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Human Rights – right in your backyard

It seems that this month I can't open a newspaper, watch TV or overhear a conversation on my commute without there being a reference to Human Rights. I did wonder if this is just a heightened sensitivity as I approach the conclusion of my third month as the Amnesty International Programme Director in Scotland.

But no, my 9-year-old recently had a lesson on Rights in school, his Cub pack is doing their Global Challenge badge and he wants to talk about it. Eleanor Roosevelt has been referenced more than once recently for her comments about “rights beginning in small places, close to home.” That's certainly my son’s experience as a result of great Human Rights Education materials being available.

Currently, I am working with the Scottish Human Rights Commission as part of a consultation leading to the production of a National Action Plan for Human Rights.

One of Amnesty Scotland’s main focuses is to highlight the appalling conditions Scottish Gypsy Travellers are living in – despite paying Council Tax and rent. Not to mention the absolutely unacceptable level of prejudice they face every day. Just last week, Labour MP for Ayr Central, Brian Donohoe, gave an interview to a local paper in which he called for Irvine citizens to refuse employment to Scottish Gypsy Travellers in an effort to drive them away.

Mr Donohoe’s comments such as “I have very strong feelings on this subject and I ask people to stop giving travellers work” and “If the work stops it will deter them, people have to stop hiring them. This, I am sure will help.” are not only a disgraceful affront to the Human Rights of Scottish Gypsy Travellers but could also be considered incitement to racist behaviour.

In displaying such prejudice Mr Donohoe has clearly failed in his civic duty and acted contrary to the Human Rights Act, which his party delivered whilst in Government. I would demand all civic leaders in Scotland show their determination to protect the rights of all who live in and contribute to this country. If Mr Donohoe's remarks had been made about people from other ethnic groups they would not be tolerated. I hope by the time you read this he will have retracted his comments and made a full apology.

However the news is not all bad! It is an historic time to be working with Amnesty. The world’s eyes were focussed on the much hoped for signing of an Arms Trade Treaty in March and it was finally achieved on 2 April – the result of twenty years of campaigning.

For the first time, this will control the movement of arms and ammunition and is one of the most significant things that can be done to disarm warlords and child soldiers. As a colleague who has been dedicated to this issue for several years said: “…there are tighter controls on the sale of bananas than the exchange of arms”. That doesn't just offend our humanity, it offends common sense. So, when you go to buy bananas to feed your children, be thankful that you don’t live in a country where your 9 year old can’t go to Cubs, or school, or learn about rights because he is forced to be a child soldier, carrying a gun that he will use to kill.

This brings us back to Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote, Human Rights are not things from which we are disconnected by complex international bureaucracy, they are part of our everyday lives, everyday homes. So in small and large ways and in our communities and homes we know about Human Rights and we can act to protect them. Ask a 9-year-old – they seem to get it.

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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