Bleak is one of those words that seem to sound like their meaning. Its utterance conjours images of leafless, deciduous winter trees, with naked, spiny branches or, if you’ve been there, memories of central Manchester, grey, concrete – a dull place still recovering from WW2.
It’s a word that springs to mind when reading the news online and finding article after article about the ongoing economic malaise, whether job losses, a worsening national credit rating, a struggling export sector or the confronting issue of whether we’re a nation living beyond our means.
But before the bleakness causes you to reach for your Prozac and lose yourself in browsing the latest holiday deals, there is actually much to celebrate. And it’s not the improving housing market and consumer confidence, though that’s good too.
It’s about Freedom. Because while many of us are feeling bleakish about winter, the economy and the death of Michael Jackson, we tend to forget to feel good about something as obvious as the incredible freedoms we enjoy relative to many other places in the world.
As but one example, it’s common for us own-your-own-home loving Kiwis to get negative about the housing market, home affordability and our ability to own and pay off a decent home. Of course it’s only natural to be concerned about something as important as our homes, but it is equally important to keep it in context.
As we hurry to take the PM up on his home insulation offer, more than one billion people around the world live in slums, without any insulation or heating other than a thin wall of corrugated iron and whatever the warmth the sun provides. That’s context.
Most of us probably don’t even consider owning a home or having decent housing to be an incredible freedom, for us it’s what we’ve grown up with, a norm, nothing special, just one of our birthrights.
But the right to adequate housing is not only our birthright; it’s every human being’s right according to Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by United Nations states on 10 December 1948.
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.
Unfortunately, due to poverty and human rights violations, Article 25 is one of many rights that remain elusive for much of the world.
For instance, in Cambodia last Friday, 60 low-income families living in the central area of Phnom Penh known as Group 78 were forcibly evicted from their homes by a large security force deployed by the Municipality, without any regard for international law.
The families dismantled their homes after three years of government harassment and intimidation, with no choice but to accept inadequate compensation rather than have their homes demolished.
“We don’t want to leave, we refuse,” says retired mother of nine, Hun Bunkhen. “They keep saying we live on someone else’s land, but we don’t. And we don’t want to fight or argue with them because we can’t win.”
The Cambodian Government has consistently failed to guarantee the right to adequate housing and to protect its population against forced evictions. In 2008 alone, Amnesty International received reports of about 27 forced evictions, affecting an estimated 23,000 people.
According to the 2006 Census, that’s more people than live in the whole of the Auckland City suburbs, St Lukes and Kingsland. And that’s the tip of the iceberg when you consider there are more than 200,000 slum communities around the world.
For most of us we have more than adequate housing and the right not to be forcibly evicted; we have the freedom to live in any area we like, to up and move if we get tired of the feng-shui, to grow vegetables in the garden if we can be bothered and to redecorate, renovate and accentuate if we feel the need.
To celebrate our relative freedom and to raise funds for its human rights work, Amnesty International is urging Kiwis to come out of hibernation this August to take part in Freedom Week, its annual appeal week held from August 2-8.
Amnesty is asking people to fundraise by supporting its street appeal between the 2nd and 8th, or by hosting a Dinner for Dignity or Fundraising with a Dare anytime in the month of August. It’s easy and fun to invite a group of friends over for a pot-luck dinner, some good wine and to each donate what you would have spent if you’d gone to a restaurant.
Amnesty began in 1961, when British lawyer Peter Benenson was outraged when two Portuguese students were sentenced to seven years in prison for raising their glasses in a toast to freedom.
To continue the Amnesty tradition of toasting freedom in the 21st Century, bloggers are encouraged to write a Post for Freedom about any one of the Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its relevance to his or her life. Those who Post for Freedom can send through their blog address to email@example.com and the blogger who writes the best post will win a Trade Aid gift basket.
So they can raise their glasses to freedom, people who register a Dinner for Dignity early will be given a complimentary bottle of wine from Waiheke Island’s Destiny Bay Wines.
For more information visit: the Freedom Week website.
Josh Gale, Media & Communication Intern, Amnesty International NZ