International Human Rights Day 2011: Dignity Through Passion and Creativity

On Friday 9th December, to mark International Human Rights day, more than 200 delegates from across the globe, from UN delegates to former heads of states to the leading youth thinkers, gathered at the European Leadership Conference held at the House of Lords in London.

Restless Beings were approached in the immediate aftermath of Human Writes 2 and were asked to speak on panel to discuss the issue of 'How to make dignity a reality?'

I delivered a short speech on this, and have uploaded the transcript below. The important message to bear in mind, is that to be able to discuss human Rights, we must first start at dignity and its validity towards measuring progress.

Europe's youth and their desire to pursue their rights

Our youth European movement today is highly popularized and politicised and previously it was this generation, that had been blamed for a disinterest and inactivity in political spheres. However, in recent times across the globe, it is that very same generation, the so called youth and student generation that is now at the heart of calls for social change.

Movements such as Occupy Wall Street, The Arab Spring and even the UK Student Protests are all examples of how our youth are now demanding and leading the call for reform in social justice.

Until now, predominantly all the youth ‘uprisings’ have come from outside Europe; the Arab Spring called for voting rights and political reform across the middle east, The Occupy movement started in the USA, calling for the right to information in financial sectors which was then replicated locally even in Europe, and finally the UK Student protests calling for the right to reasonably priced education, a localised issue. In essence each of the motivations behind the movements, right to education, right to vote, right to information are all over-arching Human Rights issues.

In Europe, the student movement have not yet really fully stood up, but the looming Eurozone crisis could well see a spark of movement in countries such as Spain where recent figures quote 40% youth unemployment. Coupled with austerity measures across the zone and the issue of unaffordable houses for first time buyers, serious unemployment issues and the growing cost of education, the possibility of a youth backlash is looming at large - and what will their demands be? In essence, dignity, dignity in the sense where they will be able to be homeowners, highly educated with thriving careers, etc a real part of society according to their perception.

But is this dignity, the same dignity that the Palestinians crave, or the dignity which the Bosnians craved during the Srebencia massacre, or is it like some sort of quasi pseudo first world version of dignity? Are our youth interested in the dignity of those who are facing human rights abuses daily, on the other side of the world?

What dignity for Human Rights means for our youth generation today?

Before we can understand what a dignity for human rights means for our youth, us, we must first look at what the word dignity even means. Dignity is a strange word - it does not really have any empirical value, rather, it is simply an aspirational goal.

Whether it is in the preamble of the UN charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International covenants, the European Convention of Human Rights or any other charter, dignity, is mentioned but not how it can be measured.

While no parameters can be set on what constitutes to dignity or dignified treatment, generally speaking, the concept can be better described by what constitutes to an undignified treatment and if nothing else, this gives us a flag-post of where to start. A very explicit and easy example to draw upon is the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. It is universally agreed that this was a horrific example of a completely undignified treatment of prisoners, an extraordinary violation of their rights.

However, where does that leave us on the less explicit examples, say for arguments sake, the right of the Roma people to roam across European countries - does the fact that they are not citizens of a country mean that their children cannot access free and fair education - does it imply that their worth or dignity as a human regardless of citizenship should be de-valued? If not, then how are our governments justifying their discrimination? Or a woman who chooses to wear a burka, a situation where she may feel she is keeping her dignity intact, how can our governments justify their discrimination against her? What does dignity mean in these situations and how do our youth feel about this?

Almost immeadiately we can see that clearly politics alone will not solve the conundrum of how to make dignity a reality. Does that then mean that the key to guarding dignity or raising dignity remains in the hands of our youth?

An initial starting point lies at the point that first and foremost, we, the youth of Europe are aggrieved at our own prospects. A serious lack of opportunities, increasing cost of education, high unemployment, unaffordable housing etc all add weight to our ‘youth’ feeling disenfanchised from the ‘system’ - however, more than that, from our experience, this is simply an opportunity for our youth to gather under one voice and air their concerns; be it their own future or that of those thousands of miles away...

And it is on this juncture where our mission statement, of Restless Beings lies - to be able to activate and utilise a frustration of progress, to instill confidence that there is enough concern within our support-base to be able to affect a change that politicians and lawmakers can't; not because they don't want to, but because the process of change at that level, discussing in parliaments, passing motions, etc etc are too slow. In third world countries where dignity is less likely to be valued and rights violations more likely to be prevalent, if you mix a long-drawn political process with a dose of corruption and power hunger and real change, to value a communities dignity, doesn't always work.

But for us, Restless Beings, we take that frustration, flip reverse it and use it as an energy to drive forward our projects through passion and creativity.

How Does Restless Beings Address The Issue of Dignity In It's Projects?

A brief introduction to Restless Beings - set up in 2008, a youth led organisation which is focused on raising awareness and creating projects across the globe for the most marginalised communities whose human rights have been disregarded.

To attract interest and support, Restless Beings combines the worlds of creativity and charity - creativity in terms of the arts, fine art, music, poetry, linguistics, theatre the lot and charity in terms of voicing the voiceless.

Our projects currently take us to four parts of the world, street children in Dhaka, Bangladesh - The Rohingya in Burma, The Roma community across Europe and Central Asian Women's Rights.

A primary way of raising dignity for those that our projects are set up for, is by ensuring that every single one of our projects is sustainable in the long run, and, that they are holistic in their approach. In Kyrgyzstan, we were amongst the very first organisations to address the issue of Ala Kachuu or bride kidnapping - our plans for this project are, in the long run, to create a hub online whereby rather than employing a care worker or psychologist to counsel the woman who has been affected by Ala Kachuu, our hub of others, who have gone through the same pain, are able to provide comfort and console a new member.

It is if you like a very specific, but highly tech savvy version of Alcoholics Anonymous, where a woman in Kyrgyzstan is able to console a woman in Somalia who has also gone through the same ordeal and so on and so forth.

Through a variety of events, gigs and campaigns we grab the attention of the youth - we speak a language they can understand - not in a derogatory way - but in terms of the things they are interested in - through social networks - through YouTube documentaries, through underground Hip Hop events, through Twitter campaigns, through Facebook activities etc.

And once we have their attention, we equip them with the ammunition they will require to voice the voiceless that our projects affect.

This ripple effect is a secondary way of raising the dignity of our recipients of our projects. It also raises the dignity of those who support the organisation through the fact that they are simply part of a global rippling effect which affects people they will never meet in obscure corners of the world, as mentioned before this quasi-psuedo first world version of dignity.

Restless Beings believes that Dignity, can not and will not be achieved by those who are paid to talk, discuss and debate the semantics and semiotics of change, but by those who are able to unify their concerns despite their cultural or educational backgrounds and organise under the guise of passion, energy and enthusiasm and create sustainable holistic projects. I speak on behalf of our 50,000 supporters and well wishers, a cross section of our youth across the globe today, and say for us, Dignity is already a reality - it has become a reality through our young people unifying their ideals. Just ask the 90,000 guys and dolls who tweeted about our event in a small venue in East London a fortnight ago.

We need to quit talking about dignity and start delivering through listening to those whose voices are the quietest - the silent suffering