Different voices

When Amnesty International presented Report 2008 to the media at The Foreign Press Association in London on 27 May, several people involved in human rights campaigning around the world were invited as special guests. We caught up with three of them.

The first female judge to work at the High Court in Pakistan, Majida Razvi, is now retired. She is currently a women’s rights defender and one of seven trustees of the Panah Shelter Home for women in Karachi.

Panah seeks to provide a peaceful haven and temporary refuge for women who are victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse, or under threat of honour killings.

Majida Razvi says she’s happy to support the launch of Amnesty International’s Report 2008 because “we established the shelter homes in 2001 and the seed money was given by Amnesty International to start with. Also other organizations connected to Amnesty International have been helping us in Karachi. So I think Amnesty International has been a great help and I hope it will be in the future.”

Since starting Panah, Majida Razvi says the greatest change she has noticed is the overall awareness of the issues surrounding violence against women. “We are not only providing shelter for these women but we are also trying to create awareness amongst these women by holding workshops and the like.”

“There’s a greater awareness amongst the public now too. We’ve also been successful in changing the attitude of the police and the judiciary, trying to get them to be more sympathetic and polite to women who are victims. We need a revolution in the mind of the public and in the minds of men and also in the minds of the women who are governed by their husbands, and by the mullahs of the area.”

A young Brighton-based Zimbabwean, Alois Mbawara, has been living in exile in the UK since 2002. He is one of the founding members of Free-Zim Youth, an organization that tries to influence institutions and organisations to take a tougher stance on Harare.

“We are young Zimbabweans in exile who fled the repression and political violence in Zimbabwe,” says Mbawara. “As citizens of Zimbabwe we need to be exposing the gross human rights violations being perpetuated by the Mugabe regime. So that’s how we came up with the idea for this civic organization to lobby the African Union, to get it to take a stance on what is happening in Zimbabwe.

Mbawara explains why he agreed to join Amnesty’s launch event “It’s good exposure. In particular it gives us a multilateral venue to express what is happening in Zimbabwe. It is an historical opportunity to express our views on the political nature of Zimbabwe.”

He adds that Amnesty’s work has been helpful in “documenting the day-to-day lives of the ordinary person in Zimbabwe. I have to stress that, due to the lack of free press and media, even people who work for human rights organizations don’t have access to information about the political violence in Zimbabwe and are unable to publicize it. So, Amnesty International plays a very pivotal role.”

Since starting Free-Zim Youth, Mbawara says their advocacy work, lobbying and demonstrations have had an effect. “Some may call it undiplomatic but we had to confront South African leaders when they came over to the UK and say to them ‘now look here, you need to be in a position to do something'” he says, recalling the group’s protest during South African Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dhlamini Zuma’s 2006 lecture at the London School of Economics.

“We have been having a positive response from that. The South African government has since released a critical statement that they will take a tough stance on what is happening in Zimbabwe.”

Released from Guantánamo on 24 August 2006, German-born Turkish national Murat Kurnaz had been held for four years and eight months without charge or trial, despite little evidence to link him to “terrorist” activities. Both US and German intelligence services secretly acknowledged this, yet it took years to secure his release.

Kurnaz has alleged that he was subjected to torture and ill-treatment while in US custody. His book, Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantánamo, was launched at an Amnesty International event in Belfast on May 8. John Le Carre called it “The most compassionate, truthful and dignified account of the disgrace of Guantanamo that you are ever likely to read.” Patti Smith wrote a song about Kurnaz called “Without Chains” in 2006. She also wrote the foreword to his book.
Kurnaz says he agreed to attend the launch of the Amnesty International Report 2008 because “I like to use all the chances I have to talk, not for me, because I am already a free man, but I’m still trying to help the ones still held in torture camps and prisons and I’m campaigning against those people supporting torture and building torture camps.”

Speaking about Amnesty International, Kurnaz says “Amnesty International is trying to show the people what is going on. It’s up to the people, when they know the truth, then they can try to make things change.”

While positive, Kurnaz concedes that change won’t happen overnight. “Because things that have happened in the past have come to light, maybe they won’t happen again in the future. I feel like even if it’s very slow, things are going to get changed. A few days ago I was the first former Guantánamo detainee to testify before the American Congress. It was the first time they had talked about Guantánamo. I hope this will mean big changes for the future.”