by Leigh Brady, Trocaire’s Global Governance and Human Rights Advisor
Today on International Human Rights Day 2016, I feel privileged that I get to defend human rights and support the fight for justice every day as part of my job.
In 2016, I became Trócaire’s Global Governance and Human Rights Advisor. It sounds fancy, right? I suppose you are asking yourself what it actually means though…
My job involves a lot of different things but in essence I provide support and guidance to Trócaire staff in 15 countries around the world who are in turn providing support and guidance to ordinary people, usually the most vulnerable and most marginalised, on the front lines fighting for their rights and the rights of others.
People like Rosemary and Stephen, Agnes, Peter and Albert, Edina and Moses, Eduardo and Berta who are active in holding their government to account for better services in their communities, speaking out against injustice, and trying to protect their natural resources and keep their environment healthy and safe.
Visiting human rights defenders in 5 countries
Trócaire’s human rights support comes in many forms depending on what is needed most, but can range from monitoring and documenting human rights violations, civic education, specialised skills training, mentoring, legal services, providing spaces for people to raise their voices, organise and make proposals, the chance to work as part of a wider network and physical accompaniment for those who are most at risk of being attacked because of their work.
This year I visited 5 countries where Trócaire is providing such supports – Uganda, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Kenya.
They were inspiring and enriching trips where I learnt a lot and probably received more than I gave. I met with women and men, young and old, who have learnt through Trócaire about their rights as citizens and how to put that knowledge into practice by demanding better services and protections from their governments.
I heard firsthand about their hard-earned achievements, borne of perseverance and immense courage.
West Pokot County, Kenya
Photo caption: Women from West Pokot, Kenya, who use dance and songs to educate the community against FGM.
In a tiny rural town called Psigor in West Pokot County, Kenya, a group of local residents managed to achieve real improvements to their local hospital by carrying out a survey among patients, patient caregivers and health care professionals and discussing the findings with the hospital directors.
They also sent a petition to the local parliament asking their representatives to ensure the improvements were sustained.
The group of residents behind the initiative call themselves “Bunge La Mwananchi” – the Citizen’s Parliament and include women and men representing different interest groups, such as youth, people living with disabilities and the elderly.
This is just one example of some of the amazing stories I had the honour of hearing in 2016.
El Paraíso, Honduras
Photo caption: A group of trained community human rights defenders in Honduras, who make up a network of human rights defenders for their province, El Paraíso. Second from left is José Alfredo Coto, from Trócaire Honduras.
I met another inspiring group of human rights defenders in the east of Honduras, in a border province called El Paraíso, which in English means “Paradise”.
Ironically, this province could be more aptly described as “hell” given its context of daily violence, entrenched corruption and impunity for crimes.
This group of residents have been trained as a local network of human rights defenders – they monitor and document incidents of corruption, violence and criminal activity. They submit formal complaints to the local authorities and come together to discuss cases that may need to be taken up with the authorities at national level.
These brave individuals face many threats as a result of this work.
Three thoughts on human rights from 2016
Looking back over the year and reflecting on the human rights work that Trócaire supports and enables, three thoughts stand out:
1. We enable the most vulnerable people to fight for their basic rights, and defend themselves against threats to their homes, families, health, communities, livelihoods and environment. This is a job they do without pay in most cases and which is aimed at improving their lives but also those of others around them. What they do is not only a service to their community, but to humanity.
2. They can’t do it alone. They join forces locally to face powerful threats, gross injustice and a dangerous climate of destructive behaviour, violence, corruption and impunity. They know there is strength in numbers and they believe in people power. They call on us to support their struggle.
3. We can’t do it alone. We need as many people joining the fight for justice as possible. Keep supporting Trócaire so we can keep supporting Rosemary and Stephen, Agnes, Peter and Albert, Edina and Moses, Eduardo and Berta and countless others, whose courage and commitment are an inspiration for us all.