I recently had the privilege of addressing a gathering of graduating and incoming students, the academic community, activists and global citizens, at the Global Campus on Human Rights at Venice, Italy. The event also marked the beginning of a profound cooperation between the Right Livelihood College (RLC) and the Global Campus on Human Rights (GC); setting the stage for the scaling up of the tasks that must be undertaken towards changing the world from bottom up.
The partnership aims to work together to ensure that the United Nations Child Rights Convention from 1989 practically secures children’s right to protection, provision and participation in the decision-making processes that shape their future.
The Global Campus has affiliations with 100 universities across the world. The campus runs master’s degree programmes that afford students the advantages of learning from academics as well as human rights practitioners. The African hub is located at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. The RLC, on the other hand, is an initiative of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation and has laureates of the foundation as fellows or faculty. As both a laureate and representative of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation at the event, it was a moment to look at the potential of the partnership and what it means for youths growing up in very trying moments.
The Right Livelihood College (RLC) is a global capacity building initiative of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation and operates from nine campuses across the world. The college was founded in 2009, and serves as a hub, catalyst, incubator, multiplier and an accelerator of links between academics and activists. Two of the nine campuses are located in Africa with one at the University of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and the other at the University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria. The campus at the University of Port Harcourt understandably focuses on the grossly despoiled environmental health of the Niger Delta, taking on the intersectionality between human rights and irresponsible exploitative actions of oil corporations.
The Right Livelihood Foundation, through its widely known Alternative Nobel Prize, has been recognising and supporting courageous individuals and groups over the past 40 years in their efforts towards solving pressing global problems. So far, such recognitions have gone to 174 laureates from 70 countries. The award highlights the work of the laureates, the framework within which they struggle and also exposes the threats under which they work. It offers long-term support that includes networking and protection for laureates under threat. As you may know, some laureates have been given the award while in prison. A recent example are the Saudi activists who got the prize in 2018 and Ken Saro-Wiwa who received the award in 1994 and was executed by the Nigerian state the following year.
The 2019 laureates underscore the extremely significant current global socio-political context. They include Aminatou Haidar (Western Sahara) who is recognised for her pursuit of justice and self-determination and decolonisation of Western Sahara. Then there is Guo Jianmei (China), a lawyer recognised “for her pioneering and persistent work in securing women’s rights in China.” The other laureate is the global youth climate activist, Greta Thunberg, who stands out for inspiring and amplifying political demands for urgent climate action reflecting scientific facts. Last, but not the least is Davi Kopenawa of the Yanomami people, and the Hutukara Yanomami Association (Brazil) who stand out “for their courageous determination to protect the forests and biodiversity of the Amazon, and the lands and culture of its indigenous peoples.”
These great individuals and group have stood up against much negatively contending forces and their resilience signifies the intersection between human rights and courage.
The convocation cum matriculation event in watery Venice, was anchored on the fusion of action and activism. While others complain of the shrinking space for civil society worldwide, the fight to claim and occupy spaces through courageous actions have not stopped. We see the people rising and standing courageously from Hong Kong to Egypt, to Ecuador. We see shrinking spaces in Britain where the Extinction Rebellion has been banned from protesting in London. That is really funny. How do you ban a rebellious group? And of course, we cannot avoid mentioning the vastly shrunk space for free speech and right of association in Nigeria.
As we urged the graduating students in Venice, we must apply every instrument of peaceful resistance and, thereby widen the democratic space for others to follow suit. Human rights and child rights are inalienable rights. Those rights will not exist on a dead planet. This truth underscores the upswing in climate activism taken up by youths across the world. They need our support. We must learn both in the classrooms and on the streets. It is time to demand a full recognition of the rights of Mother Earth to maintain her cycles without disruption by humans. It is time to demand that the crime of ecocide is recognised as a crime at par with genocide, war crimes and other crimes against humanity.