Sergei Nikitin: I Hope Some Day You'll Join Us

posted 18 Dec 2017, 04:10 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 18 Dec 2017, 04:10 ]
18 December 2017

By Sergei Nikitin

Sergei Nikitin was director of Amnesty International (Russia) from 2003 to 2017

“You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.” I heard these lyrics from one of John Lennon’s songs being quoted by one of the members of the Board of Directors of Amnesty International Luxembourg on the evening of 10 December, during a discussion which touched on many different topics, including Amnesty International itself and the people who play a part in this global human rights movement. We were standing in the small kitchen of the office which houses the Luxembourg section of Amnesty International; Human Rights Day was drawing to a close, and we had just returned from the Human Rights Defenders and Foreign Policy evening which concluded Luxembourg’s 2017 Human Rights Festival. One of the guests at this event had been İdil Eser, the Director of Amnesty International Turkey who was recently released from prison. She had flown in from Istanbul the day before, and told us about her almost four-month stay in the highest security prison in Turkey.

İdil had not been subdued by imprisonment and the threat of a long time behind bars; she remains a witty and effervescent interlocutor, who found herself at the centre of attention both in the small kitchen and in the large Cercle Cité auditorium in the centre of Luxembourg. Prior to her appearance in this auditorium, she had met Jean Asselborn, Minister for Foreign Affairs, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, accompanied by myself and by Stan Brabant, Director of Amnesty International Luxembourg.

I believe that the meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs delivered outcomes which will be beneficial both for İdil and for other Turkish human rights activists. I cannot say anything else about what was discussed, but the fact that the severity of the situation facing human rights activists all over the world was recognised is in itself a positive sign.

On the following day I took part in a “Marche aux flambeaux” [torchlit procession] which passed through the centre of this small country’s capital city. One of the placards carried by an activist belonging to the local section of Amnesty International highlighted the terrible fact that 281 human rights activists had been killed in 2016. As many people as possible should be familiar with this figure – from ordinary citizens right through to ministers and heads of government.

We will not grow tired of talking about those who have been killed, and we will not grow tired of talking about those who are currently behind bars, as İdil was until recently. We will not only talk – we will also write. It is at this time of year that Amnesty International’s Write for Rights traditionally takes place, and I had already taken part in a related event organised by a small group of activists belonging to the UK section. I saw the lists of petition signatures which had been collected on the occasion of Write for Rights in Luxembourg, and I recently visited the Dutch section of Amnesty which was making its own preparations in connection with Write for Rights.

I met many different people over these 10 days, and made the acquaintance of human rights activists, employees of two different sections of Amnesty International, journalists and a minister.

I saw how sincerely all these people are trying to do everything in their power to help, and how strongly they desire to change the situation faced by human rights activists, which is looking ever bleaker all around the world. I’m sure that all of the activists I met had perfectly nice lives and could easily just have put their feet up and stayed at home. Yet their sense of justice and solidarity with those in trouble brings them to the tables upon which the Write for Rights petitions are spread out, and prompts them to take up their pens and write letters of support for prisoners of conscience in many countries. They write to governments, angrily demanding a halt to the persecution of people who merely speak the truth, and calling for human rights to be observed.

These citizens of many countries who are not indifferent will not remain quietly on the sidelines. They attach great importance to first-hand information; they listened carefully to İdil, who has already returned to her country, even though the unjust accusations against her and her colleagues have still not been retracted and they face trial.

Other people might have lost heart and turned their attention to growing tomatoes or collecting stamps. But Amnesty International activists are astonishing people – tireless in their efforts, like İdil Eser, who does not like being called a hero. They will not back down, and they will doggedly continue their difficult task. And they will grow in number – the ranks of those who do not turn a blind eye.

The lyrics from John Lennon’s song which I heard in the office of Amnesty International Luxembourg continue as follows; “I hope someday you'll join us”.

I really do.

Translated by Joanne Reynolds