A banner attached to a fence reads "International Human Rights Solidarity"

International Human Rights Day marked by rally

Over the next 12 months the United Nations will celebrate 75 years since the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

Human rights campaigners Bristol Outcry marked the anniversary with an afternoon of talks, poetry and music on College Green to raise awareness of human rights issues at home and abroad.

Barbara, the organiser of the rally and member of Bristol Outcry, said that there is not enough awareness of human rights issues amongst the general public. 

The rally, on December 10, International Human Rights Day, was designed to ‘[help] people realise the rights that we’re able to take for granted in this country, and mark and celebrate those over the years, and also to raise awareness of where those rights have been deliberately put under threat,’ said Barbara. 

She said Bristol Outcry have wanted to run a human rights festival for a long time, and she hopes to see more events in the future. 

‘We’ve got so many campaign groups in Bristol doing really important work, representing vulnerable groups, and that it seems like an obvious step for the next stage to be let’s get more groups joining together,’ said Barbara. 

Speakers from several Bristol activist groups took turns on the mic, detailing how human rights are at risk across society. 

A woman is photographed from behind, she is raising her fist and an audience in front of her raise their fists too.
Image: James Ward.

Jim, from Bristol Housing Action Movement, spoke of the dire situation faced by those who, whether by choice or necessity, do not rent or own a home. 

We face a ‘human disaster,’ said Jim, caused by increasing criminalisation of alternative ways of life. The recent Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act made a criminal offence of siting a caravan on private land (and only 7% of land in England is not private), an offence that can result in a large fine and the caravan being permanently confiscated. 

Meanwhile, rough sleeping is heavily policed, with 15 people having been sentenced to jail time in Bristol since October 2019. 

‘You can huddle in a shop doorway but already Bristol CIty Council, the police, and other authorities are organising and have been organising for several years campaigns against people who have the audacity to huddle in a doorway,’ said Jim. 

A person speaks on a microphone.
Kai, who moved to the UK a year ago, speaks of human rights abuses in China and around the world. Image: Wong Yat Him.

Kai, from Bristol Hongkongers, spoke of the need for solidarity with human rights struggles around the world. ‘We have to speak out for those people who don’t have a voice,’ he said. 

Bristol Hongkongers, as part of a national movement, are campaigning for faster processing of asylum seeker claims for Hong Kongers. Like asylum seekers from all over the world, Hong Kongers are being let down by Britain’s inadequate asylum system, which leaves thousands living on meagre benefits, unable to work, whilst their claims are processed. 

In a second campaign, they are asking Bristol City Council to de-twin with sister city Guangzhou in China, citing China’s human rights record which they argue does not reflect Bristol’s values. 

A demonstrator holds placard reading "Justice for Bristol protesters"
People came to the rally for different reasons, including demanding justice for Bristol’s Kill The Bill prisoners. Image: Wong Yat Him.

Speaking on behalf of XR Bristol, Claire said that government inaction on Climate change ‘is a fundamental breach of our human rights.’

As a ray of hope, Claire pointed to the recent legal victory by Torres Strait islanders against the Australian government. The United Nations Human Rights Committee found that the Australian Government is violating the islanders’ human rights through climate change inaction.

Closer to home, Claire highlighted how the rally came just over four years since Bristol City Council declared a climate emergency, becoming the first UK core city to do so. Although celebrated at the time, Bristol’s climate pledges have been increasingly scrutinised as the years pass and seemingly little action is taken. 

She said: ‘Let’s come together as citizens and demand that governments act in all of our interests. That government respects the human rights of every human, not just the ones with power and influence. 

Other speakers at the events included Heidi Gedge, mother of Mariella Gedge-Rogers who is currently in prison for taking part in the Kill The Bill protests on March 21 last year, and Ruth Nestor who was violently evicted from her Easton home in October and is a well-known campaigner for housing rights, including with Acorn. 

Did you go this protest? What did you think? Let us know in the comments or at thebristolactivist@protonmail.com.

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