across the channel, the UK government responded to the French government’s decision to dismantle the camp in Calais by beginning to process the safe transfer of unaccompanied minors with families in the UK. This could not have come at a more crucial time. These children could simply have disappeared off the radar. According to Europol, there are already over 10,000 “disappeared” refugee children within Europe. The risks these children face are devastating, as they remain vulnerable to such human rights abuses as child labour, sexual exploitation (rape, child marriage, prostitution) and both radicalisation and recruitment by terrorist organisations offering both economic sustenance and a sense of belonging. In light of this, on the 16th October, the first group of children were transferred to the UK. According to Citizens UK, 200 children have now arrived. However, this represents just a small percentage of the children seeking refuge in both France and across Europe. Following the official clearance of the Jungle on 26th October, there were a reported 1,500 unaccompanied child refugees left in the area where the camp once stood, resulting in a subsequent process led by the French authorities to transfer these children out of the area. In such context, it is more essential than ever that adequate preparation and procedures are put in place to both bring and welcome refugee children.

Here in the UK, where these children begin the long process of re-building their lives, we need to guarantee that we do our best to ensure their well-being and social inclusion so they can lead happy, healthy lives in all senses: socially, economically, culturally, emotionally, and physiologically. Ensuring these children’s wellbeing involves more than providing refuge in a safe space, protected from the physical harm of active conflict. It is fundamental that children are safeguarded against all types of harm, including the risk of trafficking and radicalisation.

Above all, to successfully safeguard this vulnerable group of children and help them integrate into British society we must listen to their stories, their views, their opinions and their needs – first of all as children and secondly as refugees.

Child to Child – participation and safeguarding

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Hearing All Voices – Child to Child (London)

As one of the leading international NGOs on children’s participation, Child to Child believes in teaching essential skills and providing safe, inclusive spaces to enable children to give their views, voice their needs, and fully participate within society as active, engaged citizens. Since 2011, Child to Child has been running its project Hearing All Voices in London, working with disadvantaged young people in secondary schools and FE colleges and teaching staff to create an environment where students are listened to, taken seriously and supported to take social action. This project has been immensely successful in terms of both staff and student outcomes. The tools and outcomes of this project – testimony to the value and need for child participation – are something we can build on.

UK government policy, including education, health and social care needs to ensure that refugee children have the means to participate, in order to be safeguarded from harm. If we are to ensure that child refugees lead happy, healthy, integrated lives in which both the traumatic experiences of the past are addressed and their cultural, religious and social identities can also flourish, then let us learn from them rather than excluding them from decision-making processes. If we truly want to welcome this group of vulnerable children and guarantee their wellbeing, then let them participate and let us listen.

Credits:

This article was first published by Child to Child on 02/11/2016 (c)

Feature image copyright: Max Bryan (2016) (c)

Additional blog imagery: Elizabeth Arif-Fear

Ramadan Mubarak – how to support six humanitarian causes this month

Ramadan – the holy month of fasting for Muslims worldwide – is approaching. This is a month of religious devotion, charity and remembrance of those less fortunate than ourselves. Muslims abstain from eating and drinking (amongst other activities) during daylight hours in remembrance of the poor. For many of us, no matter hungry you feel, you know you will eat at sunset. Yet imagine not having anything to break your fast with. Imagine every day being a constant struggle. Many people – Muslim and non-Muslim – around the world are suffering due to poverty, natural disaster, war, persecution and much more. In your very home town, there may be those who go to work hungry, having fed their children but gone hungry themselves as there’s not enough food to go around. You may switch on the TV and thousands of miles away you may see starving refugees fleeing war. People carry on suffering and aid donations are all the more essential, both locally and internationally. Additionally, there are various Muslim (and non-Muslim) groups who continue to be persecuted, discriminated against and even killed. Whether victims of war or persecuted religious minorities, many face difficulty in finding safe shelter and in practising their religion.

So whilst Ramadan starts and we wish fellow Muslims “Ramadan Mubarak” (Happy Ramadan), let’s remember the following people and causes (in no particular order) and call one another to action.

