If you haven’t come across The Elders already, you will soon – not least because we are partnering with them on their Every Human Has Rights campaign.

On Sunday morning I sat in on a conference call with three of The Elders – Graça Machel, Mary Robinson and Archbishop Desmond Tutu – and 5 bloggers from Global Voices (including Solana Larsen, who blogged here and here). The odd technical hiccup aside, it was fascinating to hear these titans of international human rights speak so passionately of the power of individual stories of human rights to create change – and, in the words of Graça Machel, of the role that sites like the Hub can play in “helping the world to know.”

Desmond Tutu kicked off the call, marking International Human Rights Day as “the beginning of a year-long commemoration, a celebration of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.” [UPDATE, 10 Dec: audio versions of the UDHR here] The Elders hope, he said, in what would comfortably be the largest sign-up/pledge/petition ever, to “encourage [and] persuade a billion people to sign the declaration to take possession of what is an incredible legacy.”

That’s an astonishing target – and Tutu was clear that “if the people are not engaged, then you can forget it. […] When we were struggling against apartheid, we talked about people power – galvanising what are usually called ‘ordinary people’ – there are no ordinary people, everyone is extraordinary.”

Mary Robinson referred to the “extraordinary power of communication”, and she had kind words for not only the Hub, but also openDemocracy, Global Voices, and Business & Human Rights. “We want to amplify marginalised voices, that tend not to be heard,” said Desmond Tutu, stressing the importance of “people being able to tell their own story – of human rights abuses, of human rights being recognised and enjoyed” and “people’s own journey in claiming their rights, and exercising their responsibilities and duties.”
Continuing the theme, Mary Robinson quoted Eleanor Roosevelt, and stressed her call for “concerted citizen action”:

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

But it was left to Graça Machel to speak particularly of human rights organisations at the grassroots. She made clear the Elders’ own feeling of “responsibility to bring forward the stories of the world,” but she recognised the power of new media to do the same with real immediacy, and she appealed to bloggers to bring out “stories of resistance and success.” And then she hit on what we see as one of the Hub’s most important roles: “For [the Every Human Has Rights] campaign to be global,” it needs to connect with “small organisations that don’t have the space or the resources to get recognition or power.” We’re looking forward to playing a role in helping those organisations tell their stories to wide audiences – and, in the process, in “helping the world to know.”

And you have a part to play too: Tell Your Story

[Note: WITNESS’ co-founder, Peter Gabriel, was also instrumental in forming the Elders project.]

3 thoughts on “A brief chat with The Elders for International Human Rights Day…

  1. It is very unfortunate that the declaration includes declarations of the right to infringe upon the liberties of others, for I cannot, in good conscience, sign it.

    I wish that there were a reduced declaration of "mere liberty and justice", that would refrain from dictating social, economic and religious values that are not shared by a majority of the people of the world. This would make the declaration a much more effective tool to fight against the worst and most horrific and universally offensive forms of injustice and brutality — forms which are indecently pervasive. It is easy for the wealthy and comfortable to postulate rights to convenience, but by doing so they rob the worlds real victiims of their just hopes.

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