Aucklanders Sign-Up To Protest Human Rights Abuses

Published: Mon 14 Jul 2008 02:34 PM
Aucklanders Sign-Up To Protest Human Rights Abuses In China
By Natasha Burling
A steady stream of campaigners signed banners in Auckland to protest against human rights abuses in China. Amnesty International’s Kirsten Slatter said the group had got a “great response” to their three two-metre long banners in Vulcan Lane Monday morning (July 14 2008).
Protesters placed stickers on the banners and wrote short messages to promote human rights in China.
Slatter said a few Chinese speakers had signed the banners but that sometimes the language barrier made it hard to explain the purpose of the banners. She adds that Chinese people can also be a bit nervous about signing because they don’t want to speak against the majority.

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The four main areas that Amnesty International is campaigning about for China are; the abolition of the death penalty, fair judicial trials, combating censorship and allowing human rights campaigners freedom to do their work.
Slatter says the purpose behind the campaign is to hold the Chinese government accountable for statements they have made promising to improve human rights in their country.
She says Amnesty International is not asking for a boycott of the Olympic Games in China this year, but wants to have a “positive engagement” and that is why they are asking people to write their hopes and dreams for China on the banners.
When asked if sports and politics should be separate, she says they are inevitably linked and gives the example of Chinese people who have been thrown off their land in China to make way for the Olympics.
She points out that Amnesty International is not a political group but seeks to uphold the human rights outlined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
Asked if China has made any progress in the area of Human Rights, Slatter says the number of people executed under the death penalty seems to have dropped in recent years but this is hard to verify.
She says the way the Chinese government dealt with the recent earthquake was commendable: “The earthquake was handled pretty well. The Chinese government was pretty open,” she says.
However, she points out that grave human rights abuses still occur in China and that many activists and human rights lawyers are in prison there.
Fundraiser Melanie Cripps, 22, says she signed a banner because free speech and freedom in general are important.
“People should have a right to practise their beliefs,” she says.
Matt Billington, a 25-year-old musician, used a quote from jailed murder-accused Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Jamil, who the band Rage Against the Machine is campaigning for the release of, wrote: “Today’s empires are tomorrow’s ashes.”
Billington says he used this quote because it is easy to feel powerless when it comes to China.
“You can feel really small and insignificant against a Chinese government that suppresses freedom of speech in a most brutal way,” he says.
The Chinese community in Auckland is also one we cannot ignore, he adds.
Thirty-two Amnesty International Olympic banners with messages of support for human rights in China will be presented to the Chinese Embassy in Wellington at the end of July.
Natasha Burling is an AUT journalism student doing the Graduate Diploma in Journalism. She has lived in Colombia, France and Scotland.

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