1. The Syrian crisis

Muslims, Christians, Yazidis… millions of Syrians have and continue to suffer due to the Syrian crisis of civil war and religious extremism. Rape, torture, starvation, bombing…the suffering is ongoing. For the displaced Syrians still inside Syria, those living in controlled areas and the millions of Syrian refugees who have fled Syria, the situation in Syria is sad, complex and shows no signs of being resolved any time soon.

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Syrian refugee – Image credit: Bengin Ahmad (Flickr)

You can help by donating money and resources to provide aid both in Syrian and in refugee camps. You can also read more about Syria through my interview with Syrian-Palestinian asylum seeker Khaled – click here.

2. The conflict in Yemen

The Saudi bombings and the Sunni-Shia conflict in Yemen – already the poorest country in the Middle East – have led to more instability for this nation in which men, women and children are continuing to suffer. The war has been going on for over a year and so far more than 3000 civilians have been killed:

[…] the conflict in Yemen […] continues to take a terrible toll, with more than 3000 civilians killed, and 5700 wounded, since it began a year ago. If the violence and fragmentation continue, the people of Yemen face a very bleak future. The war has devastated an already weak infrastructure, with multiple attacks on hospitals and schools. It has opened vast opportunities for groups such as Al Qaeda and so-called ISIL to expand their grasp. Most tragically, the ongoing political unrest, violence and air strikes have created a massive humanitarian crisis. This could trigger refugee flows, further destabilising the region.

Statement by Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (10/03/2016)

The lack of public uproar against the Saudi led bombings is deafening and shocking. Innocent children are starving and the world remains shockingly quiet.

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Air strike in Sana’a (11/05/2015) – Image credit: Ibrahem Qasim (Flickr)

To get involved and help innocent Yemenis:

  • Sign the following petitions calling to end the violence: Oxfam, MoveOn
  • Donate: your help can provide essential aid for the Yemeni people

For more information on the war in Yemen, see:

3. The Palestinian crisis

Palestinians face immense ethnic, cultural and religious discrimination, manifesting itself in difficulty in attending school, water shortages, humiliation, torture and even death.

You can support the Palestinians in many ways:

  • Boycott Israeli goods and investments: brands/businesses include Nestle, Marks and Spencer, Starbucks and Coca Cola
  • Support the #CheckTheLabel campaign: make sure you check the label when buying dates to break your fast – don’t buy Israeli dates! You can order the campaign leaflets via the Friends of Al-Aqsa website to hand out at the mosque and raise awareness amongst fellow Muslims and interfaith activists when attending events etc. You can also share the message via social media – get tweeting, posting and sharing!

4. The persecution of Rohingya Muslims

Whilst the media has gone rather quiet, the persecution of the Rohingya people – “the most persecuted refugees in the world” – is ongoing. A report by The Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic (Yale Law School, October 2015) concluded that the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar constitutes genocide:

The Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine State have suffered serious and persistent human rights abuses. Myanmar authorities, security forces, police, and local Rakhine actors have engaged in widespread violence, acts of torture, arbitrary detention, rape, and other crimes causing serious physical and mental harm. The scale of these atrocities has increased precipitously since 2012. […] the majority of Myanmar’s Rohingya have been confined to villages in northern Rakhine State or internally displaced persons camps. […]conditions in both northern Rakhine State and the IDP camps are dire: Rohingya lack freedom of movement, access to food, clean drinking water, sanitation, medical care, work opportunities, and education. They live in conditions that appear to have been calculated to bring about their destruction. The acts committed against the Rohingya, individually and collectively, meet the criteria for finding acts enumerated in the Genocide Convention […]

Persecution of Rohinyga Muslims: Is Genocide Occuring in Myanmar’s Rakhine State? A Legal Analysis, p64

To help this persecuted minority, you can:

For more information, check out:

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Around 90,000 Rohingya’s live in cramped shelters in camps near Sittwe – the capital of Rakhine State – Image credit: European Commission DG ECHO (Flickr)

5. The oppression of Uyghur Muslims in China

China’s Muslim minority, the Uyghur community who live in the autonomous region of Xinjiang, have been facing increasing discrimination over the years. The Chinese State has banned face veils, forced certain shopkeepers to sell alcohol, introduced restrictions on beards and in the past banned fasting during the period of Ramadan. This year, the State has declared that there will be no restrictions regarding Ramadan – yet one can never tell given the secrecy and human rights abuses that go on in China.

