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Why talk about rights?

It is commonly believed that we have rights and responsibilities, not because a state or some law bestows them, but because they are inherent in our human and social being. The international human rights framework has been developed to protect ordinary people from the abuses of the state.

Although by no means adequate to stop or prevent human rights abuses by the state, the range of human rights mechanisms and processes are often utilised by activists in politically repressive countries and situations around the world.

Awareness of our rights as activists is vital for two reasons:

  • We may need to assert them when they are denied us;
  • We can utilise them as benchmarks for how we expect to be treated by the government or how we want the government to behave.

Asserting our rights

As progressive activists we are engaged in a process of participatory democracy that does not require the permission of any state, police force or court system.

We do not need to rely upon legal rights or international human rights in order to protest or resist injustice. But we can use them.

Activists have asserted and quoted international human rights to police at protests and to magistrates in the courtroom. Sometimes acting under the mandate of the ‘international community' can give our action greater credibility. Every time we refuse to answer police questions we are asserting our common law right to silence.

Asserting basic human, civil and political rights can also help targeted or more vulnerable sections of the activist movement. The rights of marginalised or minority activists are more often denied or abused. Asserting our rights as activists can sometimes mean protecting the rights of others who are more vulnerable.