Last week, in Albany, NY, dozens of Protestants were forced from their church at gunpoint by local authorities. Three ministers and 23 others were executed and buried in a mass grave a few miles west of town. Thousands more were forced to abandon their homes and leave the state or risk execution.
The surprising news, published in January 2001 in Vanity Fair, must have come as a shock to the magazine readership, more used to the latest from Hollywood or the world of fashion. Both text and layout looked like the beginning of a regular article. The second paragraph immediately reassured the potentially alarmed reader.
This didn’t happen in Albany. Or Chicago. Or Tucson. But what if it did? How would you feel? What would you do? Horrible acts against human rights are committed all over the world every day. This one actually happened in East Timor in 1999 to 26 people including women, children and three Catholic priests. They were seeking sanctuary in their church from anti-independence militia units organized by the Indonesian military. Tens of thousands who fled the region to save their lives remain trapped in refugee camps.
What can you do to help? Write a letter. Write an e-mail. Write a check. Become one of Amnesty International’s one million members today… Human rights violations can happen anytime, anywhere - even here.
Such acts are violations of human rights, whether they happen in the United States or elsewhere. And similar events actually happen in other parts of the world, and sometimes are part of daily life for citizens of some countries. Once this reality established, Amnesty International reveals itself and calls for support. If the news were reported as happening in country where these may be daily almost ordinary occurences, it is likely that they would have attracted less attention. For the reader to perceive them as extraordinary, the facts were transposed to a context where they are going to be truly shocking : as part of the advocacy campaign, the events were transposed from East Timor to Albany, NY.
A single word was sufficient to make the events even worse: Protestant. In an American context, the alleged victims had to be Protestant. Why was this change of religion necessary: would Catholic victims not have been considered as equally worthy of compassion?
This necessary double transposition of the facts, location and religion, started me thinking about the universal recognition of human rights. And I decided to look at the extent to which human rights concepts are recognized in every part of the world, by different cultures and religions, and also whether - if recognized - human rights were to be applied across the board, without any discrimination.