How you can help:

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Men praying at Id Kah Mosque on Eid al Fitr – Image credit: Preston Rhea (Flickr)

6. The war in Ukraine

If you’d like to help towards the crisis in Ukraine you can:

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Image credit: Guido van Nispen (Flickr)

So there’s six causes that we are all aware of and of course there are many other worthy causes, many groups facing persecution and many more campaigns and petitions. This is simply a brief guide to current urgent and perhaps not so well publicised causes which we can all help towards.

So – brothers and sisters in Islam: Ramadan Mubarak!

And to all readers: check out the tips and get going!

Salam!

 

Image credit:

Feature image: Amila Tennakoon (Flickr)

Who’s crisis is it anyway? #RefugeesWelcome

Before I left Spain, I had the pleasure of attending a presentation by Louis Imbert hosted by Malaga University, entitled:

Should we speak of a migration crisis?

The focus of the presentation was the “refugee crisis” – the facts and myths behind it and how society and governments both look at and deal with this reality.

The term “crisis” is overtly negative, denoting panic, urgency, difficulty and confusion. What Louis so rightly concluded was that we should look at the so called “refugee crisis” as an opportunity – an opportunity to reflect on and review our attitudes and means of dealing with the needs of refugees. The actual crisis is itself the demonising of refugees, rampant Islamophobia and governments’ shirking of responsibilities, inadequacy, inability and unwillingness to adapt to current realities. Many European governments (some more than others) have created a number of barriers against welcoming refugees in response to the “refugee crisis” but the truth is that despite stories of “the boat people”, “migrants in lorries” etc., leaving one’s own country has become ever more difficult. Immigration and border policies have become more and more restrictive. Anti-migrant and anti-refugee policies and rampant fears of incomers overstaying have made it more difficult for visa applicants to be granted visas and lead to pre-departure border checks on behalf of the country of destination.

The fact is that we are not being “invaded” by refugees but instead anti-migrant, anti-refugee and Islamophobic rhetoric. Behind the misconceptions and lies, the fact is this:

Asylum seekers who registered in 2015 represent 0.26% of the European Union’s total population.

Figures have been blown out of proportion and scaremongering about public services have lead to public skepticism. Whats more, Europe/”The West’s” collective memory seems to have become rather blurred. The reality is that victims of war, persecuted minorities, political prisoners – all types of people feeling their home land to seek refuge – is not a new, recent, phenomenon. Furthermore, the arrival of refugees is not typical of the so-called “West”. The majority of Syrian refugees are in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon – not Europe, as many unjustly fear.

We all have the right to food, shelter, health, religious freedom, an education and more – needs, necessities and rights which constitute our basic human rights. Let us remember, we don’t choose where we are born and in any case – we are all citizens and neighbours in one global world. In Christianity for example, a clear teaching is: Love they neighbour. In Islam, we also have a beautiful hadith [saying] which states:

Would you not do the same in their shoes? Such question is quite redundant in any case as – as a refugee – there is no choice: leave or die.

So, check out Louis’ presentation here and keep the message rolling: #RefugeesWelcome

Salam!

Image credit:

Feature image: CAFOD Photo Library (Flickr)

Cutting away their childhood – the facts about #FGM

gender-symbols-1161576.jpgFebruary 6th is International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). FGM includes: “procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons” (WHO, 2016). This usually involves cutting and removing parts of a girl’s/woman’s genitalia with razor blades, scissors, nails and glass without anaesthetic. There are no health benefits whatsoever to these “procedures”- in fact the reality is very much the opposite. It’s a sad reality for the millions of girls and women worldwide who face confusion, pain, suffering and violation through the practice of FGM as parents, family members and the wider community attempt to suppress girls’ sexuality, preserve their “honour”, adhere to social pressure and increase their  daughters’ “eligibility” as brides by adhering to male demands, outdated traditional cultural practises and a false/differing interpretation of religion. More than 125 million girls and women have been cut in the name of FGM across 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East with 3 million at risk each year (UNICEF, 2013; WHO, 2016). Educating communities and spreading the word are key to putting an end to this barbaric practice. So, let’s bust the myths and get the key facts about what exactly FGM is, how, why and where it happens and look at how you can campaign against this gross violation of human rights.

