Human rights defenders give a first hand account of their work

Human rights defenders give a first hand account of their work

30th April 2014


POLITICALLY minded students have been given a first hand account of the fight for justice and equality in war torn Asia and Africa.

Politics students at The King’s Academy, in Coulby Newham, listened to human rights defenders Manouri Kalugampitiya and Abdi Ibrahim as they explained the struggle for women’s rights in Sri Lanka and the atrocities and unrest in Somalia following civil war.

Sri Lankan activist and editor of the Samabima newspaper Manouri told students about her fight for greater political representation of women within her country’s government.

“Women make up more than half of the population of Sri Lanka but we have the lowest political representation in the whole of South Asia," she said.

“Women in my country are mainly migrant workers in the tea and garment industry but account for the majority of workers in the heath and education sector, yet we still struggle to get women’s rights on the agenda."

Somalian born journalist Abdi spoke about facing persecution on a daily basis for reporting on the atrocities of war and how seven of his colleagues had been killed for speaking out against the current regime.

“The work I do is to investigate the many things happening in my country such as the rape of women, people displaced because of famine and the violence caused by civil war," he explained.

Last year he was arrested by government soldiers and jailed for two months after interviewing a rape victim.

“After lots of international pressure I was released but I was told by the soldiers that if I continued with my journalism I would be killed, like so many of my colleagues," he said.

Fearing for their lives Abdi and Manouri, along with other activists from around the world, came to the UK to The Centre for Applied Human Rights, at York University, which hosts a Protective Fellowship Scheme for human rights defenders at risk.

Under the scheme, up to ten defenders per year are able to join the centre for training, networking and rest from a difficult working environment.

Abdi added: “I live in one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist and an activist but I need to be brave and speak out about what is happening in my country. We need to continue our work to make sure we can live in a peaceful world where everyone has the right to be heard and enjoy their life.

“The Centre for Human Rights helps us to come to an environment that is not hostile and meet other people from around the world who are facing similar issues."

Politics teacher at The King’s Academy Jenni Yuill added: “For our students, hearing from Manouri and Abdi gives them a real international perspective in terms of developing their political studies.

“It brings home the reality of what is happening in the world and how people like Manouri and Abdi are working to change things for the better.”

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