Dec. 10 marks Human Rights Day, an opportunity for the world to celebrate global progress toward human dignity and also to recognize how far we have to go to achieve what we deserve.
As this day approached this question began to beset me more than any other time: What is my responsibility as an ordinary citizen of the world toward violations of human rights?
I was only 12 when I read history of the Second World War for the first time. It was traumatic and frightening for a child at that age to know about the genocide and concentration camps. I kept asking my history teacher, my parents and whoever I thought could find an answer for me: “How a human being could do this to another human?”
A decade later at Dachau concentration camp, when I was walking from one chamber to the other and looking at endless photos of prisoners, passing through dark cells and seeing the remains of what had left behind, I still had the same question in my mind. However this time instead of accusing perpetrators of that horrific crime I blamed the people of the world who were silent and let it happen.
I had learned that dictators are dictators and profiteers are just looking for their profits. But I couldn’t understand why people who witnessed this catastrophe could be silent.
I judged them for being ignorant and indifferent while I am also living in an era during which many human rights violations, large and small, are taking place, and I’ve done nothing. Maybe those people had an excuse of not knowing what was happening then but I don’t have that.
In the age of social media, there is no excuse for me to simply say, “I didn’t know.” I saw Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy, lying face down on the beach. He was crossing the sea to reach a safe place, far from a war that he had no fault in. I listened to Nadia Murad’s stories how she was captured and endured as a sex slave at the hands of ISIS. She escaped but there are still many women in captivity. I saw Amal Hussein, a seven-year-old Yemeni girl who starved to death like other 85,000 children in an ongoing civil war.
When I visited Dachau I thought nothing could ever happen worse than that but today I am frightened of the way the world is heading. I thought slavery would never exist again but slave trade is going on in Libya, I thought ethnic cleansing would never happen again but Rohingya people are facing it. I thought forced displacement had ended but Israeli authorities are still forcing Palestinians to leave their homes.
I am a very ordinary citizen in the world. I could hardly make changes in my own personal life let alone to somebody else’s. But, I don’t want to ignore these violations simply because I am not affected or I can’t stop it. I don’t want decades later someone asked: “Where were people when these humanity crisis were happening?”
And that’s why I am writing this, for you, people of the world, to raise our voices together. We can remind the violators of human rights that we are watching them, that we know what they are doing. We can object to their injustice by using our social media accounts, signing the petitions and even writing our opinions for newspapers. Let’s tell them that we don’t want another war in the Middle East; we are concerned for the migrant caravan members who deserve a better life; we want gun control and gender equality; we want freedom of speech, freedom of religion. We want human rights for everyone.
There is no need to be a famous political activist, journalist or human rights lawyer to do so. History has shown that changes came about when people like us want them. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus, when Mother Teresa dedicated her life to people in need, when Mahatma Gandhi faced down the British colonialists with stirring speeches and non-violent protest. We’ve seen how the Me Too movement has helped bring a number of offenders to justice after years of harassment and abusing their power.
The world is not an ideal place but we can make a difference if we choose not to look the other way, if we choose to speak out when we see such violations taking place. We can make change happen if we take seriously these responsibilities toward our neighbours, our fellow citizens and our fellow human beings.