Busting the myths

1. FGM is the female equivalent of or can be compared to male circumcision 

FALSE: Female genital mutilation is sometimes also referred to as FGC (Female Genital Cutting) and also incorrectly labelled as “female circumcision” by certain people but this is totally inaccurate. Whatever your stance on male circumcision – FGM is entirely different. It is child abuse, violence and torture aimed at controlling a female’s sexual behaviour, denying her sexual pleasure within marriage itself and preserving her “honour” for the sake of others according to certain social-cultural beliefs and norms regarding marriage and female sexuality.

2. FGM is an Islamic practice

FALSE: Whilst unfortunately there have been certain so-called “scholars” who support FGM, FGM is un-Islamic. Not only does it pre-date Islam as a cultural practice, it is neither “required” according to Islamic standards and goes against Islamic principles such as health, not inflicting bodily harm, free will and a  woman’s right to sexual pleasure within marriage. The Muslim Council of Britain for example has specifically denounced the practice as un-Islamic. FGM is a cultural issue not a religious requirement. It is misunderstood in religious terms, misplaced, misused and therefore practiced by some Muslims, Jews and Christians and also some animists.

3. FGM is only an African/Middle Eastern issue

FALSE: FGM is instead a global issue. It is prevalent and most common in Africa (27 countries in the African subcontinent to be precise), including Egypt in North Africa and many sub-Saharan countries such as Somalia, and also in Middle East (e.g. Kurdistan, Oman, Yemen and Jordan). However, FGM also occurs in both Malaysia and Indonesia and within migrant communities in Europe, the USA and Australia. UNICEF has now reported that FGM is practised in Indonesia although in a less “severe” form of scratching rather than in the form of slicing off flesh. FGM firstly does not represent (any one) culture or people as a whole – even though it does form part of certain socio-cultural traditions amongst some people. Secondly, due to migration, FGM affects girls and young women whose older family members are migrants  but they themselves are not e.g. young American and British born girls whose parents previously migrated abroad. In an increasingly globalised world and in a world where we should all be fighting injustice, this is a global issue.

4. FGM is always carried out by non-medically trained relatives/community members 

FALSE: In most cases this is the case. Paid/unpaid “cutters” do the job with rusty nails, scissors, pieces of glass and razor blades. However, FGM is also performed by professional health care providers in certain countries (believe it or not…). This is often due to the belief that it is “safer” (UNICEF, 2013). In Indonesia, FGM is carried out in hospitals – although it is claimed that the female genital cutting which is carried out is not “mutilation” in the way we commonly give reference to (but in any case it is classified as FGM according to WHO guidelines).

5. Criminalising FGM in countries such as the UK and USA has outlawed and stemmed the practice entirely

FALSE: Living in a country where FGM is illegal does not mean you are “safe”. Not only does FGM occur illegally behind closed doors, parents also take their daughters abroad to get them cut instead – known as “holiday cutting“. A young girl may be “going to holiday” when in reality, she will leave the UK uncut and come back as an unfortunate silent victim of FGM at the hands of her family and community members in her parents’ home country.

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FGM – the facts

1. There are four types of FGM

Type 1: Clitoridectomy: the partial or total removal of the clitoris […] and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce […].

Type 2: Excision: […] the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora […], with or without excision of the labia majora […].

Type 3: Infibulation: […] the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora, or labia majora, sometimes through stitching, with or without removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy).

Type 4: […] all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.

Source: WHO (2016)

Once a girl has been cut, for obvious reasons the procedure is irreversible – although she can be “unstitched”. “Unstitching” (deinfibulation) may occur to benefit the victim’s health, allow her to have sex or to help with childbirth (WHO, 2016). Girls are usually cut between the ages of infancy and 15 years old but FGM can also include adult women (ibid.).

