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Friday, December 21, 2007

Banished within and without

I was deeply touched and inspired this week by two women, and although the stories and background of these women are completely different, the essence is the same: imprisonment.

One is Taslima Nasrin - a world famous and outspoken women’s rights activist, forced into exile and a life under constant threat. Ms Nasrin wrote a letter entitled ‘Banished within and without” about how she lives her life: “my world is gradually shrinking. I, who once roamed the streets without a care in the world, am now shackled. Always outspoken, I am now silenced, unable to demonstrate, left without the means of protesting for what I hold dear. […] I spend my existence surrounded by walls: a prisoner.”

The other story concerns a woman who has spent time in an Asian prison and now she is trying to help her friends that are left ‘in hell’ without any contact with the outside world.

Whether physical or mental, and regardless of reason, I can’t think of anything worse than being denied your personal freedom. I can’t imagine how it would feel to be expelled and forced into exile in a foreign country; to be sentenced to life in a remote and primitive prison, tortured in a secret detention center, or how and if I would survive if I was sold into sexual slavery or forced labour.

What I do know is that these are some of the major human rights catastrophes of our time. In Christmas times like this, and whilst being all excited about going back home to friends and family, my thoughts are with all those women, men and children who are unable to do so.

Friday, December 7, 2007

When rights become privileges

We are currently preparing for human rights day that is celebrated worldwide on 10 December. I will proudly spend this day gagged and tied up walking through the rainy streets of The Hague in a silent protest for those who are suffering in silence and silenced after being abused.

Freedom of speech and association is a basic human right and all we had to do was to send a fax to the police and voila’ - we can hit the busy shopping streets with our placards and banners. We are even allowed to enter the parliament to talk to those in power!

It strikes me how privileged we are, and how ironic it is that those that suffer the most, living in countries where there is a true and pressing need to speak out, also are those unable to do so. Freedom of speech is a human right governments easily grant - in countries where it won’t constitute a threat to the said regime.

Indeed this applies not only to civil and political rights but to the general adaptation of international human rights standards as well. Since the creation of the United Nations and the promotion of universal human rights for all, it has been the most repressing regimes that have been objecting the most. The international human rights regime has been rejected as ‘post imperialism’ or ‘western, neo-liberal propaganda’ by governments in attempts to justify practices such as genital mutilation, torture, persecution of minorities and/or homosexuals and gender discrimination.

It is true that the contemporary human rights doctrine was based on a ‘western’ liberal philosophy, and some of the critique may be justified.

Nonetheless, it also appears that the people it is set out to protect - those who are tortured in prisons or forced into exile because of their identity - rarely object to the idea of universal human rights. What they want is the right to live a life in peace, free and equal, regardless of ethnicity, sex, religion or political/sexual orientation.

You can use your democratic freedom and give others a voice by joining us in our protest this Monday, 10 December on Human Rights Day in The Hague.

I am looking forward to meet you there!

For more details about our demonstration see