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'Wise up' to attacks on your human rights

© FRA/Voglhuber, 2021

Calling on all human rights defenders. It is time to ‘wise up’ to the increasingly sophisticated attacks on the political, social and economic protections enjoyed by us all.

Michael O’Flaherty, Director of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), issued the ‘wise up’ call at this year’s Fundamental Rights Forum 2021.

After waking up to the threats human rights are facing and joining up forces to tackle them, ‘wising up’ is the next step.  

“We have to acknowledge the skill of the adversary…and the need for us to improve our toolbox,” he told the hundreds of delegates in Vienna’s City Hall and thousands more watching online.

“Those who are struggling to deconstruct respect to human rights are smart. They know what they are doing. They have a game plan.

“And we have to be equally smart as we push back against it and its awful manifestations,” he added.

What that game plan might look like and the tools we will need to deliver on it was addressed by speaker after speaker at the Forum. Three main points emerged from the discussions at the Forum:

  1. Build a broad coalition
  2. Work together to reframe the narrative
  3. Use every tool at your disposal to share the message as widely as possible

Hajar Al-Kaddo of the Dublin City Interfaith Forum, said: “Discrimination has a very negative impact on what it means to be a citizen here in Europe.

“Protecting European values is to protect everyone’s values. We need more courageous leadership.

“Not just from a religious and political perspective, we need more females, people who look exactly like me, people from a diverse background. People who make up the very fabric of European society.”

Building that diverse coalition requires sufficient spaces and infrastructure for all sectors of society to get involved. Especially those who are suffering from exclusion or discrimination.

“Mobile devices have become very dear to all of us. A lot of life is online”, said Sabina Lobnig of the Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative (GARI).

“But 23% of all people with disabilities never go online. That means they cannot fully participate in modern society. And full participation is a human right.”

After getting everyone on board, we must get our messaging right.

“We need to reframe the debate. It’s not about the ‘foreign criminals,’ It is about our rights and values, it’s about equality before the law and about equal access to justice,” said Flavia Kleiner, Artistic director at Kosmos.

“We need to make it really understandable. It is not just something abstract to bury in a book. We need to weave these experiences into our everyday lives.

“To me what is really important is not only speaking about institutions, but also to live, maintain and develop democratic culture that comes along with it. That is where civil society comes in. To lift this culture and make it understandable for everyone.”

Craig Dwyer, part of Ireland’s successful Yes Equality campaign said: “If we can fully embrace new platforms, we can become better communicators, and better human rights practitioners.

“We need to recognise that digital platforms are important, strategic channels of communication that we need to be using.”

Fellow communication expert Steve Heywood of Edelman told the Forum that the right coalition with the right message on the right platform would be able to build trust.

“Trust is so important. It helps you do amazing things. Trust helps you build advocacy. Trust means people are more likely to share your information,” he said.

“Trust means people are more likely to stick with you if something goes wrong. It gives you breathing space. It is the glue between people, institutions and the media.

“Organisations can drive change by partnering with business. WORK TOGETHER. Do not try to scale by yourself. Do it in partnership with other institutions.”

Did you miss any of the discussions at the Forum?

You can now watch the session recordings online.

Simply click on the session you are interested in watching in the programme.

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We will be publishing more information about the Forum outcomes soon.

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