Scroll down the page for the Live blogs of the talks.

Videos about Human rights

Live blogs about Human rights

Jenny Sealey talk

JennySealey_portrait

JennySealey_portraitJenny became deaf (with speech) at aged 7. Her mother said she could do whatever she wanted. Her careers officer said she could become a librarian! With Graeae, she works with some extraordinary deaf and disabled artists. She is showing a video of some of them as she continues to speak.

Disabled people are dependent on Access to Work and the Independent Living Fund. The first is one of the government’s best kept secrets. It helps disabled people into the workforce, so they can fulfil roles with equality, and come off benefits and pay taxes. The latter does what it says. But in 2012 Esther McVey announced out of the blue that it will be closed and passed to local authorities in June 2015. The pot is £23m, and per person the cost of £346 compares very favourably with the cost of care in residential homes [several thousand]. Jenny argues the closure breaches human rights.

When working on the Paralympics Opening Ceremony, Stephen Hawking said don’t look at your toes, look at the stars. He and many other deaf and disabled people (Beethoven, Roosevelt, Frida Kahlo) have contributed enormously to civilisation. They needed and received support. Jenny is running through a list of people who are struggling with accessing government support so they can fulfil their potential.

For example, a graduate in business studies had Access to Work for 6 hours a day, then when moved to another job was only given 3 hours a week, and had to leave the job… which also means that two signers lost their employment too.

Disability does not occur because someone has done something wrong. Yet disabled people are vilified and in some countries treated as beggars. It amazes some that there are disabled people on the stage. Many decisions seem to be the result of lack of empathy and understanding. For example, how do blind people use tablets with smooth screens? The Paralympics were glorious. Following it, Channel 4 asked Jenny to put some of her people forward to Undateables, which she found sickening.

So Jenny asks us to familiarise ourselves with Access to Work, and with the issues, and help disabled people in their efforts to give their great contributions to society.

Chetan Bhatt talk

ChetanBhatt_portrait

ChetanBhatt_portraitOur next speaker is Chetan Bhatt from LSE. He’s commenting on how people generally try to pigeonhole him… as a Hindu Kenyan Asian. But also all sorts of people from his London background are part of him.

Questions about identity and origins are difficult – we might cheer and fight for them, but often we just assume we have them without thinking about it. But the responses are important socially and politically.

Often conflicts are based on old stories of origin and identity, myths which can be about nation, race, religion, caste, culture. Some say origin stories give people a sense of belonging, but Chetan sees them as adding to human misery, and dares us to refuse them. Instead we should develop a deeper sense of personhood, responsible to humanity as a whole; origin myths disguise global power and inequalities.

Tradition is not the same as history. They are often in conflict. Chetan tells two stories of growing up in London.

One is of his next door neighbour, who was National Front, racist and threatening, but today is a family friend, gentle and kind.

The other is of a quiet Hindu boy who became involved in Al Qaeda. He like others discarded his ‘impure’ past to become ‘authentic’… but it is using a forgery of the past, not returning to the past. Ordinary Muslim beliefs can never be pure enough, so are obliterated. The claim to tradition is at war with history.

Purity, certainty, authenticity – all lethal. Today’s main Hindu fundamentalist organisation has roots in Fascism, and has engaged for decades in violence against minorities. Fundamentalists see religion and culture as their sole property.

Chetan respects the right to have and express culture and religion, but not necessarily the content. There is no human right to not be offended. In a genuine democracy, people express different views, and change their views.

Why do we have pride in our nationality – an accident of birth? We live in a global world where goods and services are owned and provided internationally. There is no pure nation or culture. Culture is about many things, but often is what’s decided by the powers that be.

So Chetan asks: what about our identity? Each self is complex and messy, so why not value impurities and uncertainties? Why not be sceptical about origin myths? Be creative… He is showing a slide of a tin of haggis curry. Mmm… fusion cuisine!

Chetan tells the story of Dr Siddiqui, a Muslim fundamentalist. He was shattered by the story of a Pakistani girl who was raped and then exceuted for adultery, and reversed his position to work courageously against fundamentalism.

Ibn Rushd, a 12th century Muslim thinker, said that religious truth may conflict with rational truth, but the latter is still true. There are two distinct realms of truth, and they should be separated, i.e. secularism, or separation of church and state in the US, and laïcité in France. Ideas that shook his world, and ours.

Patrick Alley talk

Patrick Alley feature

Patrick Alley featureAnd so to our last talk, from Patrick Alley of Global Witness, recipients of the TED Prize.

He’s here to talk about a perfect crime, involving a whole host of shady characters. Some are obviously shady. Others wear suits and look like you and me. They destroy habitats, and people’s lives and lifestyles. They are involved in industrial logging in the Tropics.

Logging can be divided into criminal and legitimate, much the same except that the latter has better PR.

Patrick visited Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge return, earning millions of dollars from the trade in illegal logging. Later he was in Liberia, where Charles Taylor used income from logging to prop up his regime. Taylor doled out the rainforests to a coterie of business men. As the logs and money flowed out, the arms flowed in. When Taylor’s timber trade was subject to UN sanctions, the business men escaped intact, or carried on in the Congo.

What makes the crime so perfect is that the shady characters are propped up by less shady characters.

The big myth is that industrial logging in the Tropics brings sustainable development. It is neither sustainable nor does it bring development. It has created the euphemism “sustainable forest management”. In the last decade, Cambodia has lost its forests faster than anywhere, and a generation of farmers has been forced off the land. This despite the World Bank’s involvement. The war ended in 2003 in Liberia, but the problems haven’t been solved, and discontent is growing again. But if sustainable forest management can’t work in a small country, where can it work?

In order to sell the myth, the logging industry requires people to buy in. In Sarawak, a few have become rich using loans from international bank HSBC. The WWF believe logging is inevitable, and want to try to regulate it. But active members of the WWF scheme are involved in illegal logging and human rights abuse. The FSC rainforest logo on loo roll is also problematic. It’s another tool used by loggers to cover their tracks.

Forests are the world’s lungs, regulating water and climate systems. They are home to about half the world’s biodiversity. We can do something, if we regard the rainforests as a fundamental part of the biosphere that gives more value than the financial return. Brazil has recognised indigenous rights, returning power from vested interests to the local communities, a step in the right direction. Similar smaller steps are being made in Liberia. Some rich countries are paying poor countries not to cut the forests down, but more money is needed.

What can and should be done? End impunity, and prosecute the criminals. Stop governments financing destruction using our taxes. Campaign against banks bankrolling the destruction. Encourage WWF to do their job. They need to condemn industrial logging straight out. Reduce our soaring consumption.

Otherwise, we will all, loggers included, become victims of the perfect crime.