By Naomi McAuliffe on behalf of Scotland for Amnesty International
The 10th December marks Human Rights Day, an annual and international celebration of human rights. It gives us an opportunity to reflect on the human rights situation around the world and take stock of the challenges and crises we are facing in Scotland, the UK and internationally. Some of the issues we are currently facing include a UK Government’s commitment to scrap the Human Rights Act and bring in a “British Bill of Rights” (hyperlink: http://savetheact.uk/), an escalation of military action in Syria, terrorist attacks in the Middle East, Europe, the US and around the world, a continuing refugee crisis in Europe and the resettlement of a number of Syrian refugees to Scotland. To name but a few.
While the official welcoming of refugees by the Scottish Government is positive, we have to be mindful of the increased incidents of racist attacks against refugees and black and minority ethnic communities in Scotland particularly since the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris.
In this context, it was very timely that Amnesty International should welcome Maryam al-Khawaja (hyperlink: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maryam_al-Khawaja) to Scotland to participate in our Human Rights Day events. Maryam’s family in Bahrain are suffering huge human rights violations (hyperlink: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abdulhadi_al-Khawaja) and yet the British Government are reluctant to condemn the regime there. A reluctance to protect human rights at home can easily become a reluctance to champion human rights around the world.
Maryam’s campaigning through the Gulf Center for Human Rights (http://www.gc4hr.org/) extends beyond Bahrain to the whole Gulf region and including Iran, Iraq and Syria. While in Scotland, she is meeting with the Scottish Government, parliamentarians and civil society to highlight the urgent need for support for civil society and human rights defenders throughout the Middle East. Bombing alone will not solve the situation in Syria, but a strategy that supports those on the ground who are struggling for accountability, democracy and human rights will lay long-term and sustainable foundations for peace.
At a time when we are facing war, terrorism and a refugee crisis which is leaving vulnerable children and adults sleeping on the streets of Europe, the answer is more protection of human rights not less. The UK Government’s approach to diluting and lowering our human rights protections at home is put into stark relief when we watch others putting their lives on the line for these very same rights elsewhere.
The message from human rights defenders in the Middle East is clear; we need to stand together in defence of human rights. A toxic debate around human rights domestically in the UK can easily infect international human rights campaigning.
Around Human Rights Day is also the time of year that Amnesty International runs it’s Write 4 Rights (hyperlink: http://www.amnesty.org.uk/issues/Write-for-Rights-2015) campaign which showcases 10 individuals who are imprisoned or at risk because of their human rights work or abuses in their country. This year, the campaign includes the case of Saudi lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair who has been representing the imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi (hyperlink: https://www.amnesty.org.uk/actions/write-rights-saudi-arabia-free-human-rights-lawyer-waleed-abulkhair-abu-al-khair). Indeed, Maryam al-Khawaja has been an Amnesty case previously, her sister is currently an Urgent Action case (hyperlink: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde11/3011/2015/en/) and her father is an Amnesty Prisoner of Conscience. Just as Amnesty campaigns on systemic human rights abuses in Bahrain and the Gulf, we continue to campaign for those individuals who are imprisoned, tortured and harassed for their human rights work.
Join us in campaigning for human rights at home and abroad, for an end to injustice and in international solidarity with individual human rights defenders around the world: http://www.amnesty.org.uk/issues/Write-for-Rights-2015