New Internationalist

Living Rights

September 2004

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Stories and Poems

Volume 1, Articles 1-10

This anthology, as the title says, puts together a collection of fiction from around the world on the broad theme of ‘human rights’ as enshrined in the United Nations Declaration of 10 December 1948. In what is presumably the first volume of a trilogy – Living Rights deals with the first 10 of the Declaration’s 30 articles – a dozen authors respond creatively to the questions of equality and freedom.

Of course, the world being as it is, the focus in these pieces is often on repression and the denial of rights. As Marisa Antonaya says in her thoughtful introduction: ‘We state that the pen is mightier than the sword, and then notice the blade pressed against the writer’s neck.’ Operating as shouts of outrage are such pieces as ‘Dream Robbers’ – Freda Churches’ poem about compulsory medication – and Nathan Witcher’s excellent ‘Break Away Country’ dealing with Australia’s inhuman treatment of asylum seekers.

But there is celebration as well as anger and several writers, far from being weighed down by their philosophical brief, have adroitly melded the intimate moment with the global development. Outstanding is Helen Moore’s ‘The Story-Makers’ which tackles, with the lightest of touches, the weighty issue of the economic and cultural legacy of colonialism.

Each story and poem is, in its own way, a testament to our capacity to endure, to bear witness and to prevail. Living Rights is a lively contribution to the ongoing struggle to transform human rights from words on a page to the flesh and blood of everyday life.

Peter Whittaker

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 371 This column was published in the September 2004 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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