When I organised World Woman I was keen to emphasise the need for freedom of expression for activists and artists, to identify that those who are most likely to be silenced by the religious right most often share the culture of those who wish to silence them: that this is not a conflict of the enlightened West versus the obscurantist East, but against extremist ideologies that threaten all our shared liberties.
Definitely. We have extremist theocrats in “the West” and there are many loyal free expressionists in “the East.”
[T]here is something very wrong with a world in which being an artist, activist, a feminist, a politician, a lawyer or a trade unionist can be considered a dangerous activity. We need more courageous individuals who will defy the structures of power, whether political, economic or intimate; but we also need it to be safe for people to feel their power and to be able to express their ideas and imagine without fear. Self-expression should not be a challenge that demands extraordinary talent but should be a right accessible to all.
But violence against human rights defenders is increasing. Across the world, voices for human rights are ranged against repressive states, fundamentalist movements and corporate power…
And random murderers with machetes.
In 2013, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution to defend those who defend human rights with strong support from the Norwegian Mission underlining the freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly as foundational to democracy and all other human rights. The new Special Rapporteur dealing with Human Rights Defenders in 2014 called out a culture of impunity and worsening attacks on those brave people who sacrifice their safety for the hope of a better future for us all.
Making people fear the expression of their own power is a very effective way of disempowering them. It is not just those who feel the frustration of being silenced: it also encompasses every person who has no idea of their own power to realise their visions because they have not seen this in action in their communities. We need to be able to guarantee the safety of all artists and activists for human rights, so that it no longer takes extraordinary courage to call for a better world – so that every person with the ability to imagine peace, equality, progress and justice can express their dreams and hopes without fear.