This week the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODHIR) released a new report, Guidelines on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.
Though I'm not a stranger to intimidation as a more frequent tactic of choice against justice activists, I decided to Google "attacks on human rights activists" before I started writing this post. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of results. Pick a country, pick an issue: anywhere people speak for a civil society, healthy planet, or equitable social systems, they are increasingly being harassed, threatened or even murdered for daring to want something more than hate, greed and injustice in the communities where they live.
This morning one of the OSCE conference participants, Paul Corbit Brown, a human rights photographer and fellow Appalachian, shared the comments he presented in Bern today on the new ODHIR report. What he said really resonated with thoughts I hold, so I got his permission to share them. I have embedded links in his text so that you can explore his awesome photography and other projects. Thanks, Paul!
Good morning. My name is Paul Corbit Brown. I am a human rights photographer and the president of Keeper of the Mountains, a small environmental organization in West Virginia. I am grateful for this conference and all the hard work that went into the creation of this document. I would like to take a step back and take a big picture look at our situation. We are but one species that lives on this planet, a beautiful life support system for all that call this spinning blue ball their home. The earth will rise to our needs, but she will not bow to our greed.
The United States would like to believe they are a bastion of human rights, but they refuse to acknowledge that this is a country built from the ruins of one of the most violent and atrocious genocides in recorded history. The greed within the US continues to find us as a nation guilty of deep human rights violations even within our own borders. In contrast to the actual protection of human rights, the US has elevated the right of corporations to profit from the poisoning of our air and water through fossil fuel extraction. Our government is using violence, fear, surveillance, intimidation and our own legal system against those that would stand for the planet and for human rights.
Human rights are not simply words that are carelessly placed on pages. Human rights are not a commodity to be traded. Human rights do not belong to governments, they are not bargaining chips in political games. These rights are awarded by the simple virtue of being born onto this planet. It is not for any government to grant or withhold human rights, It is only for governments to protect them.
Human rights violations in any degree are not acceptable and not to be tolerated. For those in this room and for those not present, another cornerstone has been laid by OSCE, OHDIR and these guidelines. We now have only one of two choices: we can resist, fight, kick, scream and continue to be a part of the problem. Or we can roll up our sleeves and join together to build the house of Peace.
As we create this home, we should ask ourselves: Will I find myself sheltered safely within her walls or exposed to the storms without?
Making peace with our planet and Peace with each other is the only option if our species is to survive. There can be no peace without human rights.
The question now is implementation and I applaud the many recommendations. I will offer a reminder that Solidarity is one of the most practical and powerful forms of implementation. I will stand for the protection of all human rights and I will stand for all who defend these rights. Who will stand with me today?
Surveillance of Activist Groups (NY Covil Liberties Union)
Under Surveillance (Eric Ginsburg, YES Magazine, 1/30/13)