HUMAN RIGHTS AS A SOURCE OF HOPE AND INSPIRATION
DATE MONDAY, 18. DECEMBER 2023
On 10 December 2023, Initiatives of Change Netherlands (IofC) celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Declaration) in the Great Church in The Hague with Festival Faith in Human Rights. ‘The Declaration is the single most important and the most translated document of the last century’, said guest Mariëlle Vavier, councilor for the municipality of The Hague. 'I am very pleased that we added another translation to the list.' Vavier referred to a Hague translation that IofC presented to more than 200 visitors during the festival.
In his welcome speech, project coordinator Willem Jansen referred to the preliminary stages of the festival. ‘Three years ago, we began with online conversations with human rights experts. This year, we organized a series of dialogues with various organizations that care about human rights. What should a human rights culture look like? And how do we ensure that the residents of The Hague understand their human rights, as Eleanor Roosevelt envisioned in 1948? By focusing on and writing about local human rights in everyday language with everyday people, we thought.’
'In the following year, we worked with educational institutions such as The Hague University of Applied Sciences, InHolland, the Royal Conservatory, and the art academy. There too, the central question was: what does a human rights culture look like?' Building up to the festival, IofC organized the Human Rights Caravan this year. We visited various social and religious organizations and engaged in dialogues about human rights', said Jansen.
Afterward, three speakers gave a personal introduction to human rights. Vavier passionately called for vigilance. 'In the West, we take human rights for granted the same way we take breathing air for granted. Elsewhere, these rights are under attack: we see examples of that in the media every day. But human rights are also under pressure in The Hague. The right to asylum, for example, is under threat. Also, not all residents of The Hague have equal access to legal assistance. Dignity, peace, the right to be yourself. That's what it's about. That is why we must remain vigilant and stand up for our rights and those of others.'
Paper and practice
Simone Filippini, president of the Dutch United Nations Association, said that signing the Declaration is a condition for admission to the United Nations. ‘Unfortunately, we have to conclude that words and practice are often at odds with each other and that countries don’t always follow up on their promises.’ Filippini explains how she has taken citizens to a refugee camp in Lebanon in the past. 'To show them with their own eyes what it is like to be a refugee. They cried during the entire trip. They didn't realize before what it means when all your rights are taken away.’
A moving personal story
Finally, the floor was given to Mpanzu Bamenga, lawyer, human rights activist, winner of the Pax Peace Prize, and since late 2023, also a member of the House of Representatives for D66. He recalled three special moments from his life that inspired his activism. Encouraged by his older sister who believed that every prisoner, whether rightly or wrongly incarcerated, remains human, he began to write letters to prisoners. ‘She said, “We need to let them know we care about them.” It was the first time I heard about human rights.' Later, Mpanzu gained national attention when he sued the Royal Military Police for ethnic profiling and won. ‘As a new member of the House of Representatives, I will continue to defend human rights. Article 1 is at the core of human rights: everyone is born free and equal. If we do not respect that, we cannot guarantee other human rights either.'
After the introductions, the theme music from Jurassic Park, beautifully played on the organ, signalled the start of the second part of the festival. Visitors participated in workshops, lectures, games, and meditation sessions. They wrote for Amnesty's Write for Rights campaign and got acquainted with various organizations committed to local human rights. A selection of the responses:
Karin Kalpoe from Brahma Kumaris, volunteer at meditation session 'From disempowerment to empowerment'
'You can feel disempowered when human rights are being violated. What can you, as an individual, do? This guided meditation session allows you to transform that sense of empowerment to empowerment. From a place of inner peace and spiritual love, you can reach out to others and spread a message of faith, hope and love.' One visitor said: ‘I don’t have much experience with meditation myself and was very curious. It turned out to be a very special and illuminating experience.'
Harry Hummel, visitor
'I have been committed to human rights all my life, initially as an advisor and director at Amnesty International in Amsterdam. Many people here believe that our human rights are guaranteed and that appropriate action is taken when human rights are violated. Or they expect parliament to take action. However, everyone has a role to play in safeguarding human rights. We should have more citizen initiatives to raise awareness. This festival is a great start!’
Mika, Elli, Caroline en Laurens, visitors
Caroline and Laurens are visiting the festival because they support the work of IofC. Caroline, who is a lecturer at Leiden University College, will receive Willem Jansen during her lecture later that week. ‘We are very impressed’, says Laurens. ‘We have heard a lot of great ideas.’ Both daughters believe human rights are important. ‘There’s a lot of good in the world,' says Mika. ‘But there’s always room for improvement’, adds her younger sister Elli.
Berin Safak, volunteer at the SEVA
‘Human rights are very important for our society. And for me personally as well. I am a refugee and I’ve been living in the Netherlands for four years. I am Turkish and Muslim. Those two identities motivate me to make the world a better place. This day is extraordinary. It is a union of different people who share the same hope: a world where human rights apply to everyone.'
The Medan Trio closed the festival with a moving performance called The Story of Tareq. In this performance, the trio brings the true story of refugee Tareq to life with jazz music accompanied by an animated film. The story ends with a visual of Tareq in his new country, playing with his newborn child. A beautiful message of hope.
With Festival Faith in Human Rights, IofC concludes its eponymous project for now. Lotty Wolvekamp, chairwoman of Initiatives of Change Netherlands: 'It was a journey during which we discovered the value of teamwork and mutual support.’
Initiatives of Change Netherlands: A special word of thanks goes to all partners and volunteers who contributed to the festival. We also thank the volunteers of the Great Church for the warm welcome and pleasant cooperation in the run-up to and during the festival.
Written by Karin Hiralal.
Translated by Shereen Siwpersad.