The empowerment of poor and disadvantaged people to understand, seek and realise there human rights has always been an important aspect of Rights and Humanity’s work. This bottom up approach provides an essential complement to our top down work with UN agencies and governments to ensure the supportive legal and policy environments in which the needs of the most disadvantaged sectors of society are adequately addressed.
Over the last two decades, we have demonstrated innovative methods of community empowerment focussing on a few pilot programmes in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. The experience gained and lessons learnt have shaped the human rights approach to development pioneered by Rights and Humanity. The results have been incorporated into our advocacy and training, thereby encouraging wider replication by other stakeholders.
On human rights day 10 December, 1986, rights and Humanity hosted its inaugural conference entitled “Focus on the Disadvantaged: Strategies for Action”, at the London School of Economics and Political Science, UK. This brought together an international, multi-cultural gathering of policy-makers and practitioners to identify strategies for action to realise the rights of disadvantaged people.
The issue of homelessness in Europe was identified as a priority, together with the growing racism and xenophobia suffered by asylum seekers and immigrants. These priorities shaped Rights and Humanity’s early work in Europe.
In December 1987, Rights and Humanity held a Pan-African Consultation entitled: “Realising the Rights of Economically and Socially Disadvantaged People in Africa: Strategies for Action”, in cooperation with the University of Jos, Nigeria.
The Consultation recognised the particular vulnerability of economically and socially disadvantaged people, including the rural and urban poor, women, children, ethnic and religious minorities, refugees and people with disabilities and called for higher priority to be given to assisting them to obtain equality and social justice. Participants identified the priority needs and adopted strategies for action which set the agenda for Rights and Humanity’s work in Africa over the next five years, where our community empowerment projects were pilots in Nigeria.
Our second African section was formed in the Sudan, also in 1988. A committee of Rights and Humanity members based at the University of Khartoum, provided education in human rights for public officials, including the police. It was on the verge of establishing a legal aid clinic in the slums surrounding Khartoum when Rights and Humanity was declared persona non grata as a result of the coup d’étât of June, 1989, and we had no alternative but to close the project. Instead, we supported the establishment of a UK-based Sudan Peace and Reconciliation Newsletter to support our Sudanese members working towards a peaceful settlement of the civil war in Southern Sudan.
Rights and Humanity has focused much of its work in Africa on addressing the human rights and socio-economic consequences of the HIV/AIDS pandemic throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
From our establishment we have maintained a concern for the Middle East. In 1989, we agreed to house and supervise the first representative in the UK of the Palestinian human rights group Al Haq – Law in the Service of Man. In this way we were able to keep in touch with issues in the region.
We began working directly in the region in the mid-1990s and piloted the implementation of the human rights approach to development in Jordan 1999-2002.