Commission Chair addresses anti-racism rally

The Commission's Chair, Judith Robertson, spoke at the Annual STUC St Andrew’s Day Rally last Saturday. The theme of the rally was no to racism.    She shared a platform with Angela Constance, Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Justice and Equality, Talat Ahmed from Anti-Racism Scotland and Satnam Ner, Vice-President of the STUC.

This is her speech from the event.

"I knew Jo Cox - I'm not sure if the organisers knew that when I was asked to speak.  She was a colleague in Oxfam when I worked there and we travelled together to Cambodia on a work visit to briefly work alongside the staff team out there on urban poverty issues.

"She was as all the reports have said - vibrant, committed, energetic, intelligent, funny, kind. She lived and breathed her values - I never heard her talk about them but they were there for all to see and feel. I felt the warmth of her care and witnessed the potent energy of her intelligence.  She was indeed a force of nature. A force for good and yes potentially a significant political leader.

"I was desperately sad and shocked when she died and frankly couldn't bear to listen to the news as it reported the trial of the man who murdered her this week. I couldn't completely hide from it either and I read the judge's statement last night and am left bewildered and disturbed at the severity of the issues exposed.

"I realise I don't understand the nature of the person who heads for fascism to heal wounds, address wrongs, tackle their alienation and marginalisation.  I have never seen violence as an adequate response to anything but Jo's killer did. And where he has gone others will too.

"I saw on social media that the Prime Minister made little comment about the outcome of the trial.  If this is true the absence of comment and analysis, of condemnation or challenge is deeply worrying and sends a desperate signal to people attracted by the dark messages of fear, hate and violence.

"We need to send a different message - we need to send a message of hope, of empowerment, of zero tolerance of racism, but also zero tolerance of the social and economic conditions that have made it possible for these sentiments and attitudes to take root and flourish. 

"We also need to reach out.  I am here because I am chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission and I was thinking about what human rights teaches us in these circumstances.  Clearly we all have the right to life and Jo's life has been denied her and her family in the name of a bleak and dangerous cause. 

"We all also have the right to freedom from discrimination, freedom from violence, freedom from fear and freedom from want.  We have the right to an adequate standard of living and the right to a safe home and support for good physical and mental health. We also have the right to good information and information about our rights.

"We need to talk about these rights. We need to hold our public authorities to account for delivering on these rights and we need to reach into communities where these rights are being denied and empower people to lay claim to something more hopeful, more positive and more creative. 

"We need to challenge the rhetoric and actions of hate but not with more hate.  We need to listen, learn, understand and act. We all need to do that and we need to work with others to do the same.  And we most especially we need to work with people we don't agree with because if we only talk to people who are the same as us nothing will ever change.

"Eleanor Roosevelt said on the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

"Rights begin in small places, close to home. So close and so small that they will never be seen on any map of the world.  They are the world of the individual person, the neighbourhood he or she lives in, the schools and colleges we attend, in our workplaces, our farms and our factories.  Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless our rights have meaning there they have little meaning anywhere.  Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home we will look in vain for progress in the wider world.

"Seldom has the need for concerted citizen action been more necessary. The vote to leave the European Union, the terms of the debate then and since, the threat to repeal the Human Rights Act and the increased vulnerability of aspects of our rights all need strong defence, but more positively we need to see how our rights can be further advanced, work with political parties and the government in Scotland and Westminster to further incorporate economic, social and cultural rights and ensure arguments of hate and fear have no traction in communities where all our citizens have access to standards of living and social conditions that generate dignity and respect."