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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The power and downfall of the masses

GHRD participated in another FLARE meeting last week, this time in Bari, southern Italy. I had the privilege to meet and listen to Mr Luigi Ciotti, president of Libera, the largest network against the mafia in Italy. For obvious reasons, this man is most wanted and he has miraculously survived years of assassination attempts. When this honorable man sat down in front of me, turned around and shook my hand, for a moment, I felt afraid. A pathetic thought crossed my mind; what if someone will attack him now, when I am behind him? In the next second, I felt a strong wave of guilt. What a coward! There are people willing to sacrifice their lives for something they believe in, and then you are afraid to even sit behind one of them? What kind of human rights defender are you? Well obviously, a human rights officer, with emphasis on office. I felt pathetic.

Then, luckily, I gained some strength again when taking part in a huge demonstration against the mafia. It felt powerful and important to walk there in the burning sun, shouting “FREEDOM LEGALITY AND RIGHTS IN EUROPE” amongst 100,000 people, all brought together around one common goal; to speak out against corruption and organized crime. There is something extraordinary about public manifestations where thousands of strangers with different background, age, gender, nationality and religion have taken a standpoint about something that matters to them, and then unite to express this position.

Tragically, another protest was brutally smashed down at almost the same moment. Dozens of innocent Tibetians are feared dead, many are arrested and likely to be tortured or ‘disappear’ - simply because they claimed their right to peaceful demonstration. My thoughts are in Tibet today.

It’s safe being a ‘human rights officer’ in The Hague.