Josephine Macintosh is the women Saudi Arabia tried like hell to silence, as they do all women, during a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council a couple weeks ago. She was there as a representative of CFI and Paul Fidalgo, CFI’s communications director, interviews her at Hemant’s blog.
PF: What’s important to you personally about raising awareness of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, particularly in regard to Badawi and al-Khair?
JM: It is first and foremost a question of freedom of expression, a fundamental right that is integral to our lives as human beings. It is painful to see individuals having these rights abrogated, whatever their country of origin, background, physical condition.
I am deeply convinced that societies should allow for a plurality of voices and opinions to be voiced, whether people or a government agrees or disagrees with these. Badawi and al-Khair represent the minority that undertake the courageous step of speaking up and defending their fundamental rights despite dangerous consequences. We cannot have any kind of development without people like them doing what oppressive systems fear most: on-the-ground dissent. In a sense it is an expression of their dignity. It is important to keep their voices and actions heard within the hallowed halls of the UN.
Beyond the fact that it is contentious for it to maintain a position on the Human Rights Council, the fact that Saudi Arabia has a seat at the human rights table means it has also agreed to have its human rights record examined. For it to dare to censor within the council as it does on its own soil is unacceptable.
My time at the UN has inevitably made me feel disillusioned by the system in place that deals with these human right violations and it seems that these issues have visibility globally yet little action taken regarding them. But this is not a reason to quieten ourselves. I feel that my contribution, despite being small, does open a window of opportunity by raising awareness and we can still learn from these experiences to rethink our organizations fundamentally.
I share that disillusionment, but she’s right — that’s a reason to fight harder, not to walk away. We must keep up the pressure on all governments — our own included — to respect human rights.