Today, December 10, is Human Rights Day. The date commemorates the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948, the first document of its kind.
Every year on December 10, Amnesty International holds a global letter-writing event: Write For Rights (in Canada). Hundreds of thousands of people around the world write handwritten letters calling for action for victims of human rights abuses, and offering comfort and support to political prisoners.
Every year at this time, I try to think of a different way to invite readers to participate in Write For Rights.
All through this year, I've been struggling with cynicism and despair about the state of our planet and the state of democracy. So even though all the warm and fuzzy reasons I've listed in the past (and below) are true and valid, the most important reason to Write For Rights is deadly serious. The world is seriously fucked up. Many, if not most, of us who care about the world feel helpless in the face of such enormous, complex, and intractable problems. Whether or not we will collectively succeed in make a difference on a global scale, we can each make a difference on an individual scale. Amnesty International provides us with an opportunity to do that.
Amnesty sometimes chooses the Write For Rights cases with a theme, such as activists who are women and girls, or earth defenders. This year, the cases focus on people aged 25 or under.
If a difference will be made, these are the people who will do the heavy lifting. It's our job to support them in any way we can. Amnesty letters are an important part of that support.
I've been participating in Write For Rights for many years. In the last few years, I've been challenging myself to write one letter for each of the ten highlighted cases. I give myself one week to get it done.
But that's just me. It's not all-or-nothing. It's something instead of nothing.
For every case, there are multiple opportunities to show support -- but it's the personal letter that makes the greatest impact.
* Emil Ostrovko is in prison in Belarus, one of 15,000 young people enduring long, grueling prison sentences for minor, non-violent offenses.
* Jianne Turtle is a young teen from the Anishinaabe community of Grassy Narrows. She is fighting for environmental justice for her people, whose communities have been devastated by mercury poisoning. Canadians may have heard of Grassy Narrows but not understand the issues. Here's an opportunity to learn and to help.
* In China, a young father and husband is probably in one of China’s secret concentration camps for Uyghurs. Up to one million Muslim people have been disappeared and locked up in these camps, where they are brainwashed with government propaganda. This is a human rights abuse on a sweeping scale.
* In Egypt, Ibrahim Ezz El-Din, a human rights worker, disappeared from the streets of Cairo. His work highlighting the need for safe, affordable housing brought him into conflict with powerful people.
* Sarah Mardini and Sean Binder are volunteer rescue workers, saving lives of refugees at sea. They face up to 25 years in prison, for the "crime" of saving lives.
* In South Sudan, 15-year-old Magai Matiop Ngong has been sentenced to death for causing an accidental death while trying to protect a family member.
* Marinel Sumook Ubaldo fights for justice and dignity for survivors of climate change in the Philippines. She needs our support.
* José Adrián had the bad luck to be targetted by the police in Mexico, although he had done nothing wrong. His life and his family's well being continues to be in jeopardy.
* On International Women's Day, 16-year-old Yasaman Aryani and her mother walked through a women-only train with her hair visible. Yasaman handed out flowers, and spoke of her dream of a future where Iranian women could decide for themselves whether or not to cover their heads in public. A video of her gentle action went viral. Yasaman was jailed and interrogated, and faces 10 years in prison.
* In Nigeria, Nasu Abdulaziz was shot and wounded for defending his home and his community. Joining a mass movement protesting forced evictions and destruction of homes and communities, Nasu continues to fight against government terrorism.
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For good measure, I'll also re-run the 10 cheerier reasons that you should participate in Write For Rights.
1. It's easy. Amnesty makes it really easy to participate. Read, type, send.
2. You can do do it from any computer. No meetings to attend, no schedule to keep. Just more of something you do all the time anyway: typing.
3. It's free. No need to donate money. The most this will cost you is postage.
4. You'll feel good about yourself. Enjoy that warm buzz you get from voluntarily helping other people. There's nothing quite like it.
5. You can choose how much to participate. Write one letter, write two letters, write three. Spend 10 minutes writing or spend an hour.
6. You can choose what to focus on. Write about an issue in your own country. Write about an issue in your country of origin. Write for children, or for women, or for LGBT people, or for workers, or for environmental activists, or for another issue that you care about.
7. You're busting stereotypes. We supposedly live in a selfish age where all we care about is I, me, mine. Challenge yourself to say it ain't so.
8. It works globally. Every fight against injustice begins with someone shining a light in a dark place. Be that light.
9. It works locally. When political prisoners are released, they often attest to the difference letters from strangers made in their lives: that knowing they were not forgotten helped them survive.
10. You enjoy your own human rights every day. Why not use them to help someone who can't? It doesn't take much time. It's not difficult to do. And it works.
Write for Rights in Canada
Write for Rights in the US
Write for Rights internationally.