This past Friday the Nobel Prize for peace was awarded to a Chinese human rights activist for his long time work, and now most known for his work on the Charter 08. Now I’m sure most of you heard this. You must also have heard that the Chinese government has tried to prevent any other Chinese from finding out, but I’m quite sure that most of you have not heard that of course some Chinese did find out. Moreover that they even celebrated this fact.
I learnt this from a women’s human rights activist/researcher that we have been working with. She had a big chuckle when she told me that actually people did celebrate, in public. Apparently people organise ‘birthday parties’ in restaurants where they toast to this great event. I love people’s ingenuity, moreover their defiance of authority, when that same authority refuses to recognise the basic freedoms any person needs to live in dignity.
Moreover you can find underground messages on the Chinese version of ‘facebook’, although it is most likely monitored. Overall I’ve talked earlier on to her and other Chinese activist, how you do work when a state is that repressive? You need to be careful of course, but also select topics that don’t immediately draw the attention of the government, or in other word are not that threatening to their power. So you can work on for example domestic violence, prevention of death penalty for the mentally ill, parts of reproductive health (the one-child-policy aside of course) etc. This doesn’t make it easy of course, as the official NGOs working on the issue, are actually connected to the government. I can only admire their persistence and hope we can continue to support their work in one way or another.
Our meeting also ended on Thursday with a prize ceremony, albeit by accident. I was joking around with a long time women’s rights defender from Ghana, and we came to the topic of the Dutch Human Rights Tulip that would also be handed out the next day by the Dutch Government. The 10th of December is International Human Rights Day. This was declared in 1948 after the Universal Declaration on Human Rights was approved by the United Nations on that exact date. She said she would have liked to apply. We then said that she actually would have been a great candidate and as a joke I took up a candle holder and presented her the candle with a small speech on the great work she had done – which she has! She then took over the candle and started her own speech, but this time on how she really had enjoyed and was inspired by the week. She then handed the candle over to the African lady sitting next to her, who then repeated this…it went all the way round the table. As you can imagine it was quite an overwhelming surprise.
Now I wish the women that I have been working with would have received either one of these prizes – like we did by accident. However, I think the signal that was handed out by the Nobel prize committee by giving this prize now to a Chinese human rights activist, simply proves the value of the work of all human rights defenders out there. It will strengthen and empower not only the other Chinese activist, but recognizes the work of all of those working on human rights. And be sure they will continue to do so!