One Young World Summit 2012, Pittsburgh - Human Rights Plenary

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One Young World Returning Ambassador Pedro Pizano reports on the Human Rights Plenary.

The One Young World -Pittsburgh 2012 plenary session on Human Rights just concluded. To be pithy and to paraphrase David Jones Havas’s introduction of Christine Ockrent: “We will achieve woman’s equality when a completely incompetent woman can get the top job” a good summary would be: “We will have a free world, when everyone in spite of and because of their religion, gender, race, age, upbringing, language, nationality, disability, citizenship, sexual orientation,  action, and views (trying to be exhaustive here, let me know if I missed something) will have the same and equal access to rights and opportunities”.

Kate Robertson kicked off the session by telling us that, “it is easy to forget that there are human rights abuses in the world. There is still widespread sexism, racism, homophobia and other kinds of discrimination. Yesterday we were talking about censorship. Freedom of speech is a human right too.”

She reminded us that the groups that are more vulnerable according to the Global Study are Children, LGBTQ persons and persons with disabilities.

 Ambassadors do not rate the UN or the International Community as being particular effective in protecting and upholding human rights. The pledge asks you to intervene:  “We the OYW Ambassadors, pledge to take responsibility for improving the rights of an oppressed minority in our community.”

Hans Reitz introduced the first speaker from Eritrea, Meron Semedar.  Semedar, Hans told us, mean richness and he is going to tell us how he keeps his joy alive with all that has happened to him.

Eritrea is located in the Horn of Africa. It is bordered by Sudan in the west, Ethiopia in the south, and Djibouti in the southeast. It is identified by Freedom House (a non-partisan non-governmental NGO) as being one of the world’s worst human rights abusers.

 Meron ran away from Eritrea when he was 17 in search of freedom and opportunities. “The university was closed,” he said, “I had no choice but to leave my country.” He made his way to the Sudan and eventually to South Africa where he was received as a Refugee. 

“In most nations, as a refugee,” Meron said,  “you live in fancy refugee camps with nice food, and limited opportunities. The opportunities depend on donor organizations and the political will of the international community, which leads to lack of self-esteem and dependability. Refugees are not well respected nor recognized in the host country and there’s a lot of resentment, and harassment towards refugees.”


In 2010 according to the UNHCR there were 340,000 persons of concern in Southern Africa, including approximately 146,000 refugees, 193,000 asylum-seekers and 700 returnees.

“I could not endure another human being to go through the same hardship I went to pursue my education, “ Meron said. “So, I started an organization to assist refugees to get tertiary education and educate them on their rights as refugees. “

He’s also a board member of the Eritrea movement for Democracy and Human Rights.  The EMDHR is independent of any government, political affiliation, economic interest or religion. Eritrean students and exiles founded it in December 2003 in the Republic of South Africa in response to the absence of civil and democratic rights of citizens and lack of rule of law in Eritrea. It seeks to inspire change through non-violence and creative dissent.

His incredible resilience and bravery, his ability to rise above the challenges of growing up in one of the worst of the worst countries of earth and his indefatigable joy reminds me of Mukhtar Mai (who was mentioned on the floor the first day).  Mukhtar was gang raped by 14 men in Meerwal, Pakistan and refused to remain silent.  She said: “To raise a voice against oppression is my basic or fundamental right. I have raised my voice for women's rights so what happened to me, may have happened, but it should not happen to any other woman."

Meron finished with a powerful appeal. He reminded us that there are today around 6 million people who are stateless and an estimated 44 million people who have been displaced by violence in the last two decades.   He said:

“Accommodate a refugee inside your community, your country, your government. Recognize the value that refugees bring into making a country multicultural. I feel compelled to close my speech by encouraging you to be part of the solution. The hope of any refugee is to live a useful, peaceful and happy live, somewhere in the world just as you. The hope of any refugee is to live a useful, peaceful and happy live, somewhere in the world just as you.”