Friday, December 10, 2010

Human Rights Day Today

The librarian from Odessa arrested for advocating the right of Ukrainians to use their native language. She was declared insane and confined in a maximum security psychiatric hospital. A gentle woman in a white blouse and plaid skirt, we get to meet her years after.  As also a psychiatrist who refused to declare dissidents mentally ill.  For this he was himself sent to prison.  I remember when we got reports that he was on hunger strike, being forcibly fed and drugged with antipsychotic medications. And there he sits, years later, across the table from us, sharing a coffee.  The Tibetan monk, describing the instruments of torture to which he and his cell mates had been subjected, recounts the gnawing hunger and frequent beatings, that prisoners ate rats and shoelaces to quell their hunger pains. These were the survivors, the ones who eventually got out.   So many, many more that didn't; now new ones being arrested and imprisoned every day.

So here it is 2010 and not much has changed.  You write letters, sign petitions, send words of support, march in protest, hold candlelight vigils, all of which helps bring attention to the situation, but it's not enough.  Because it's still happening, it's still going on, people are still being imprisoned and tortured for what they think or believe or write or say.

My mom used to have a little Indian saying posted in her kitchen, something about walking a mile in someone else's moccasins and I  wondered if I could stand just five minutes in someone else's shoes in a dark cell, being starved or beaten, not being allowed contact of any kind with loved ones, knowing it'd be years before I got out or even if I ever would--all because of something I wrote.  Still, that's in the realm of imagination only.  I could maybe "imagine" it but I don't ever see it as happening to me.  But it could.  I mean, I could one day be in the wrong place at the wrong time and express an opinion or write something that might anger certain officials and suddenly find myself in a similar position as those for whom I once wrote letters.

Your browser does not have the necessary plugin to display this content.

According to Amnesty International,  “Too many perpetrators are getting away with some of the worst crimes known to humanity."  Amnesty surveyed conditions in 159 countries last year, noting that "people were tortured in 111 nations" and that “human rights abusers enjoyed impunity for torture in at least 61 countries.”
The report sharply criticized some of the world’s largest and most powerful nations for not fully signing up to the International Criminal Court  — notably the United States, China, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Russia.[1]

Because I was once energetically involved in human rights work, this day--December 10--when it arrives every year, jolts me out of my complacency.  What have I done lately to help further human rights in the world?  When's the last time I wrote a letter to or for a prisoner of conscience?  Or even thought much about it?   It's not enough to know that injustice happens, that it continues to happen.  Does one ever "retire" from activism?  Yes and no; no and yes.  So many other things on one's plate these days, so many other things clamoring for and eating one's time.  You profess to care, my little voice nudges me.  Care how?  But really, how much effort would it take to write one letter?  Is once a year, on the anniversary of Human Rights Day, enough?  Could writing one letter really make a difference?  Well today at least there will be many people all over the world doing just that--writing one letter.[2]

 Liu Xiaobo on the effect of just one letter:
One Letter Is Enough

for Xia

one letter is enough
for me to transcend and face
you to speak
as the wind blows past
the night
uses its own blood
to write a secret verse
that reminds me each
word is the last word
the ice in your body
melts into a myth of fire
in the eyes of the executioner
fury turns to stone
two sets of iron rails
unexpectedly overlap
moths flap toward lamp
light, an eternal sign
that traces your shadow

~ ~ Liu Xiaobo

Translated by Jeffrey Yang
 [From:  PEN American Center]

They wouldn't let him attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.  His wife is under house arrest. They wouldn't let her go either. He was supposed to receive his award today.  It's the first time in 75 years that no representative of the winner was allowed to make the trip to receive the medal.[3]  He may not be getting out soon, but his words are.  Greywolf Press will be publishing his poetry collection, and Harvard University a selection of his works, in 2012.  

Not everyone being incarcerated for their writings or peaceful activism is as famous or well-known as Xiaobo.  Scores of others are complete unknowns, caught up nevertheless in the web of injustice.  You rarely hear about them. Some vague notion occasionally, but it seems so far from one's daily life.  Not something one thinks about a lot, or even at all.  Even for those who follow such things, sometimes silence is too easy.  It takes over, becomes habitual:  Situation noted.  Now what. 

Maybe it's time to go bang some pans in the street, as Molly Ivins once suggested.  Or write a letter.  Something.  Anything.  My inner voice just won't let this go for some reason.  These are fellow human beings.  They could be us. We could be them. We are them--all in this together.  Some of us just get to be more free than others, get to have our say without repercussion.  Should be something that's possible for all.  (In a perfect world.  Which of course it isn't.)  (Okay, off the soapbox now.) Anyway ....if anyone cares to join in and write a letter,  grab a pen.  Get a stamp.  Some cases and addresses can be found here

Words matter.

No comments: