How to be a student who cares about human rights

Lukrecija Balbieryte will definitely convince you to participate in more human rights events!

“I think what really interested me in human rights is the fact that these are a set of values that are kind of fundamental, they are values that humans all across the world have come together and agreed on.” – says the president of the Human Rights Society, Ahmed.

Human rights are the rights that we all have. They are based on law but also on morality, kindness and faith. They use the basis of morals and values that build bridges between people and initiate empathy.

The University of Essex has a multi-disciplinary human rights centre (HRC), which was established in 1883 and was one of the first ones in the world. It has a significantly large number of experts which have specialized in international humanitarian law, who have worked in various conflicted areas in the world, such as Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Afghanistan, and other countries. These experts and researchers have taken the roles of Special Rapporteurs, worked closely with organizations such as the United Nations and Amnesty International.

Steps square 3 to 4 – all your human rights

These experts are here to share their experience to provide first-hand infomation in events, such as the HRC Speaker Series. It was happening throughout the year, where each week it would welcome speakers from all over the world. Additionally, every year the HRC holds a student-led Human Rights Conference. This year the conference was focused on the human rights issues in Asia and it had expert speakers covering issues regarding interrelated areas such as economy, development, politics, etc. These events are here for the students; they’re here to initiate critical thought, awareness, consciousness and a discussion.

“At Amnesty, we’re generally activists and we try to implement a lot of change and if we can’t implement change, we raise awareness”

-Maryam Jamil

Acquiring new knowledge encourages further exploration in selected areas. Experts are a reliable source of information and it provides you with a realistic understanding of the situation. By learning more about issues, you can also learn of how you can get involved and help.

You don’t have to be a human rights student in order to partake in human rights activism at Essex. The Human Rights and Amnesty International societies are welcoming to everyone. The societies are constantly having human rights-related events, run campaigns and fundraising.

Amnesty International does fundraising (AmnesTeas) every two weeks. Members are free to suggest charities and vote which they would like to fundraise for. Last term they raised 400 pounds in just 4 hours for the LGBTQ+ Society! The members raised money for charities such as the Colchester Night Shelter, UNICEF and other organisations as well.

This year the society campaigned for the rights of refugee children by putting pressure on the home secretary and collecting signatures.
“At Amnesty, we’re generally activists and we try to implement a lot of change and if we can’t implement change, we raise awareness,” says the president of the society, Maryam Jamil.

The society organized a lot of events to raise awareness, such as the exhibition “Museum Without a Home”, Building Bridges Between Cultures event, a live music fundraiser Jamnesty and many others. The main goal was to familiarize people with human rights issues around the world.

“Let’s start with the human”

-Ahmed Abdelmaksoud, president of Human Rights Society

During regular meetings, both the Human Rights society and Amnesty International societies would have speakers and discuss various human rights related issues. They collaborate with other societies as well.

Additionally, the society organizes trips – in November the members went to the Amnesty International Headquarters in London, where they attended the Amnesty International Student Conference. During the Easter holidays, some of the members went to Calais in France, where the members volunteered in a refugee camp.

“I think if you start with the thought of “Nah, it’s never going to happen” you will never have the motivation. We’d rather have a person, who starts off as being a dreamer. Once he has all these dreams, begins to pin them down one by one, than have someone that says there’s no point in anything. No, be active, think, be creative. This is the point, of course, we encourage this.” – says Ahmed.

“It’s open for everyone – no matter who you are, come to Amnesty and I’m sure you will have a good time and you will find people like yourself. Every time I talk to different members I learn something new.”

-Maryam Jamil

Throughout the whole year, the human rights society focused on the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, they have been in charge of the human rights week and celebrated the 70th Anniversary of the General Assembly’s adoption of the UDHR by doing the traditional annual chalking on the steps between square 3 and square 4, as well as chalking in downtown Colchester as well. Participation in these events and discussions provides you with opportunities to become more knowledgeable any many aspects, build confidence become more open-minded and self-aware.

“At the end of the day, none of us is free from the capacity for evil or, in other words, the capacity of inflicting pain and suffering on others. We all have that in us. What human rights allow us is a way out. It’s a way of being self-reflective, it’s holding ourselves to a standard, where we no longer engage in this tribalism of “I am in this group, I am of this skin colour, I am of this religion and you are of that and so I can never be reconciled to you.” No, it says “Let’s start with the human” – says Ahmed.

You are more than welcome to offer your ideas these societies – what issues are on your mind, whether they’re political, economic, social, religious or cultural, whether they are global or local, you can offer to have a discussion, a debate, an event, campaign or fund raise – these people are ready to listen and you can work together to make a change.

You meet a lot of like-minded people, who are passionate about similar issues and topics. The societies are there for these people to get together, share their ideas, learn from each other and believe that they really can make a difference.

Furthermore, while it shouldn’t be the main reason for participation, one of the great advantages of engaging in the sphere is the development of a network and the gaining of transferable skills that will be essential in the work environment. Engaging in discussions, debates, possibly giving a speech or a presentation, working together with other people to organize events, partaking exec. roles – it all helps you to develop your leadership, teamwork, articulation, critical thinking and lots of others skills, as well as building confidence in your own capability.

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