Blog Action Day recently spoke to Salil Shetty, who is the Secretary General of Amnesty International to find out more about what motivates him to work on human rights and what he thinks about blogging. Please feel free to reference this interview, alongside the resources Amnesty International has provided on forced evictions in your post’s for Blog Action Day on Oct 16.
Why did you become a human rights activist?
When I was 15 years old and in school in Bangalore, South India, the then Prime Minister of India suspended all civil and political rights by declaring a “state of emergency”. I have seen and experienced human rights violations from my early days growing up in a country with deep poverty, inequality and injustice, particularly against women, lower castes, indigenous people and minorities. Both my parents were actively involved in the fight for justice and human rights. I joined the students’ movement in university and linked up with several other human rights struggles and organisations.
What inspires you most about your work?
The list is too long. It is an extraordinary privilege to be playing a leadership role in the human rights movement – which has impact every single day. Amnesty’s achievements at the local, national, regional and global levels have been incredible – like the creation earlier this year of an Arms Trade Treaty. The sceptics said the treaty was unachievable – but with the help of our millions of members around the world campaigning for two decades, we got there in the end. That was a fantastic moment. The meetings with individuals whose lives have been touched by Amnesty – former prisoners of conscience, and many others – are always inspiring too.
Why is blogging and expressing your views freely online important, and why is this a human rights issue?
Freedom of expression is a core human right. Blogging and freedom online brings many new opportunities — but many challenges from repressive governments, too. Amnesty International will continue both to document the violations of freedom of expression, and to battle for those freedoms to be enjoyed. Online and offline, I believe the core issue is the same – with the key difference that blogging can reach endlessly more readers than old-fashioned technology allowed. Amnesty International has fought for the rights of print and electronic media, and individual freedom of expression, for over 50 years now. Our fight for people to use mobile phones and the internet to express their opinions is just an extension of that campaigning.