UN Celebration of Human Rights 2013 – Article 4
On 10th December we took part in the annual Celebration of Human Rights organised by the Ipswich UN Association. This year the theme was based upon Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.
The meeting was hosted by the Ipswich Society of Friends (Quakers) at their meeting house in Fonnereau Road, Ipswich. The Mayor of Ipswich, Councillor Hamil Clarke MBE, and his partner, Daisy Weekes, attended and heard contributions from representatives of several of the faiths and beliefs in the area. Although local MPs and other organisations had been invited, the others attending were mainly from religious groups.
Rather surprisingly some of the presenters seemed to have misunderstood what Article 4 was all about and instead spoke of people being slaves to alcohol, drugs, etc., which seemed a bit strange.
Sue Hewlett and Denis Johnston represented us, as follows:
Slavery has existed ever since man made the change from being a hunter-gatherer to becoming settled in fixed communities. The irony is that slavery was the cornerstone of what we choose to term ‘civilisation’ and was part and parcel of all the co-called early civilisations. So much so that it was formally embedded into religious texts and laws.
At the core of slavery lies the belief that one group of humanity is in some way inferior to another and should therefore be subordinate. Factors such as skin colour, tribal affiliation, language, gender and religions have all be used to justify this belief.
Dehumanisation, treated as a commodity or being bought and sold as ‘property’, is no longer as prevalent as before and is not legal in any country but let us be clear on one thing; slavery still exists. Slavery today is mainly based upon bonded labour, child labour, sex trafficking, early and forced marriage. Underpinning all of these is debt, poverty and financial control.
The vast majority of those enslaved today are those at one end of the global supply chains that provide us with many of the goods that we buy in supermarkets and on the high street. It ranges from the cashew nut industry (20,000 children are engaged in cashew nut processing in India alone) to cotton, cocoa, tea and clothing manufacture.
Probably between 10 and 20 million people in the world are enslaved at the present time and the profits generated worldwide are second only to drug trafficking in terms of global criminal enterprises.
It means that not only does slavery still exist but we are all part of it. Only by understanding the nature of modern slavery and by acting to eliminate it both at source and by changing our lifestyles can we hope to stop it.
As humanists we hold that all are entitled to basic rights and freedoms based on their shared humanity. Just as it is not acceptable to enslave people using shackles and leg irons, nor is it acceptable to allow the threat of poverty and destitution to lead to exactly that same end.
Also, we believe that everyone loses. It’s impossible to know how much human potential and talent has been lost because of individual slaves being denied the opportunity to contribute according to their ability.
Nobody can examine the history of slavery without being awestruck by how, despite their hardships, despite their suffering, that inner strength that defines our common humanity has not just survived but has even grown within so many of those who spent their lives in slavery.
To end I am going to read part of Maya Angelou’s poem, Still I Rise. It expresses that inner strength very well.