2. Sex, urinating and childbirth can be incredibly painful and complicated for women who have been cut

There is also the risk of infection, cysts, death from blood loss, infertility and a higher risk of infant mortality concerning the death of newborn babies born from mothers who have been cut (WHO, 2016). For women who have undergone forms of FGM categorised as type three, periods and urinating are obviously particularly unpleasant and painful. Women also suffer from emotional and psychological issues such as depression and PTSD.

3. FGM is not a “medical procedure” but simply a means to control women biologically, emotionally, physically, socially and sexually

In communities where FGM is “the norm” or “prized”, “uncut” women are seen as “dirty” and potentially “promiscuous“. Cut women cannot expect sexual gratification from their husbands but are indeed expected to “perform their wifely duties” despite the pain involved in sexual intercourse and later in childbirth. Her body become solely his. There can be no soulful, spiritual, loving, emotional “oneness” between such two spouses – simply enslavement. However, within communities opinions on FGM differ and make no mistake – not all young (single) men are in favour of it.

4. FGM is a clear, gross violation of human rights

FGM violates 
women and girls’ right to life and physical integrity including freedom from violence (including torture) and the right to health, in direct contradiction to human rights legislation including:The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), The International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and The International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

5. The fight against FGM is working as the number of cases is decreasing but we need to keep on fighting!

Criminal legislation has already been introduced in a number of countries and further to this, new legislation in the UK for example aims at controlling parents and specifically stopping them from taking their children abroad if there is significant concern that the purpose is for “holiday cutting“. Doing so is a criminal offence – not just performing FGM itself within the UK for example. Whilst the UK for a long time has been slow on the issue of FGM within the UK and regarding criminal convictions, France for example has already made several convictions. States are taking action and the focus has shifted onto not merely where FGM is being practiced but where its victims are being brought from and how and where cutters are being aided.

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Campaigning – Join the fight against FGM

FGM has to stop and the fight must go on. So how can we get involved in eliminating this practice and helping its tragic victims?

There are already (as expected!) lots of bodies, people and organisations involved in this area. The Guardian has been running their End FGM Guardian Global Media Campaign for several years now. They were successful in their work supporting Fahma Mohamed – a young British Muslim who created a petition directed to UK Education Secretary Michael Gove asking him to raise awareness of FGM in schools. She successfully highlighted the issue on a global level. Her campaign was met with approval by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and her work sparked change. This all started with her collaboration with the UK NGO Integrate Bristol. Small steps lead to big things. Raising awareness and petitioning does work!

Here’s a few places to start:

  • If you are a teacher or you work closely with children – learn about FGM and speak to relevant staff and authorities if you are concerned about a child being at risk of FGM. Read and pass on the following info for UK based teachers
  • There is a free UK 24-hour NSPCC FGM helpline for those that need advice or to make referrals if you’re worried about a child being at risk. You can call 0800 028 3550 or email fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk. Contact the police or crime stopping services/agencies in your area if you in trouble or if you have to report abuse
  • If you’ve been a victim of FGM or worry you may be at risk – seek help and support from specialised organisations in your local area. Those in the UK can contact The Dahlia Project on 020 7281 8920 or 020 7281 7694 which helps victims of FGM. Services are free
  • A list of specialist FGM clinics in the UK is available here

FGM must stop. Such torture cannot carry on. Attitudes, beliefs and practices must change. Raise your voice and speak out in the fight to #EndFGM!

Sources and credits:

A list of sources and further information is available to download here

Image credits:

Amnesty International (feature image – edited), Dominik Gwarek, Jaime Cooper, Jeffrey Clairmont

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21-36 Million Slaves in the “Modern” World – Did You Know about Them?

