Amnesty crosses borders

Written by Katrin Jonsdottir, from Iceland, who is spending three months in the Edinburgh office:

If I was a Chinese citizen living in China I  would not have the opportunity to publish this blog today.  The Chinese authorities do not respect the right to freedom of expression and information. Human rights defenders have been detained by the police for their work. It is shocking that in China people such as Shi Tao have been imprisoned for  ten years only for sending an email.  He sent an email with information on the government's response to the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989.

Amnesty opposes the death penalty in all cases, which is still in use in China (and other countries too such as the USA).  What is less known is that the death penalty is used in a very disproportionate manner in China. Two examples of  capital offences are theft and tax evasion. One might hope that globalisation would bring about an increased understanding of other cultures.  The fact that China is hosting the Olympics in 2008 could help create an increased mutual understanding between China and the rest of the world.  One aspect of that could hopefully be that the Chinese government might review their policies in light of development in other countries and reduce the number of capital offences.  This would be in line with the reasons that the Chinese government stated in their bid to host the Olympics, and one of them was to improve the human rights record in China.

Last month, on the 13th of March, I  attended a meeting in the parliament about violence against women who do not have indefinite leave to remain in the UK.  There is a great need to arm women with information about their situation and possibilites when they move to the UK, for example on a spouse visa. To me the report '' No recourse to safety'' , whch was launched at the meeting, reveals a severe lack of respect for the right to life of a limited group of women.  If women have to seperate from their partners due to domestic violence within 2 years from moving to the UK, then there is no governmental funding available to support them in a refuge. Knowing that there is a safe place to go to is critical to women at risk of gender based violence.

The government is responsible for ensuring the appropriate infrastructure in order to protect all women from gender based violence.  Just because a woman does not have indefinite leave to remain in the UK does not mean that she needs that protection any less. I strongly support the suggestion of the Southall Black Sisters that any man who is planning to bring his wife over to the UK from overseas should pay a fixed amount of money as a bond, maybe 5000 pounds.  If his wife has not suffered gender based violence he would get the money back after two years.  However, if the wife has to abandon the marriage within 2 years of stay due to domestic violence, then the money could be used to finance support for her housing and councelling.  It seems ironic to me though that it might actually be necessary to use money to ensure respect for the human rights of women.

What I mean when I say that Amnesty crosses borders is that Amnesty is like a home away from home.  I have attended international conferences twice on behalf of the Icelandic section which are called ''The Nordic Youth Conference'', in 2005 and 2006.  On both occasions I was greatly motivated by meeting people from all over the world who had the same vision as me; to work for human rights and leave their mark on the world. I have been very active in the Icelandic section also and am now working for the UK section in Scotland. The knowledge and experience of these last 5 years enable me to be an even better advocate for human rights.  Here in Scotland I have been able to work for human rights in a friendly and comfortable environment and I do think that the Scottish Amnesty office in Edinburgh is like a home away from home because I know Amnesty very well and have much in common with my work mates.

What I find very clever about Amnesty is its independence towards governments.  Due to its non-governmental funding it is able to campaign about human rights violations regardless of who commits them. This gives the organisation an opportunity  to speak out against human rights violations in any country.  In that way Amnesty crosses geographical borders and holds governments to account, like it is doing now to the Chinese and UK government.

Let us all cross some borders in our minds by learning about human rights in the UK and in other parts of the world.  For information on Amnesty International's campaigns please click 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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