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  • Writer's pictureEmma Vogelmann

#NotPowerless – My Amnesty International experience

As a disability rights activist, you are used to fighting for your voice and concerns to be heard by others, particularly by others who can affect real change. So you can imagine how surprised I was when I was asked to be on a panel of young activists at Amnesty International’s International Council Meeting (ICM) in Rome!

Both Amnesty International and the disabled community recognise that Amnesty International does not take an active enough role in promoting and advocating for the rights of people with disabilities. When I met with members of the International Secretariat before the ICM, I was told this was something Amnesty International was looking into changing but they currently lacked the expertise on how to do this. (Enter Emma!) It is because of my reputation as a knowledgeable and experienced young disability rights activist that I was asked to be part of this incredible event. As Amnesty International operates on a global level, the timing was perfect as the UK has just been reviewed by the UN on how they are preforming under the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities making these issues that much more relevant to this international audience. In the initial UN assessment, the UK has been found in ‘grave and serious’ violation of these rights and now the UN say the Government cuts have created a ‘human catastrophe’ for people with disabilities. These issues I discussed came as a surprise to many people I talked to at the ICM.

My panel was on the Economic, Social and Cultural rights of young people and how we have encountered demonisation in our work. The other panellists were Daiene Mendes from Brazil, who spoke about her amazing human rights activism in the Favela in Brazil and the war on drugs, and Shaeera Kalla from South Africa, who is one of the student leaders of the movement to promote accessibility and affordability of higher education in South Africa and spoke about the change in society’s and government’s attitudes towards students. I spoke about the issues faced by young people with disabilities in the UK who have been impacted more than any other group by austerity measures and how this has led to a retrogression of our rights.

The panel was moderated by Benya Kraus from the USA making us an all-female panel of powerful young activists! One of the best aspects of the panel, was that we all had such different backgrounds and areas of work yet we all faced similar opposition to what we are trying to achieve. The marginalised groups we work with have all been the targets of demonisation by society and by our respective governments and this made for a great panel discussion. Amnesty International are currently trying to promote the role of young people in their work so having the panel on International Youth Day this sent a powerful message to the delegates that we are here and we are ready to continue fighting for our human rights.

At the ICM, a resolution was being put forward on the rights of people with disabilities and contained a few areas Amnesty International could work on. This made my role on the panel even more important as I was not only raising awareness but I was also trying to convince Amnesty International to take action with me. I was flown out to the amazing city of Rome knowing the ICM would be the perfect opportunity to raise the issues faced by the disabled community to an audience that have the power to support our rights. (You can read about my sightseeing adventures in Rome here.)

I am so happy to say that at the first vote on the resolution, which was after my panel, the resolution was passed and my involvement on the panel was mentioned in the discussion. It is my hope that through research and consultations with experts in disabled rights, Amnesty International will gain a fuller idea of the issues people with disabilities face daily. So watch this space!

A version of this piece was also published on Includion London’s website on September 19th.

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