Shrewsbury School

'Steps Forward in Human Rights' - Academic Extension Lecture

Wednesday 15 November 2017

"To say that this lecture opened my eyes would be an understatement." Ebrahim Jamshid (SH LVI) reports on a powerful and thought-provoking talk given last week by Dr Trevor Trueman from Amnesty International. 

The lecture started with a riveting video made by Amnesty International which, among other things, questioned the type of world we want to live as well as our ideals. Do we want to ‘build walls’ that have the aim of separating us, or ‘break them’?  It set a good basis for the rest of Dr Trueman’s lecture, for it began the process of thought on what exactly we want our world to look like and how we can build towards it.

Dr Trueman began his talk by providing the audience with some of his background as a Doctor and as someone who worked with Amnesty International in poverty-stricken areas of the world such as Ethiopia. He then went on to tell a series of stories, each more potent than the last; this would essentially be how he formatted his lecture. It would take far too long to provide a detailed description of every story he told, so I will confine myself to the two that I found especially striking and indeed enlightening.

One story described how some of the people he interviewed in England (who were legally seeking asylum) were put in detention centres without being told how long they would be detained for. In some cases, these detainees spent years in these Orwellian places. In contrast, Germany, France and Ireland have limits on the maximum amount of time a detainee can be held. He then went on to talk about how suicide and depression is rife in these prison-like places. It seems that when we think of states breeching human rights we wrongly only think about those under authoritarian rule.

Another very telling story he told concerned two young sisters who, at the time he interviewed them, were around my age (16 years old). They had fled their homes in Ethiopia because they had been threatened with imprisonment if they did not reveal the location of their brothers who were hiding from the Ethiopian Government. They were Muslim and their brothers were fighting against the persecution that the Muslim population in Ethiopia had been experiencing under the majority Christian Ethiopian Government. Despite having no part in what their brothers were doing, they were nevertheless being treated brutally by the police. Left with little choice, they tried to escape to neighbouring Sudan but on their way they were captured by human traffickers, along with 34 other refugees. The traffickers offered them their freedom for money, but the two sisters, with no way of contacting their persecuted and dispersed family, could not pay.

After explaining what had happened to them, Dr Trueman displayed some truly horrifying images that showed the toll that two years of being a hostage does to one’s physical health. Among the images he showed were ones of deep burns caused by relentless torture, scars that occurred as a result of years of having shackles around their ankles and their starved bodies. These images did a lot to show their physical trauma, but the mental trauma that they suffered during this time span is truly unfathomable. He concluded the story by telling us that they had been accepted for asylum; it was hardly a happily-ever-after ending, but anything is better than what they had to endure for those two long years.

He concluded the story with how a third of the Ethiopian Government’s budget comes from foreign aid from countries such as the UK, despite it clearly violating human rights. He also noted that the British media had little to say on the death of 600 protesters from the Amhara region of Ethiopia, implying that our government is turning a blind eye to the obvious human rights atrocities occurring in Ethiopia.

To say that this lecture opened my eyes would be an understatement. I don’t think a page of writing can do justice to the sheer enormity of what I learned from Dr Trueman. However, the one thing I think Dr Trueman’s lecture explained better than anything else is the fact that behind all the debates we have over whether we should support a government despite its brutality or allow some refugees into our country, there are humans. Humans who, just like you and I, have rights that are not always respected.

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