Visit of Post-School UK Leaders

 ERIAt the end of March I spent a few days with the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers in Geneva and a group of Edmund Rice senior camp leaders. It has shown me how broad the work of Edmund Rice has become. From working directly with underprivileged children all the way up to the very highest level of international politics, the work of the network is continuing to promote the universal rights of every child.

During our brief stay we learnt about the practicalities of advocacy and the human rights mechanisms of the United Nations. Human rights start with local communities and the individual. For the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to do its job they need to know what is happening on the ground. This is where NGOs step in and give unbiased information from human stories of what is happening in a country. Due to the network’s particular interest in education, it is very well placed to report on the rights of children and the global reach of Edmund Rice makes it very well placed to provide feedback to the UN.

On the first day we visited the office used by the Brothers and had a look round the wider UN complex. It was a great experience to get a feel for the place. From the beautiful rooms of the original League of Nations to the lines of flags outside the Palais de Nations, I really got the feeling that this is where the world comes to sort out its problems. The evening was spent in the generous hospitality of the Brothers as we learnt more about the diverse nature of human rights with a particular emphasis on the environment (an issue not often associated with human rights).

The next day began with us sitting in on a session of the Human Rights Council. While not the most stimulating of discussions, with much repetition, it was fascinating to see the process in action. I really enjoyed seeing the countries come together in a joint, civilised exchange of ideas. The afternoon consisted of hearing more of what we can do in our own communities and hearing about issues that the Brothers have been involved with in the past.

Human Rights are often portrayed as something that apply to countries far away under dictatorial regimes. However in the past few years, Edmund Rice International has raised issues involving both the UK and Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers. (The case for the UK was informed by reports from an Edmund Rice supported charity in Salford that I have worked with in the past). The discussion also touched upon international development suggesting that we need to change the discussion from a charity question of need to a legal question of rights. Sam who was part of the group said: “I think the trip has just completely changed my opinion about helping people, I couldn’t agree more with some of the things I heard from the knowledgeable Brothers and advocates in the conference. Things such as changing the terminology of calling people poor, we should now call them disadvantaged.”

Then it was time to go home. All in all a very brief introduction to a very complicated world. It was still one of the most educational trips I’ve ever been on. This was only strengthened by sharing it with some of the inspirational young people who run Edmund Rice camps in the UK and learning how their work is a form of giving children rights. I came home empowered, knowing that the there are ways of reporting human rights issues to a body like the UN HRC through the work of the Brothers and similar NGOs. I will also remember that I have a responsibility (like we all do) to ensure that human rights remain universal in our own communities and that if this is not the case it is our job to speak up against any violations of these rights.

– Thanks to Nick Webster for this article

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