Saturday, 1 August 2015

Amnesty International

The July GMH meeting was a talk and interactive workshop on Amnesty by Anne Walker.  Anne is a voluntary member of Amnesty and as such confesses to not being a specialist in human rights law. Her main involvement is in the Amnesty Trainers Network where she helps develop material for local campaigns for Amnesty International UK (AIUK).

Amnesty is based in London and has 5 hubs globally. Its vision: ‘is of a world in which every person enjoys all of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and other international human rights instruments’.

Although it started out as an organisation supporting prisoners of conscience, its mission now is: ‘To undertake research and action focused on preventing and ending grave abuses of these rights’.

The Manchester branch of AIUK to which Anne belongs has four campaigns underway currently:

1. Stop Torture Campaign which is focused on 5 countries: Nigeria, Mexico, Morocco, Uzbekistan and the Philippines.
2. Save the Human Rights Act
3. Country Specific Campaigns in:
  • Burma
  • Southern Africa
  • Countries in South America (esp. Venezuela) 
4. My Body My Rights - The My Body My Rights campaign comes from the belief that ‘sexual and reproductive rights are human rights that belong to us all’. Furthermore they entitle us to:
  • Make decisions about our own health, body, sexual life and identity without fear of coercion or criminalisation 
  • Seek and receive information about sexuality and reproduction, and access related health services and contraception
  • Choose our intimate partner and whether and when to marry
  • Decide what type of family to create
  • Live free from discrimination, coercion, violence, including rape and other sexual violence, female genital mutilation, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, forced sterilisation and forced marriage.
It is noteworthy that the UDHR does not cover sexual and reproductive rights (SRR) and does not apply to the unborn child. However some international human rights law does now cover SRR and has made recommendations to states to adopt it.

In Latin America in places where there is no access to contraception and no sex education there is the highest rate of teen pregnancy. And where there is additionally a total abortion ban 57% of teen deaths in pregnancy are due to suicide.

Some of the reasons given for not allowing or providing contraception are:
  • Suspicion – belief that it has another purpose
  • Trust – some men believe it leads their women to infidelity
  • Tradition – large families are seen as a good thing
  • Affordability – it has to be paid for and women are afraid to ask their husbands for the money 
Campaigns in support of SRR are underway in:
  • Burkina Faso – to promote access to affordable contraception
  • Nepal – to prevent uterine prolapsed due to women being put to work very soon after pregnancy
  • Maghreb – where rape victims are forced to marry their rapists. This has its foundations in old French law that was only repealed in France in 1994. Morocco has changed its law but Algeria and Tunisia still have it.
  • El Salvador – to end a total ban on abortion.  Anne gave an example of a pregnant woman for whom after 3 scans it was shown that the foetus had brain damage but an abortion was denied. An international campaign forced the government to allow an intervention, but they delayed till much later so that it could be classed as induced labour.  In another case a doctor was given a prison sentence for carrying out an abortion which was in fact a miscarriage.
Anne also mentioned the law in Ireland where in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland abortion is illegal except in limited circumstances. The maximum sentence for carrying out an abortion in N. Ireland is life and in the Republic it’s 14 years.

This was an interactive presentation whereby audience members were allocated into groups and asked to present back their own views regarding the issues of women’s rights and what could be done about them. It generated a lot of lively discussion within and amongst the groups all of whom seemed appreciative of the opportiunity to participate.

If you’re supportive of Amnesty’s campaigns, there are a couple of online petitions that you might be interested in:

Save the Human Rights Act Act

Abortion Law Reform - Republic of Ireland reproductive-rights reproductive-rights