Steve Sinnott - a human rights tribute

Teachers' leader Steve Sinnott died last weekend. As leader and previously deputy general secretary of the NUT, he had close relations with its sister unions in Northern Ireland, the Ulster Teachers' Union and the Irish National Teachers Organisation.

He was also a big supporter of Amnesty International and had collaborated with us, over many years, on common concerns about human rights and education – both overseas and closer to home.

It was natural, then, that he became a very early supporter of Lift Off, Amnesty's partnership with the UTU and INTO for human rights education in primary schools, north and south, in Ireland.

He wanted to know how he could help. So, when the budget was stretched and we needed support in kind in the shape of graphic design and layout for our first teachers' resource book, he quietly offered the services of the NUT. It was a great piece of work – the resource book prospers and has now been joined by two complementary texts for different age ranges, all of which have recently been distributed to every primary school in Northern Ireland.

I met Steve and his wife, Mary, a few years ago at the Amnesty International Media Awards, when I got a chance to thank him personally for his and the union's support. He will be missed by many in Northern Ireland - as a friend of education and of human rights.

My colleague Mike reminds me that Steve's work for teachers and for human rights went well beyond these borders.

In 2000, he risked his life in going into an Ethiopian jail to visit and come out with a picture of Dr Taye Woldesemiate, the then Ethiopian Teachers Association president and an Amnesty International 'prisoner of conscience'. Steve's intervention helped to focus attention on the case, thousands of letters were sent to the Ethiopian government and, two years later, Dr Taye walked free.

Steve recently returned to Ethiopia to focus attention on the current plight of teachers in the country, many of whom still find themselves persecuted. He helped make a TV programme, recently broadcast by Teachers TV.

The last word goes to Steve Sinnott himself: "I believe that we cannot teach global citizenship in our classrooms, without us attempting to practice that ourselves.”

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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