This January it’s Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness and Protection Month. Human trafficking is modern day slavery and is something that most of us have heard about. In 2014 The Global Slavery Index estimated that there are 21-36 million people worldwide living in slavery. This is in spite of human rights legislation – The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, which comes under The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the criminalisation of human trafficking in 90% of countries worldwide (UNODC, 2014). Human trafficking is a widespread severe problem which moves within and across regions nationally and internationally:

The crime of trafficking in persons affects virtually every country in every region of the world. Between 2010 and 2012, victims with 152 different citizenships were identified in 124 countries across the globe (UNODC, 2014).

So, who are these people? How old are they? What work are they forced into and by whom? Well here’s the lowdown on the issue of modern slavery with some key facts from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) latest report (2014). Of course though, due to its nature we can’t know the real number and nature for sure of people living in this hell…

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  1. 49% of human trafficking victims are women (21% are girls, 18% are men and 12% are boys) (2011) but the number of women being trafficked is decreasing. 
  2. The number of detected child victims is increasing1 in 3 victims of human trafficking is a child. If you break that down by gender – 2 out of 3 child victims are girls.
  3. A greater number of male victims are being detected.
  4. Forms of exploitation include: sexual exploitation, forced labour, servitude and “slavery like” work and organ removal.
  5. Most victims are victims of sexual exploitation (mostly women) but other forms are increasing.
  6. Forced labour accounted for 40% of trafficking victims between 2010-2012 and is increasing. Forced labour includes: domestic work, textile production, cleaning and domestic work, catering and working in restaurants, construction, manufacturing and textile production.
  7. “Mixed exploitation” other than just sexual exploitation or forced labour includes for the purpose of: committing crime, begging, making pornography (including online pornography), benefit fraud, baby selling, illegal adoption, forced marriage, armed combat and for rituals.
  8. Females are mostly exploited for sexual purposes (79%), whilst for males it’s forced labour (83%) (2010-12).
  9. Children for example are used as child soldiers and beggars. Child trafficking is common in Sub-Saharan Africa. Children are being used as soldiers in Central and West Africa.
  10. In the Middle East and North Africa nearly all victims detected are adults.
  11. 1/3 victims is exploited in their own country of citizenship.
  12. In the Americas, South Asia, East Asia and the Pacific forced labour is the most common reason behind human trafficking.
  13. In Central Asia, Eastern Europe, Western and Central Europe most victims are exploited for sexual purposes.
  14. Transnational trafficking makes up almost 25% of all trafficking flows and isn’t as common as domestic or intraregional trafficking.
  15. When traffickers traffic people abroad – they are usually their own fellow citizens.
  16. 72% of convicted traffickers are men. 
  17. Proportionally, women are convicted for trafficking more than most other crimes.

You hear about it in the news: prostitution in Europe, domestic servants in the Middle East, forced labour in Asia but there are many complex patterns and changes in trends. We need to raise awareness and get our voices heard to say “no” to human trafficking and “yes” to change.

Campaigning and awareness raising

So what can we do to get involved with the fight against human trafficking? Here’s a few tips:

  • Raise awareness online – blog, tweet and use hashtags. Free the Slaves have produced Facebook and Twitter cover photos you can download and upload on your social media profiles and are promoting the following hashtags: #freetheslaves #endslavery #humantrafficking
  • Donate to and/or volunteer with relevant NGOs such as Free the Slaves, Stop The Traffik and Polaris Project. You can find a list of other relevant NGOs here
  • Sign the 50 For Freedom Campaign petition
  • Take part in Stop the Traffick’s campaigns and check out their tips
  • Those of you in the USA can email members of Congress.
  • If you’re in the UK write to your local MP and check out APPG
  • If you’re elsewhere – write to local authorities/organisations/MPs
  • Sign one of many petitions available online on Change.org
  • Donate your old phones to Phones4Freedom to help anti-trafficking activists and survivors
  • Check out the other tips available online here
  • Get creative and come up with fundraising and awareness raising events

As always – get noticed, get heard and fight to #endslavery and #freetheslaves! No to #humantrafficking

Salam!

Information Source:

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) (2014) Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 

Free the Slaves also have a free factsheet which you can download from their website.

