Reaping, sowing, Courting: The Amnesty Magna Carta garden

It was probably a similar scorcher of a day back in June 1215 when some pushy barons gathered in the shade of a yew tree in Runneymede and, with King John, there signed a document which set out the principle that the ruler is subject to the law, not above it.

Of course they could hardly have anticipated that, 800 years on, an anniversary garden at the Hampton Court Flower Show would celebrate that historic moment and the subsequent legislation it underpins. The garden is open to the public from today until Sunday, and is well worth a visit.

The centrepiece of the ‘Amnesty International Magna Carta 800’ garden is a tree, which represents that Ankerwycke Yew in Runnymede under which Magna Carta was signed.

The tree is surrounded by five others which represent Magna Carta’s “offspring”: The Bill of Rights (1689); The Slavery Abolition Act (1833); The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), described by Eleanor Roosevelt as the “international Magna Carta for all mankind”; The European Convention on Human Rights (1950), and The Human Rights Act (UK 1998).

Frederic Whyte, the garden’s designer wanted to place Magna Carta at the centre and to show how the ripple effect of progress leads all the way to modern protections. A babbling brook runs through the garden, illustrating free speech and debate. Debate and controversy, of course, surround human rights protections in this country today.

The garden was opened yesterday by ‘The Hobbit’ actor Ryan Gage, who spoke passionately of how echoes of Magna Carta can be found in today’s society, and pointed out that the essence of the Magna Carta lies not just in what it said, but in what is has come to represent as the forebear of future protections and legislation. Indeed it has become and almost totemic byword for rights and recourse – like habeas corpus is to justice, its literal meaning dwarfed by its iconic status.

“A society grows great when old men plant trees under whose shade they know they will never sit”, goes the proverb. I thought of that yesterday when on Radio 4, the proposition was put; if you knew that the world as you knew it, including the human species, would be wiped out by an asteroid 30 days after you died, would it change the way you live your life?

You’ve got to hope it would. But actually with my generation’s penchant for flying, burning, fishing, eating, scorching and wasting it’s hard to imagine how we’d turn it up a gear if the prospect of an End Days party actually became  reality.

Along with Ryan Gage yesterday, two children were in the garden, planting the final flowers. They were there to represent the generation who stand to be disinherited of their rights, should the Human Rights Act be scrapped as per government proposals.

It is Amnesty’s job to protect the rights protected in the act not just for posterity, not just for today, but to throw that same shade on future generations.

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The garden was awarded the silver gilt award by judges yesterday. You can nominate it for the peoples’ choice award here.


About Amnesty UK Blogs
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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