If there is something empowering in the formulation of Human Rights (in its expression through the Universal Declaration of 1948) is the statement -and the acceptance by all signing states- of the fact that we are all born free and equal. And within this sentence is already included the famous second step in article 2 (“without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status “).
It is empowering because of two main reasons: first, it launches a message to everyone: wherever you are, whomever and however, you have the right to resist and to reclaim protection and action to enjoy to be equal, free and have a life with dignity. Second, because it internalises a challenge for every state who signed: it is their duty to protect and guarantee the freedom and equality of every person. And social actors are legitimated to demand that.
In many Raising Peace educational activities we have discussed the universality or not of Human Rights, about whether they are only institutional instruments or valid tools for grassroots action. However, a point of view that we always defend is that, with the Universal Declaration and the following treaties, Human Rights were not generated but recognised; and the role of the state was not to create them from scratch, but to officialise a tradition of defense of such rights by civil society organisations and committed citizens during centuries worldwide. And (even if we recognise, of course, the big jump ahead that such declaration and treaties have meant, and the institutional work within UN and regional commissions and agencies) the situation is still the same: it is the role of civil society organisations and committed citizens to defend their rights, to bring forward their recognition, to advance in deeper and wider guarantee of the legalised rights and the not yet regulated ones.
And this is especially true now again in these times when far right and totalitarian movements and institutionalised parties are taking an important space. This is a moment of a need of defense of values and rights, because while we advanced towards new horizons, totalitarian movements are questioning the essential and first steps. So it is needed to keep advancing worldwide, but also defending the essential achievements.
In the IVS movement, we have been an actor promoting life in diversity since the first international workcamp was held. This was in 1920, and it was a peace initiative to rebuild the houses destroyed close to the border of Germany and France during World War I. We already referred to this first camp during these days, but we never answered why re-building houses was a peace initiative. It was so, and it is still because the basis of the action was to live together in diversity, to work together between old “enemies” to re-create another identity, to break the stereotypes that everyone had and start enjoying a brotherhood between different people united by common goals. And since then, international workcamps continue to be a “school” (non-formal space of learning) for living in diversity, enjoying such life, breaking cultural stereotypes, living in equality and solving daily life conflicts in a non-violent way.
And while we train ourselves and more than 35.000 volunteers every year, we also commit to specific changes. As you will notice from the communication
during today, organisations commit worldwide to counteract racism (see an example on the Raising Peace Camp “Mondiali Antirrazisti” by YAP Italia), to defend a society with no exclusion and no discrimination (see the examples of the camps in Le Mans by Concordia France and in Pazsto by Egyesek), and for sure to defend and celebrate the right to choose the way to live and love regardless of any gender, sexual orientation or any other (you can see as an example the RP Camp in Ukraine by SVIT at the Kyiv Pride
2016). In addition, during the Global Human Rights Week, members are organising activities on today’s theme. In Indonesia, the #LoveYourself Campaign promoted by IIWC, to address equality regardless of gender or sexual orientation; in France, the Peace Action Week by Solidarités Jeunesses brings activists together to learn, to act, to raise awareness on the values of #LivingTogether and Participation.
However, the challenges worldwide (and locally) are enormous -we would like to tell us yours under the hashtag #OurRightsOurVoices. The good news is that we are not alone (and we don’t intend to be the main, just one more relevant actor). Among the great actions which defend the advance on Human Rights on today’s themes, we would like to highlight 3: first, the very present rising of women for dignity that marched in the streets in Argentina and many other cities in Latin America with the mottos #NiUnaMenos (“not one less”), #NosQueremosVivas (we want us alive), to demand and defend the stop of gender violence; second, the unity of grassroots organisations fighting against racism and xenophobia worldwide, around the network United, which has become a powerful voice; and third, a committed institutional initiative which has been able to network with civil society organisations and activists to defend dignity and stop discrimination: the No Hate Speech Movement by the Council of Europe.
With actors like this, we want to advance together. We need to advance together. Because there is the need for action, every day by every person who can. As a final note, I am happy to go now again to the roots of our movement. Pierre Ceresole, the founder of that first workcamp in 1920, had a famous motto, “Deeds not Words”, underlining that change comes from action, and not from political discourse. And the IVS movement has implemented practical action for Peace and Human Rights for almost a hundred years now. However, as our friends at the SCI say these days, “words” (communicating, raising awareness) are also needed for a social change.
This is the kind of contribution we are trying to bring with this Global Human Rights Week.
We keep advancing together. Defending (and enjoying) diversity, participation and non-violent defense of #OurRightsOurVoices.
Events during the Global Human Rights Week related to this topic:
Raising Peace Camps working on this topic: