Sun | Jul 22, 2018

The church and human rights

Published:Thursday | December 8, 2016 | 12:00 AM


Every year, December 10 marks the observance of International Human Rights Day. Sadly, it is only a few civil- society groups that make any effort to celebrate the necessary call for the protection of our freedoms and civil liberties.

The time is ripe for the Church throughout Jamaica to get on board with deliberately promoting, protecting, and celebrating social justice and human rights for our citizens. It is with a sense of urgency and Christian commitment that I encourage us in the Church to use this time of year to sensitise awareness around the human rights of all Jamaicans.

If the Church is going to respond to human need and suffering through loving service, it had better be concerned about exercising this service in the halls of advocacy for the sake of the voiceless, and the often ignored, in a classist society where many in the Church are actually agents of Babylon!

Challenging violence, injustice, and oppression demands an informed and vocal Church which speaks truth to power, regardless of who sits at the throne of justice. Working for peace and reconciliation calls for compassionate hearts of love which seek healing and liberation for everyone.

In the days leading to the celebration of International Human Rights Day, a team of persons in churches across Jamaica might consider bringing focus to some matter of national concern. It may be a matter such as the rights of children. A simplified version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights might be circulated in church. You may also have a feature activity at church which takes the form of a panel discussion that addresses the matter of bullying, or citizens' rights, or basic everyday matters such as what to do if you are arrested.

In schools, just three minutes out of assembly time may be allocated to sensitising awareness around the fact that children are human rights stakeholders whose rights must be respected and protected everywhere in Jamaica. A team of students may actually be tasked with this necessary duty of human service.

in the dark

One may be surprised to know that many Jamaicans are in the dark where their rights are concerned. There are even those who believe that this is just an unnecessary activity carried out by a few people uptown. Interestingly and historically, our most vociferous voices for equal rights and justice have come from the grass roots.

About four years ago, I went to Emancipation Park on International Human Rights Day to do a stand for human rights. A few civil-society volunteers were there, each holding a placard with a message affirming human rights. As I entered the park (in clerical collar), security personnel identified me and approached me with a sense of antiterrorism vigilance. One seeing my not yet displayed placard reprimanded me:

"You can't come in here to demonstrate. No demonstration is being allowed here today!"

I responded, "What demonstration? Who is demonstrating? Today is International Human Rights Day, and we are just having a stand in celebration of human rights."

He called for backup and a retinue of other security, along with the chief in tow, attended the scene of impending doom. The already stated position was affirmed: "Sir, you can't do any demonstration here."

I assured them that I was not there for a demonstration and that where the other persons were concerned, the Jamaican Constitution actually guarantees us the right of peaceful assembly.

However, I still cannot forgive myself for not preserving the look on their faces when I said: "By the way, would you all take a look at what is written on my placard? Tell me if this sounds like a demonstration, and an activity that is going to erupt in violence."

I opened my placard bearing the words, 'Security guards and domestic helpers are human too.' After a moment of stunned silence, a very helpful response came. "Okay, sir, but we will have to follow you, wherever you walk inside here."

Let us get informed as we encourage our political and religious servants in their role as human rights defenders. Let the Church live the mission of preaching the good news, proclaiming deliverance, and facilitating liberty for the oppressed. Be courageous and promote the work of social justice and human rights for our Jamaican family.

Fr Sean Major-Campbell

Anglican Priest