Our right to freedom of speech gives us the opportunity to stand up for those who have been denied their rights.
The international media play a very important role in bringing attention to human rights violations. Some groups, however, are often forgotten.
In this section, we will shine a light on their stories.
The Red Cross: The start of neutral medical care
By Gerlien Spijkerboer on the 8th of May, 2018
The 8th of May is described as The International Day of the Red Cross. Many of us will recognise the bold red cross and its white background. The Red Cross is an organisation which was founded back in the 19th century. Swiss banker and volunteer, Henry Dunant, set eyes on the Battle of Solferino in 1859 and witnessed the mass of injured soldiers left to die on the battlefield. What particularly struck Dunant was the lack of helping hands available at the scene, an absence that caused the loss of many lives. After this experience he travelled to a nearby village to assemble a group of volunteers to take care of the wounded soldiers. Within a few days, an improvised field hospital brought shelter to those who were left to die on the fields. Dunant was confident and emphasized that every wounded person in times of conflict should get the medical help they need, regardless of which side they are fighting for. Although taking such action may seem logical, the organisation he set up, ‘The International Committee of the Red Cross’, in 1863 was the first of its kind.
In the 20th century, WWI and WWII followed, events that shook the world and destabilised the trust many people had in mankind’s dignity. Both wars displayed the great inhumanities that may be committed against one another. Nevertheless, in both wars the International Red Cross’ caretakers endeavoured to provide medical help on the battlefields. Additionally, we should also remember the help they have provided and continue to provide during crises worldwide, such as hurricanes, famine, earthquakes and floods. Dunant marked a great turning point in mentalities by determining life as a human right, which should be protected in all cases. Whether a soldier is on the attacking of defensive side during war, whether a civilian is on the government’s or opposition’s side during conflict, or whether one is rich or poor in periods of famine, through forming the Red Cross, Dunant created an organisation that supports the human right of life for every resident of this earth.
This was just a small piece on a date worth noticing. Please watch the video below to learn more about the early days of Dunant and its work on human rights through The Red Cross.
Would you like to know more? Take a look at the website of the International Committee of the Red Cross: https://www.icrc.org/
A tiny bit of history of LGBT in Cuba
By Thea Lyngseth on the 17th of February, 2018
A couple of years ago, during my gap year I had already then planned to go to Cuba. Growing up in Spain, my parents knew a couple, Maria*, Swedish and Eduardo*, Spanish. They travelled to Cuba a lot and were very familiar with the country and its ways. Every time they arrived they brought abundance of articles to give to their friends, things that were not possible to find in Cuba. They had throughout the years helped Cubans obtain a visa to leave.
I told them my wish to visit the island, I eagerly explained that I wanted to see the vintage cars, the people, and in a picturesque scenario write stories, much in the way of Ernest Hemingway. Maria, blatantly stated that it was not like that at all. She sat me down and began to talk. Cuba is nothing like what you think it is, she told me, so if you go prepare yourself. And if you go then you must live with Jorge*.
A few detours, side steps and two and a half years later, my friend and I went to Havana, Cuba for two weeks this winter holiday. We stayed with Jorge. In Cuba it is only possible to live in a hotel (owned by the state) or in a casa particular (private homes that have government permission to rent rooms out, but of course must pay a monthly fee to the government, regardless on how many times you have guests). During our stay in Havana we spent most of our time on the streets hanging out with locals. The Cubans that we became well acquainted with, shared every day stories with us, scenarios of events, thoughts and feelings on what was going on in Cuba. Cubans are very proud of their nationality and share a lot of what they find beautiful in their culture. On the other hand, I don’t think there was any person we did not talk to who criticised some aspect of the way the country was governed.
Though the country, indeed is very picturesque and wonderful, I no longer had the Ernest Hemingway romanticised ideal of it, because Cuba in many ways is a country far from romantic. It is a world of its own, and most people are isolated from the outside. This is what was often recurring statement in conversations, reminded us of the fact that we could leave, many could never.
During our late dinners with Jorge, he would tell us stories. He explained that most days someone tries to escape to Miami, they call it the second largest city of Cuba, being that Miami has two million Cubans while Havana has three.
One of our first days in Cuba we entered a book shop. A lot of books were on display outside, while the room within was filled with books in every crook and cranny. There were a few customers walking around observing the vast amount of books to read. The owner of the book shop began to elaborate outloud and quickly to a couple about a book he was holding in his hand. It was Ruben Gallo’s Teoria y Practica de la Habana. A controversial book cover, the symbolic photo of Che Guevara covered with make up on a pink background. The owner of the book shop, began telling the history of the LGBT community in Cuba after the revolution.
That evening during dinner we asked Jorge about the LGBT community in Cuba. Jorge told us that being gay in Cuba has changed a lot, “now everyone wants to be gay.” This is of course not true, but the way he talked about it was how the cultural attitude towards homosexuality had in itself revolutionized in time.
From the beginning of the socialist revolution in 1959 Cuba, several thousands of Cubans migrated to the United States to find refuge. Castro’s regime was homophobic on a large scale. Amongst many other abuse such as freedom of speech, freedom to practice religion and freedom of expression.
The revolution was seen in part as a liberation from a dictatorship, and the general idea was that the revolution constituted a huge change with freedom and hope. However, much of the change was not for the better. This was in the case for the LGBT community. Homosexual expression in the island was virtually unaccepted. The Public Ostentation law, that had been legislated of the previous government continued to be a law. People who expressed their homosexual orientation in public were to be persecuted. Building on this law, change in Cuba’s legislation targeted the LGBT community and criminalized homosexuality. In the 60s, men were incarcerated in UMAP (Military Units to Aid Production) these were labour camps designed specifically for converting them into heterosexual men.