*Images are re-published under a Creative Commons licence

10 Reasons Why We Need Human Rights

This 10th December is Human Right’s Day – marking the date when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted in 1948. It’s often been said that many of us take our rights and freedoms for granted. The term “human rights” has become a bit of a “buzz word” amongst the kind of people who love to add their comments to Daily Mail articles or on Facebook articles: “Oh not the EU and human rights!” What springs to their mind is: “terrorist extremists sponging of the state along with their families” or “we’re bending over backwards for minorities”.

Well that’s not what human rights are. Human rights offer us safety, freedom and protection. Here’s ten reasons why we NEED human rights legislation, courts, lawyers and campaigners. Of course, there are hundreds of thousands of reasons and cases but here’s a few to get us going (in no particular order).

1. Slavery, human trafficking and sexual exploitation

Forced labour, imprisonment, prostitution and human trafficking are grave issues. Slavery may have already been abolished but it’s still going on today – WORLDWIDE. According to the West Midland’s Police (UK):

Human trafficking is the most profitable crime in the world, second only to drugs. It is also a growing crime in the UK with victims exploited in four main ways – forced labour, sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and benefit fraud.

One recent new story is of Karla Jacinto – a victim of human trafficking who was lured away at the age of 12, having already been subjected to sexual abuse since the age of five by a family member. Karla was forced to work as a prostitute in Mexico and was eventually rescued by police in 2008 as part their anti-trafficking work. She confesses she was raped 43, 200 times. The horror is unimaginable.

2. Violations against freedom of speech, expression, assembly and association

lmagine living in a country where you’re unable to express your own personal and political beliefs, unable to go on peaceful demonstrations, unable to “hold an opinion”… No protesting the Syrian war, no protesting benefit cuts, no having your say… Worldwide, it’s happening – China, Venezuela, Crimea, the USA even… Take Venezuela as an example – 2014 was quoted as being “the worst year for freedom of expression” with 350 cases and 579 violations (the highest figure in 20 years) affecting journalists and those working in the media as well as members of NGOs, human rights activists and civilians:

As far as the attacks and threats against journalists and photo journalists went, the report indicated that the majority came while covering public protests. These acts of aggression included beatings, pellet shots, tear gas attacks, detainments, the confiscation of cameras and cellphones, the destruction of audiovisual and photographic material, and intimidation.

This is not an unfamiliar site if you switch on the TV news and do some research.

3. Torture, arbitrary arrest, detention or exile and restrictions against freedom of movement within and outside your own country  

Following online and offline activism – peaceful protests, blogging online, newspaper journalism, political activism – human rights defenders and regime opponents or those simply in the wrong place at the wrong time could end up being locked up and subject to torture (physical, emotional, sexual and spiritual abuse/neglect) including sexual assault and malnutrition. There’s also the case of those who are never brought to trial – whether guilty or innocent of their supposed crime(s).

Let’s take Guantanamo Bay as an example. May inmates have even never been taken to trial, are subject to torture and continue to protest their innocence. The latest news story was that of Shakeer Aamer. Shakeer was imprisoned in Guantanamo for 14 years without trial and subject to torture. Shakeer always protested his innocence – he was detained when working in Afghanistan for an Islamic charity. He was recently able to return home to the UK to be with his family. For the first time in his life he was able to meet his youngest son – aged 14.

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4. Asylum seekers

You’re fleeing religious or political persecution, torture and death, war, genocide – no safety, no peace, no security, no home… You’re a political opponent, a victim of war, a persecuted minority… British Red Cross figures from 2014 state that 52% of the worlds refugees come from four countries – with the numbers of people per country as following:

  • Syria:3 million
  • Afghanistan:7 million
  • Somalia:1 million
  • Sudan:670,000
  • South Sudan:508,000

The conflict in Syria has been and continues to be devastating, as in various other countries with ongoing conflict. Some asylum seekers however flee their countries for fear of their life due to political oppression. There are many stories – for example that of Berthe Patricia Nganga from Congo Brazzaville who fled her country in 2003 and was granted leave to remain in the UK in 2011. Berthe and her family were subject to political persecution.

