Human Rights Day recognizes activists

Today is International Human Rights Day, a day to recognize those who fight for human rights and those who suffer from the lack of those rights. Frequently, those who speak out often suffer the most, a fact that a new campaign aims to call attention to.
Amnesty International USA and the Sierra Club are launching a campaign to call attention to the plight of the individuals who are fighting the illegal destruction of the environment. The campaign, Defending Those Who Give the Earth a Voice, focuses on 10 urgent cases of human-rights abuses that directly relate to people attempting to prevent crimes against the planet. Local members of Amnesty International are kicking off the campaign with an information booth on the Washington Avenue Bridge today.
The case of Aleksandr Nikitin, a nuclear engineer and former Soviet submarine captain, typifies the consequences individuals attempting to prevent environmental abuses often face. Nikitin co-authored a book that revealed huge problems with Russia’s storage of its retired nuclear submarines. The report, which is the only banned book in Russia, alerted readers to the possibilities of improperly stored submarines releasing uranium into the North Sea. Since the book’s publication in 1994, Nikitin has been charged eight times with espionage, and Russia has tried twice to convict him in a formal trial. During the entire ordeal, Nikitin and his lawyers have never been informed what laws Nikitin has allegedly violated. Nikitin’s third trial began Nov. 22, 1999.
Another case is that of individuals who have protested the water pollution in Nigeria caused by Shell Oil and Chevron. Residents who protested the pollution have been arrested, falsely accused of murder and, in some cases, executed — losing their lives in support of their beliefs. In many places, pollution has made the water supply undrinkable and the land unsuitable to grow crops.
This campaign is an eminently important one. While it is sometimes easy to become complacent about human rights abuses that occur on the other side of the world, the destruction of the environment is something that affects all living beings. If the improperly stored submarines in Russia begin to leak, the uranium pollution could easily have global effects. A large percentage of the world’s fish supply comes from the North Sea — and fish caught in the region end up on the plates of people all over the world. Pretending these issues do not affect us only makes the problem worse.
University students and staff members should take the opportunity International Human Rights Day offers to learn more about these extremely important issues and consider taking action to support those who speak out against environmental abuse. Taking a few minutes to write a letter or sign a petition, or spending a few dollars to contribute to this important cause could have a truly global impact.