Cuba’s LGBT community’s rights has gone from one extreme of the spectrum to the other in the past fifty five years. The Cuban LGBT community, have been patient and endured a substantial amount of abuse until finally gradual change began. In 1979, penal code of homosexual acts was removed as a criminal offense. Policies were changed gradually. Finally, in 1986, several more laws in the penal code were annulled, and several people who had been imprisoned for these illegal acts were not released. Films made by the government were produced, explaining that discrimination against the LGBT community was not permitted. Furthermore, “the medical community in Cuba began to describe homosexuality as a natural minority condition rather than a perverse choice.” (Source: Persecution to Acceptance? The History of LGBT Rights in Cuba. Retrieved February 15, 2018, from http://www.coha.org/from-persecution-to-acceptance-history-of-lgbt-in-cuba/) In 2008 the Cuban government, has now permitted for doctors to perform sex change operations.
Raul Castro, brother of Fidel, the current leader of Cuba has publicly supported LGBT rights. Mariela Castro, the daughter of Raul, she is the director of the National Centre for Sex Education (CENESEX) which is a government funded organization, advocating for LGBT issues.
Our last night in Cuba we ended up, quite randomly in a gay bar, entering in the middle of a drag queen show. It was a full house, mostly men, from Cuba and all over the world, cheering along the performances. What I found beautiful behind the extravagant dresses, money being placed in bras, lip singing passionately to Spanish music and Beyoncé songs, it was that here, in this bar was a place in Havana, where gay people could come and just be. There were several older men and it occurred to me how liberating it must be for them, having grown up in a time where being gay would send you to labour camps, and now there was a place for them to simply just be themselves.
It is still an ongoing struggle in Cuba, as it is in the rest of the world. Gay rights activists are still being imprisoned, mistreated, fired. Mariela Castro is currently building a consensus for the approval for same sex marriage law. The situation has altered in Cuba and continue to do so.
Cuba has remained a communist country since 1959, within the communist regime things have developed, likewise in Cuban culture. Culture isn’t static, its always changing and as history as shown the LGBT community went from being discriminated and persecuted to now being socially accepted and the state publicly supporting gay rights.
*names have been changed
International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female
By Gerlien Spijkerboer on the 6th of February, 2018
Yesterday was a special day, dedicated to all the women and girls who suffer from genital mutilation.
There it is, the G-word out and bright on the screen.
It is not a case that is easily forgotten or hided in common western culture, nevertheless some kind of taboo accompanies ‘genital’ and similar terms. This could on the one hand be caused by the over sexualising of female shape and bodily characteristics in the growing globalized world, but also by the medical nature of the term. Like the female genitals are something to hide and only cherish in private sphere. Whether or not we should light the discussion on the taboo surrounding female body parts in the west, we would like to remind you of the origin of this date. Even today, women and girls are physically and mentally harmed in several African cultures. The act of circumcision on itself is accompanied by a lack of hygiene, violence and especially: no freedom of choice. In most tribes, the girls have no opportunity to choose if they want to carry on the cultural habit or not. The long term effects of the circumcisions are horrible, such as chronic pain and even infertility.
But most of all, this should be something we can talk about in the modern world. Luckily the ritual of circumcision is becoming less common, due to education by local projects against circumcision. This is not a call for the westernization of African cultures. Each culture has its own traditions, but involuntary circumcision under bad circumstances should be seen as a violation of human rights.
There should always be a choice and when acted upon, access to humane methods.
If you would like to know more on the topic, we would like to forward you to Plan Nederland. This is not a sponsored piece, but this organization does marvellous work to ensure women’s and girls’ rights all over the world and we would like to share it with you. They did a campaign against female genital mutilation last weeks and collect signatures to stop this harmful act. Also, the photographer Ilvy Njiokiktjien made a reportage on the work of Plan and created a photo serie on stories of girls who live in parts of Africa where female circumcision is practiced. Ilvy was interviewed by Vice [Dutch]. ALso, sign this petition by Plan Nederland to stop female genital mutilation ASAP.
By Alice Baker on the 7th of December
As we approach 10th December, we come to commemorate the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly. With its broad range of political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights, the Declaration, although not a binding document, has inspired more than 60 human rights instruments which together ensure that an international standard of human rights is upheld.
“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.” – Nelson Mandela
On this day in 1948, the world witnessed a distinct proclamation of unconditional rights, rights that everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being. From this point on, the UN held and continues to hold steadfast that “regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status,” everyone is entitled to human rights.
Although its promise is yet to be fully realised, the fact that it has stood the test of time is perhaps a testament to the core values underpinning it, and the enduring commitment asserted by states and citizens all across the world to the principles of equality, justice and human dignity. We may look around at our world today and feel somewhat disheartened by the violations and injustices that still prevail. However, Human Rights Day reminds people worldwide that these rights are relevant to us all every day, as relevant as they were when signed on that very same day almost 70 years ago.
One letter could change a life. One letter tells the world that everyone deserves their rights.
The universal nature of these values means that we should stand up not only for our own rights, but also for those of others. As we reflect on what this day signifies for global equality, justice and freedom, we should consider those imprisoned or punished for attempting to defend such rights.
In countries across the world, people’s freedom – to speak out against injustice, to not be discriminated against, or to live with their human rights intact – is under threat. For 15 years, Amnesty has led a global letter-writing campaign to not only stand beside people who’ve been tortured, denied refuge, or locked up for speaking out, but to put pressure on governments and decision-makers to make change happen.
This international Human Rights Day, Amnesty supporters worldwide will come together as part of the world’s biggest human rights event to write letters to human rights defenders and to the governments attacking these basic rights. Those millions of letters will show that the world is watching.
Your words make a difference.
Please get involved with our writing campaign! All the details can be found below:
Blog by Emma Haverdings