“[…] being an asylum seeker is not an easy life.  I was a paediatric nurse in Congo Brazzaville, working in the local hospital and in my mother’s chemist. She was killed by the government because she didn’t support them. Then in 1998, my husband fled the country, because he was part of the opposition party too. […]People were after me […] so I had to get away.”

Once a refugee arrives in a host country, they can legally apply for asylum. Whilst seeking asylum, you cannot work but you are not “illegal” or undocumented (see further asylum seeker myths here). There are many more cases. Those at risk and in danger deserve a safe home. #refugeeswelcome

5. Discrimination and unequal protection before the law 

Restrictions of any humans rights based upon race, ethnicity, religion, etc. include:

  • The situation of the Roma and their (lack of) rights and provisions regarding housing and education in Romania.
  • The rights of the Rohingya in Myanmar and their lack of citizenship as just one example.

6. Violations to the right to privacy

There’s been a lot of concern concerning government “snooping” and anti-terrorist measures. Recently, an EU court declared that The National Security Agency is “violating the privacy rights of millions of Europeans”.

7. Divided families

At this very moment across the UK, Europe and worldwide, (potential) husbands, wives, mothers, fathers and children are separated – with their right to marriage and family life violated – due to visa restrictions. They are Divided families – Skype families. There’s an array of families who are divided due to financial restrictions. In the UK for example you need to earn minimum £18,600 (excluding added “fees” per each child) to be eligible to sponsor your spouse to come to the UK. Third party sponsors are not permitted and property and job status are not taken into consideration (there are exemptions however if you are a carer or disabled). For many, marriage is the odd holiday the couple can afford, text messages, phone calls and Facebook, Skype and What’s App time.  Many children are separated from their mommy or daddy.

8. Restrictions on religious freedom

Many religious communities worldwide are not free to practice their religion and follow their religious and spiritual beliefs. One example is China’s Muslim minority – the Uighur Muslims in the autonomous region of Xinjiang who have felt the increasing level of religious restrictions. Last Ramadan, government workers, teachers, professors and students were “banned” from fasting and “banquets” were held to “test” if Muslims were fasting or not. Women are also banned from wearing face veils, men are not permitted to have beards and shopkeepers are forced to sell alcohol.

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9. Inadequate social provision/recognition of disability

Due to the global economic crisis, government budgets have tightened – including the lowering of social security provisions. There has been a lot of concern concerning welfare provisions in the UK and a series of deaths (including suicide) of vulnerable adults. The UDHR underlines the right to an adequate standard of living and security including food, clothing, social and medical care – outlining cases of unemployment, disability and old age etc. (Article 25). Whilst many countries have no social security systems and/or a lack of care, it has been confirmed  by the UN that the UK has violated the rights of disabled citizens. In fact, figures from the UK Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) state that:

Nearly 90 people a month are dying after being declared fit for work.

The figures are truly shocking. The State is obliged to care for and protect its citizens.

10. Child soldiers and child labour

Children should be in school, enjoying their younger years. According to the UDHR, they are entitled in minimum terms to free (compulsory) elementary education (Article 26). Children do not belong in war. Children are being used as spies and suicide bombers in Afghanistan and soldiers in Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic (to name just a few examples).  In addition, although the number has decreased, there are 168 million children worldwide working in child labour.

So there we have it – ten of just many reasons why human rights legislation, courts, protocols and campaigners are essential. So, what can you do to help you may ask?

  • Sign online petitions, blog, tweet and and right letters (see my article about Amnesty International’s Write to Rights Campaign this month)
  • Organise talks and events
  • Fundraise and donate to NGOs
  • Volunteer your time and skills within NGOs
  • Join local and university human rights groups to collaborate together
  • Start a career in human rights – become a human rights lawyer, campaigner, fundraiser etc. or you could lend your skills to bodies and organisations through other professional means – translation, interpreting and journalism to name just a few roles.

Research your cause, brainstorm, design your strategy and make a set of goals. Get out there or online and spread the word and raise awareness! Happy campaigning folks!

Salam!

For information on human rights law see:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The European Convention of Human Rights

The United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime

Convention on the Rights of the Child

The Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict

Image credits:

Images are shared under a Creative Commons licence

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