The Human Rights Centre, in Shoreditch, London, is not a space of sorrow, but one of creation, activism and young people. We felt this the moment the team of Amnesty International Durham walked through the doors. The colourful art, motivational quotes on the walls and positive ambience in the building would sink into your pores effortlessly. We were ready for a weekend of debating, moving speeches and working on campaigns with other human rights activists.
I have highlighted in another blog, Saving Lives is not a Crime, the impact Sarah Mardini’s plenary had on all of us. It reminded us of why we were there and what it was that moved us to campaign for human rights. Offering free meals, cheap accommodation in hip London hostels (shout out to The Wombat and The Dictionary) and quality speakers, it was obvious Amnesty had an interest in hearing their youngest supporters’ opinions. The weekend started off with some coffee and tea (and an array of lactose-free milks, hooray!) and the signing up to different workshops. These tackled some of the most prominent issues in Human Rights: check your privilege, use your power, the abortion law, trans rights, the domestic abuse bill, climate change, immigration detention, stop the death penalty and human rights in Hong Kong among others.
The passion and thought that went into each of these workshops were what made the conference so effective. Opening the floor for non-judgemental discussion and allowing students from different backgrounds and universities to voice their opinions and share their thoughts with pioneers in the field of human rights made this opportunity a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
I would like to draw a special thank you to Shoomi Chowdhury, Hodan Yusuf and Zainab Asunramu for their ‘Check your privilege, use your power’ workshop. Not only was it powerful and engaging but also all-too-relevant. I believe Durham still struggles with the issue of white privilege and unaddressed racism, and listening to these women speak and share poetry on the topic, unashamedly calling out the existence of prejudice and white supremacy in our country, was inspiring. For the abortion law workshop, we had two research experts join us from both Northern Ireland and Buenos Aires, making the workshop dynamic and holistic. Furthermore, the conference revolved around the need to link the climate change movement to the refugee crisis. It reflected the number of climate refugees that exist and the ignorance towards the effects of global warming in the southern hemisphere. With Scandinavian and other Western countries leading the movement, the voices of indigenous activists are often unheard; but they are there, they are powerful and Amnesty is ready to hand them the mic.
Besides the workshops, campaigning initiatives for Sarah and Sean’s case were designed. These included artwork, taking to the streets to share their story and exploring how to make their case reach the news. In the evening of the Saturday, we were joined by comedian Kemah Bob and rapper RoxXxane, both from the LGBTQ+ community. Savage humour, incredible rapping, free wine and embarrassing dance moves led to the perfect closing of a busy day.
During the second day, the student AGM brought the issues we wish to see tackled next by Amnesty to the forefront. Homelessness, sexual harassment on campus, period poverty and climate change were among the front-runners, with sexual harassment being considered the most pressing issue in UK universities. Throughout the next year, the various Amnesty International Student groups, including Durham, will aim to organise campaigns to raise awareness and fundraise for these various issues.
Following the incredible job the STAN (Student Action Network) committee has done this past year, elections were carried out for next year’s committee. Promising advocates and strong voices will continue to represent this brilliant NGO whose dedication and professionalism have kept it for decades at the forefront of the global fight for human rights.
Please, follow Amnesty International Durham on Facebook to keep up with all our events and campaigns, which this term could potentially include some of the speakers that came to the conference.