Know your rights: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in cartoons
Illustrating our human rights with cartoons, some of them very funny indeed, might seem a frivolous response to the abuses going on in the world today.
But not according to Syria’s foremost political cartoonist Ali Ferzat, whose eye-catching illustration is on the cover of Amnesty’s and Waterstones’ new booklet Know Your Rights. Ferzat, whose wordless cartoons poke fun remorselessly, was assaulted and his hands broken in 2011 in the effort to repress him.
It didn’t work.
He left Syria and was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine last year. It’s really interesting to look up Ferzat’s work: you’ll see that the vast majority of his cartoons deal with the right to freedom of expression. And that’s coming from the bloodbath that is Syria.
‘When I draw, it is like a voice is shouting inside of me.’
Why is Article 19 so important? Why doesn’t Ferzat focus on our rights to life or safety? Or our right not to be tortured? Aren’t these more relevant to Syrians suffering today?
I guess that Ferzat thinks that freedom of expression is as fundamental to life as safety is. It’s the right to say what we want to say in the way that best suits us. For writers and artists, this means digging deep into their imaginations and creative powers. For others, it might be a conversation in a pub. After all, Amnesty began 52 years ago because founder Peter Benenson was horrified to read about two Portuguese students who’d been jailed for lifting their glasses in a toast to freedom.
I love the profoundly British response to this – were people shocked that imprisonment came as a result of toasting freedom, or because the very British sanctuary of relaxing over a beer had been violated? Either way, thousands of letters poured in and Amnesty began.
‘It’s nice to be able to draw anything you want without being arrested.’
Michael Heath, cartoonist
This little booklet came about through Amnesty and Waterstones talking and recognising that we share some core values. Communication of stories lies at the heart of both organisations, and neither could function without the right to freedom of expression. In fact without it, even this little booklet wouldn’t exist. It’s as simple as that. The artists wouldn’t be able to create or share their cartoons and we wouldn’t be able to enjoy them. They would be stifled and we would be deprived. The artists understand this very well and contributed with a passion.
‘The Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishes the fact that mankind has a conscience and that for us to survive we must attend to that conscience.’
Know Your Rights contains the full text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one of the most thoughtful documents ever written. Many people sneer at ‘human rights’ as something that undermines British society. Irresponsible media feed us myths, which aggravate tensions. They ignore the fact that the European Convention on Human Rights (inspired by the UDHR) was proposed by none other than Winston Churchill, in the wake of two world wars. He knew that human rights can protect us from the worst of human excesses.
So if you want to own a little piece of human rights history for yourself (featuring the likes of Liza Donnelly, Marf, David Shrigley, Chris Riddell, Stephen Appleby, Tony Husband, Neil Kerber and more), get down to your local Waterstones or to our online shop and buy one for yourself and several for family and friends. At the very least, it will make you smile and think.
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.