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Home Society The Human Rights Association wins the Ultima Social-Cultural Adult Work 2023, a conversation with the winner

The Human Rights Association wins the Ultima Social-Cultural Adult Work 2023, a conversation with the winner

by News Room
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Human Rights Union is nominated for the Ultima for Social-Cultural Adult Work 2023 award. Socius spoke with League Director Joke Blockx ahead of the official presentation on April 30. “It says something about the spirit of the times and the context in which we live.”

“In times of climate crisis, increasing inequality, growing extremism, wars, conflicts, disinformation and polarization, human rights are under increasing pressure. This can have consequences for everyone because human rights apply to us all. They protect our basic freedoms and ensure that everyone can live in dignity. The jury wants to send a strong signal to the world by naming the Human Rights Association as the recipient of the Ultima for Socio-cultural Adult Work 2023 award.

This is the jury’s motivation for the Ultima of social-cultural adult work, which was awarded on April 30, 2024 – in addition to other Ultimas of performing arts, literature and music.

Congrats on the Ultima, how does it feel?

“Thank you! It feels like recognition for our work. We are seen, our work is visible. The report was a good review. It is even better because the award comes from people in the industry – we assume that the jury is made up of people from our industry. If they recognize us, it means that we are doing a good job . They understand what we do.”

“Although we also have mixed feelings. This award recognizes us for our critical voice and commitment to universal human rights. We are rewarded for work we shouldn’t be doing because everyone should respect human rights. The fact that we have been chosen also says something about the spirit of the times and the context in which we live.”

Since when did you know?

“In March, we received a message from Jambon’s cabinet asking when he could call us. To our surprise, he congratulated us on Ultima. We fell completely out of nowhere.”

“We had to keep our candidacy a secret for a long time, also internally, but after a while it was no longer possible. At the award ceremony, some of the awardees make a presentation, for example. It’s hard to put our work into a stage: meetings, working at a desk, etc. When the camera crew came to shoot the video, we informed the team.”

“For the last few days, we wanted to invite people to watch the broadcast without saying we’ve won. The Ultims are not MIA and not widely publicized. It’s a shame because people in our industry work hard and do valuable work. And we don’t spend enough time promoting it.”

In your memo, you specifically defend the critical civil society that we need to protect and monitor. The jury also mentions this. Is this award also recognition for the entire socio-cultural sector?

“Absolutely. Our work is part of a wider engagement of the entire civil society. Organizations often contact us to ask if we can support the coalition. But with our small team we cannot cover everything related to human rights. We focus on the rule of law and legal principles, we deal with themes such as privacy, detention or facial recognition. Fortunately There are many human rights organizations in Belgium, and this award belongs to them too, because they actually extend the work of the League.

“Human rights are basic rights that everyone has regardless of origin, socio-economic class, place of residence… They were born after the Second World War on the basis of a dignified life and respect. Everyone has to respect human rights, but unfortunately it doesn’t exist. Let’s think, for example, of our own government, which is unable to create enough places for asylum seekers, internees or prisoners. We’re showing that injustice, and it’s hard for decision makers.”

“However, it is crucial to have a critical civil society in a democracy. It improves your politics. There used to be a consultation model where civil society experts were consulted when drafting legislation. Now that happens less and less often. And then there are violations and, of course, more conflicts between policy makers and civil society.

“Over the last few weeks and months, voices have been constantly raised who would like to highlight how much aid we receive and question whether it was justified. It’s like saying to the sector, “Because you get money from us, you can’t sabotage us” or “You can’t fight the state with taxpayers’ money.”

“With such arguments, they want to make our industry vulnerable. And someone standing in the corner is easy prey. Although we really don’t have time for that, we have other problems to solve. But we have to address it because that’s just how the media works.

“We don’t have a communication service of 25 people who can react quickly and make videos. We have taken several steps to correct the recent falsehoods about our organization, but it was later repeated on television.”

“How can we work in such an environment? We cannot defend ourselves. Our industry does a good job, we are reliable and professional. With support comes responsibility. And I believe that everyone in our industry is very responsible and wants to participate. And so this Ultima goes for them too.”

“Finally, defending human rights preserves peace, which is why this Ultima also includes a call for peace.”

You look at human rights from a broad perspective and connect this to, for example, the climate, the PFOS scandal… The jury also praises you for that. Human rights are under increasing pressure. How do you see the development in Belgium and internationally?

“It just gets more complicated. The climate problem creates climate refugees, incitement to hatred increases and freedoms are restricted. Take for example the right to protest. We see the criminalization of people campaigning for human rights. The rights of vulnerable people are questioned. It’s impossible.”

“Digital evolution and artificial intelligence also bring with it (legal) challenges. Unfortunately, we have too few staff for such complex themes that it is not easy to follow and explain in understandable language.”

“In Europe, the far-right group is growing together with Orban in Hungary or Meloni in Italy. In many countries, civil society can hardly develop. European Civil Society Watch has even been set up because some governments are not able to handle (well) critical voices. We are naturally privileged in this area in Belgium, but that is exactly why we have to defend our midfield.

And in Belgium?

“The elections will tell. It is difficult to look at Belgium separately, because human rights are universal and linked to global trends.

“My fear is that freedom of speech or a different voice is only going to come under even more attack. And even if we support our position with research, it will be questioned. That’s a dangerous development. What if scientific research is questioned, what if jurisprudence is questioned? So where should we base it?”

“Human rights actually need to be updated and made sure they can withstand the new trends that are coming our way.”

How can we all promote human rights?

“Talking to each other and addressing injustice. Open things up for discussion. Explain why something feels unfair to you. Respect for each other’s position and dialogue are important.

“Furthermore, it is important to continue learning about human rights and understanding their importance. What are your rights? Why is something possible or not?”

“Furthermore, as an industry, we must cooperate more and continue our critical role. In this way, we help people and build democracy and a well-functioning rule of law. I think some organizations believe that the commotion and political attacks we are experiencing will never happen to them. I hope they are right, but I don’t know how the trends will develop. That’s exactly why we have to work together.”

“And finally, support us and join the league for free. In this way, you show that you consider our manifesto and human rights very important. The members give us the strength to continue the work.”

How are you going to celebrate this Ultima?

“We don’t know yet. We’re busy with day-to-day work at the moment. We’re in full election mode and we’re checking election programs. Also, it’s not really sinking in yet. But a party would definitely be in order. An Ultima like this means something, and it’s important to celebrate the positive moments.

This interview is taken from Socius.

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