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Even when the glass was half full, the contents remained important because they could be used creatively to further any cause, former UN high commissioner for human rights, Mary Robinson, has told a gathering of University of Pretoria students.
Robinson, who is also a fromer Irish president, was addressing Master’s programme students during a fireside chat at Freedom Park’s The Sanctuary, where she interacted with them, advised and discussed various topics with them and challenged them to take the human rights struggle and run with it, using the tools of social media at their disposal.
The students were drawn from the Human Rights Law and HIV in Africa programme, students in the Human Rights and Democracy in Africa programme and volunteers in the Centre for the Study of Aids leadership programme.
The students drew on her experience in politics and her work in human rights.
She said: “Young people have a responsibility to participate in the fight for human rights; they need to understand what human rights means.”
Their generation had more capacity to hold governments, corporations and others in power accountable than before, she told them.
“Never has a generation been more empowered to deal with the challenges of human rights or had the capacity to hold government, corporations to account,” she said.
With the modern tools of social media at their disposal they could keep these leadership bodies on their toes and make sure they met their responsibilities.
She said the young generatin could used this platform to “to track their actions and progress and map them, and for data-capturing”.
Robinson has been in the country to deliver the 10th Nelson Mandela Lecture and she engaged with the students in her capacity as the University of Pretoria’s extraordinary professor for the Centre for Human Rights and Centre for the Study of Aids.
Robinson told her audience that there could be no human rights without concerted citizen action, which would in turn ensure implementation. “It has never been more possible to assert concerted citizen action,” she said.
She said discrimination happened to individuals who were weak and could not fight for themselves.
“When normal law is not working, use the social media to track the actions of those discriminating. They are bullies that you can put on the stratosphere, make them afraid.”
She advised them to work hard to bring hope again to those who had lost it.
“Even when it looks like there is nothing left to do because the laws are not being implemented, you must look into yourself and tap into your capabilities, what makes you effective,” she said.
She told them to prepare to fight hard: “You won’t win, win, win, it’s a struggle, you must gain ground.”
She said it was extraordinarily important to keep up with the struggle.