WORLD: Urgent Appeals Programme – celebrating 20 years of unique resistance

Twenty years ago, when the Asian Human Rights Commission’s (AHRC) Urgent Appeals Programme started, we embarked on a new venture to demonstrate the potential of the Urgent Appeals in creating a culture that respects the sufferings of the victims, and to create a counter culture of concern and protest.

It is time now to assess how far this original dream regarding the Urgent Appeals have been achieved in the last 20 years? We therefore call upon all our partners, victims of human rights abuses, our associates, and those who have used the Urgent Appeals Programme to write to us in the coming weeks to share with us your experiences relating to the workings of the Urgent Appeals Programme of the AHRC.

You may write your own stories of how you connected with the Urgent Appeals Programme. You may write your personal story about incidents that you have suffered or found somebody else have suffered. You may also inform us how the Urgent Appeal Programme helped in drawing public attention to the injustices you have experienced, and also how the programme helped you as a tool of creating support and solidarity.

It is also possible to look at the 20 years’ experience of the Urgent Appeals Programme from different perspectives. One way is to see how far does the programme help to break the culture of silence, a political culture, that prevails in most of Asia. In a larger political climate of impunity, what can a single individual do, by way of recording what the person learns about a particular human rights violation, and through links with other organisations who are willing to give publicity to such violations support the victims of human rights abuses, particularly in instances where threats to victims exist from state agencies.

Those who led the Urgent Appeals’ Desk over the years

What it means is that in this age of enormous developments in communication systems, even an isolated individual living in a remote part of country could become an active agent of promoting justice, and also developing many forms of creative protests by utilizing this enormous revolution that has taken place in the communication world. Today any person who cares about justice could easily become partners with others by taking few simple steps of recording what is it around, by way of interviews with people who suffer various problems. By becoming a narrator of the stories that a person sees around and by simply passing it off to others who will take the trouble to see that such stories are being told to larger audiences, not only in particular country but also to the global community.

How far an individual can empower oneself through the modern communication process was illustrated by the 20 years of experience of the Urgent Appeals Programme. This programme started with meagre resources, but relying entirely on voluntary acts of partners, victims, and even onlookers who in some way want to participate in the attempt to help another who is facing difficulties.

The complaint about powerlessness before grave injustices is a real in the context of the many Asian contexts. Communities have not awakened to a sense of a common purpose of fighting for the basic justice. What is worse is the extremely divisive forces that try to spread cynicism and do everything possible to discourage a person who is aggrieved due to an act of injustice he or she has suffered. The forces of evil are within the communities themselves. Those who are engaged in creating divisions are doing so for their own purposes, and these purposes could be very many.

However, instead of being led by opposition that is within the community itself, people can take initiatives with the help of the modern communication systems which are readily available to anyone in order to reach out to others of similar state of mind who wants to collaborate in an attempt to fight injustices and inequalities that are so deeply entrenched in many of the Asian countries. Urgent Appeals Programme is a solidarity creating agency which connects people from various parts of the world without having to go through cumbersome activities which have to be done at earlier stages of calling for meetings and trying to come into physical contact with those who share similar opinions. Today by use of the solidarity measures such as the Urgent Appeals it is possible to come in contact with very large audiences, and it is also possible to make it a talking point of a story which would otherwise have remained unknown to others.

There are thousands of stories that the Urgent Appeals Programme can now share through its own experiences, of how a completely unknown incident which has happened to the person who was thus far insignificant in the social ladder, had become a major story which is made known to the whole nation and locality, and also has become a reference point in the global human rights discourse. In the days to come, we will narrate some of the stories of brave victims who had fought almost alone with no financial means, no support from the lawyers or anybody else in the community, and facing serious threats to their lives and liberties from the perpetrators of injustice. However, these persons and those who have come to support them have stood the test of the time and has fought for each other, and thereby created a narrative which is fully been told as an example of what can be done even when everything appears to be bleak, and when some people may say that nothing can be done.

The story of the Urgent Appeals Programme is the story of solidarity, story of creativity, and a story of how without much fanfare many things can be done within a community by people themselves to help themselves. And, today that fact can be narrated with living stories of literally thousands of people who participated in this Programme.

Urgent Appeals Programme is a dream that came through, and a dream that is realised. It is a dream not merely kept within one’s imagination, instead which was put into effect. Thanks mainly to the development of communication systems, which have changed the world in the last 15 years. The Urgent Appeals was possible only in the kind of global situations as we are experiencing now.

Therefore, we call upon all of you, to celebrate this event, in the history of human rights struggles in the global human rights community and in particular in the Asian context. Urgent Appeals can be celebrated in each country with people who worked on this programme over the last years. We can make use of this situation as a story-telling occasion at which we reaffirm our faith in the great values on which the human rights movement is built, and by recalling what we ourselves have done in order to promote those great ideals.