Youth leaders voice concerns on human rights

By Davina Patel and Tracie Mooneyham

Davina Patel and Tracie Mooneyham

Youth leaders gathered virtually on Thursday, 10 December to voice concerns over the impact of COVID-19 on human rights. The panel of four speakers spoke about their concerns on human rights abuses that range from refugee rights to homelessness. With over 50 people attending from six different countries, the event brought together diverse perspectives from both the speaker and participant aspects.

The event was hosted jointly by Initiatives of Change’s Sustainable Communities programme and International Centre for Eritrean Refugees and Asylum Seekers (ICERAS), and facilitated with our young professionals Faith-Rose Chattaika and Adeel Younas. The event was held in order to recognize the 72nd anniversary of the universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year’s theme relates to the COVID-19 pandemic and focuses on the need to build back better. Grave violations and abuses of human rights are being perpetuated at an alarming rate in our society, yet too many people particularly those in power, are hostile or indifferent to these claims. It is only through the inclusion of all voices, of today’s youth, that we can build back better and break the cycle of human rights abuses.

Professor Gibril Faal FRSA, OBE, JP, who delivered the keynote speech, gave a stark reminder that grave human rights violations are happening every day. He warned of evil systems that cannot be seen but are doing irrefutable damage to humanity. He gave five suggestions of how young people can use their voice to be heard but also to be the cause of change: ‘Facts are not enough; stories are needed as humans are hard wired to respond to stories but never recall facts. Reason is not enough, emotional connection and contact is needed. The orthodoxy is not sacrosanct, it is to be challenged and questioned as complacency causes setbacks in progress. In dealing with evil systems, strategy and vision is not enough, it needs to be supplemented by tactics. And finally, courage is essential.’

During the event, several voices added their perspectives to the conversation. Merve Aslangoren, a 25-year-old refugee from Turkey currently living in Birmingham, provided context from her perspective as the chair of Human Rights Solidarity. She started studying law in Turkey, but after a government-issued emergency decree shut down her university she decided to be a human rights activist. At Human Rights Solidarity, the aim is to protect the human rights of the next generation. As a part of that aim, Merve and other activists provide open platforms for the younger generation to stand up for issues they are passionate about.

Daniela Scotece, a former solicitor who is now Managing Director of Safe Roots Housing, spoke on the importance of standing up for basic human needs – specifically housing. Working in the criminal justice system opened her eyes to the ‘revolving door’ of homelessness and she made the commitment to advocating for change and influencing local policy makers. ‘What we need to do is work together to create pathways to change and look at the relationships between young people that have been in the care system and that of the prison population,’ she told participants. ‘We can’t do this on our own. It starts with me, but it starts with linking with like-minded people and various organisations that share our values and our ethos.’

Linking seemingly different backgrounds, or organisations, was a theme that brought the diverse voices of this event together. Oyin Adebayo, who runs a multifaceted organisation called Niyo Enterprise, specialises in using creative tools such as hair, beauty, and tech to develop and economically empower black women. Though the connection to human rights is not as obvious as Human Rights Solidarity or Safe Roots Housing, Oyin spoke about women’s rights as an aspect of human rights for sustainable self development – a key growth driver in underdeveloped countries. ‘Can you imagine if we give more spending power to women, give more equality to the woman to be able to run her business, to be able to be in corporate spaces, and actually make decisions?’ she asked participants. ‘What we find is that we’d have a more equal world.’

Finally, providing yet another interconnected perspective related to business development and human rights was Rumbi Mukoyi who founded African Youth Arise (AYA). With African countries experiencing ‘stop and search’ policing, which leads to violence on both sides of the equation, AYA is initiating dialogues in communities between youth, police, and policymakers to create understanding. Often a simple human story makes all the difference: ‘We’ve had facts thrown at us. But what we don’t realize is the stories that are behind those facts, and how they make an impact. And when I think in terms of human rights, it’s all about the fact we’re humans.’ ‘When youth voices are heard,’ she continued, ‘they’re encouraged to continue their education and identify places where changes can be made.’

As the event wound to a close, the speakers and participants alike shared their thoughts and renewed their dedication to peace and good governance as a critical part of addressing human rights in the coming year. With such passionate contributions and high energy to mobilize in their own capacity, concerns were transformed into commitments – to be the change and make a difference in the fight for human rights recognition.

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