On May 31, the Human Rights Seminar (HRS) class hosted a Human Rights Symposium. The day began with keynote speaker Heather Barr, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, introducing various human rights issues ranging from the maltreatment of factory workers in Bangladesh to girls education in Afghanistan.
Subsequently, students and faculty went to three break-out sessions, where students enrolled in the HRS class lectured members of the community on one specific human rights issue that they had studied throughout the second semester. These break out sessions were centered around Artice V of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments. The workshops were all formatted differently, with some involving presentations and debates to others involving analyzing case studies and group discussions.
During the afternoon, there was a panel discussion moderated by two students. These panelists included Clive Baldwin, Rosalind Ereira, Yossi Mekelberg and Daniel Levy. The panel was centered around human rights in the Middle East and North Africa, and how they connect back to the U.K.
Ereira, who started the organization Solidarity with Refugees, believes that the situation in Syria, Palestinian rights in Gaza, as well as slavery in Libya are the most pressing issues facing the Middle East and North Africa today. “Libya is not getting the focus it needs to for not only the Libyan people, but also for people traveling through Libya to reach safety from other parts of Africa, and are being sold into slavery when they get there,” she said. “The stories that you hear from people who have traveled through there are really deeply distressing.”
To understand how change can be made, Baldwin, senior legal advisor for Human Rights Watch, gave students a summary of what skills are required when striving to protect human rights. “The three main tools in human rights. One is just informing, getting correct and accurate information and research out there. You can do that yourself if you have the access, or you can help share things,” he said. “The second is teaching people who aren’t aware of what human rights are, helping those who need it. The third is… law, knowing that there are legal tools.”
The day closed with poet and editor Mary Jean Chan reading two poems, Let Us Speak Ourselves into Physical Splendor and Tea Ceremony, both of which are related to human rights.