From the editor: Human rights through art, travel and civil society

We expect the values of human rights set out in international law to be more than words on paper. And yet injustice, preventable human suffering and poverty have not been banished to the past. What can be done to make human rights a reality?

Some people, like Navi Pillay, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and international judge, have dedicated their careers to translating ideals into actions, and continue to inspire others to fulfil our shared mandate to promote and protect human rights. Lacuna’s writer-in-residence, Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi, met Ms Pillay during the international development lecture at Warwick University this year. In a video interview with Warwick alumna Madhu Mehra, the three women discuss the former High Commissioner’s journey from her formative years in South Africa, her legal practice and civil society work, and her special commitment to fighting domestic violence. During her time leading the UN’s human rights agenda she challenged her organisation’s practices, making sure that human rights became everybody’s business. But her belief is that change must always come from below: civil society organisations and communities themselves are at the forefront of positive change in promoting human rights.

Creative projects tackling social justice issues are an important part of vibrant civil society. Art in its many forms helps place human rights at the heart of our community and our politics, ensuring we don’t forget suffering and injustice wherever it happens. Theatre companies like Ice and Fire specialise in telling human rights stories through performance: Christine Bacon reflects on why she felt the need to write a play on Sri Lanka’s civil war. A series of encounters at a theatre production was the start of a project that culminated in writing Island Nation, a play that contributes to making sure people know about the atrocities that happened in Sri Lanka.

And returning from a recent trip to Iran, Sophia Insoll shares a personal travel diary of her journey into a country and culture that is becoming more accessible to foreign visitors. While that part of the world has experienced a succession of domestic and international adversities, the warmth and hospitality of its people, and the richness of its heritage and landscapes have not faded. 


Banner photo by deepstereo via Flickr