December 10th, 2021. Paris – International Human Rights Day
In the city where exactly 73 years ago the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, two students of Global Governance from Tor Vergata University of Rome, have been given the opportunity to assist in the Conference ‘20 ans de la Citoyenneté d’honneur de la Ville de Paris’. Welcomed by the splendour and the richness of the room in which the honorary citizenship has been appointed for 20 years in the Hotel de Ville, they took their seats completely unaware of what was about to happen.
I was one of those lucky students, and I felt the urge to share with the whole Global Governance community at Tor Vergata the incredible testimonies and stories of people who sacrificed a lot to protect human rights. Stories like Mumia Abu-Jamal’s, a militant afro-american journalist convicted of a murder and sentenced to death in 1981 for a crime he didn’t commit. Despite Mumia was on the death row, he carried on with his job, writing books and giving comments on social and political issues. In 1995 he became the symbol of the ‘fight against death’ penalty. Thanks to the activism of the international community, Mumia, though he has been sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, keeps fighting from jail. The writer Claude Guillaumaud-Pujol, who has been following his case from the beginning, shared with us the real struggle that exists behind the bars.
Can Dündar, a successful Turkish journalist shared his testimony where in 2015, he found himself persecuted by the state for publishing ‘sensitive’ material in his newspaper. Ever since, he has lived in exile in Germany. He lost the freedom to have a normal life, to feel safe and to spend time with his family; he sacrificed everything for the freedom of expression. Once the Convention was over, I asked Can if having known all the consequences that his article would provoke, he would do it again. Without any hesitation he answered: ‘Yes, definitively’.
Loujain Al-Hathloul, a Saudi activist for human rights, arrested and released on several occasions for defying the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia also shared her story. She was arrested in 2018 and released only in 2021. Despite this, she is still subjected to many restrictions such as the impossibility of exiting the country, and in fact the story has been told by her sister.
Oleg Sentsov, is another victim of his ideas. He is an Ukraenian filmmaker, writer and activist who has been sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment in Siberia on charges of plotting terrorism acts. Thanks to Amnesty International, he has been freed after 5 years, but he stills claims freedom for Crimea.
Solafa Magdy and Esraa Abdel Fattah are two Egyptian journalists and activists released in 2021 after several months in jail. Solafa during the Conference, made an appeal in Arabic on behalf of all egyptian prisoners. She thanked Paris for giving her the chance to express herself freely and for giving her freedom and a possibility to reunite with her family. Esraa also appended with her compatriot but still waits for the release of her husband who is still in jail.
Hauwa Ibrahim, our professor, the reason behind our participation in the Convention, is a Nigerian human rights lawyer. She defended over 150 cases involving women sentenced to death by stoning and children sentenced to amputation of limbs under Sharia law. As she ended her speech, she said “We all are immigrants in this world, we come and we go, we are all humans.”
I will never forget the atmosphere of vulnerability, belonging and strength that was present in the room. These people, even if they look like superheroes, are also humans who can feel pain, grow emotionally and believe. They believe in this world, they believe in humanity and they are not scared of protecting it at every cost. These people sacrificed everything for Human Rights.
Anytime that you find yourself doubting if there is still something valuable in the human species, if it is worth fighting for the planet and humanity when everything seems rotten and corrupted, think of these people, because they would do it again.