OPINION – Tulip Siddiq: After a bleak year for human rights, 2016 must spread light

OPINION – Tulip Siddiq: After a bleak year for human rights, 2016 must spread light

TulipSiddiq (1)
Tulip Siddiq

by Tulip Siddiq, Labour MP, Hampstead and Kilburn 

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a picture reappear on my friends’ social media pages before the first night of Chanukah. It shows a menorah placed defiantly in a window, with the grainy backdrop of a Nazi flag flying from a town hall in 1930s Germany. Although we live in markedly different times, the symbolism of the picture feels incredibly pertinent.

It has been a ghastly year for international human rights. The marking of a new calendar year always provides a reminder for legislators to redouble their efforts in 2016.

We have seen an unrelenting refugee crisis, entrenched civil wars, new diplomatic tensions and multiple terrorist atrocities. 2015 has been a sharp reminder that we cannot ignore human crises, no matter how distant their origins may seem. We must continue to be optimistic in the search for solutions.

In the form of peace talks and various global summits, a range of opportunities have emerged. A notable example is the Vienna Conference, which hopefully marks the beginning of a political settlement in Syria, but for me, the ‘human rights agenda’ has to mean more than simply an end to war.

It should also mean pushing for a universal set of entitlements, such as access to education, decent healthcare, freedom of movement, speech and religion. These areas are not necessarily defined by highly politicised conflicts, but we must fight to achieve progress as though they were.

I take particular pride in the fact that Great Britain continues to ring-fence its international aid budget.

British aid is used around the world to build schools, medical facilities and to sustain various conservation projects. It is also crucial in providing emergency relief following conflict.

However, our Government’s approach seems deficient in areas where the ‘human rights angle’ isn’t immediately obvious – our efforts on climate change provide a good example.

Hopefully the UN climate change conference in Paris will provide a chance to rectify this complacency.

Of course, any assessment of human rights also has to account for the situation for our own civilians. Food poverty continues to blight our country, with the Trussell Trust’s latest statistics showing that more than one million people have required three days’ emergency food from food banks in 2014/15.

Further, a Policy Exchange study showed that more than a million working families couldn’t afford to heat their homes at winter.

Many British citizens are being forced to choose between whether to eat, or whether to heat their homes this December. We must do more to help them.

In Hampstead and Kilburn, I hear of local and global human rights concerns almost every day. This can be from those struggling to pay for daily essentials, but also from those who have spoken out collectively to ease the pain of others.

For example, many of the speeches and events held at JW3 focus on matters of international importance, such as finding answers to the refugee crisis or the Middle East conflict at large.

Their efforts go far to show how the spirit of local endeavour can shape our discourse on international crises. The spirit and conduct with which these meetings are held could teach politicians how best to respond to major flashpoints at home or abroad.

On occasion, public figures woefully misjudge the mood of the country and the level of decency required when trying to find answers to our biggest challenges. We have seen notable British columnists describe migrants as ‘cockroaches’ and, more recently, a US presidential candidate’s call for a moratorium on all Muslims entering his country.

Next year will see a whole raft of speeches given by ministers and other public figures as matters of life and death continue to dominate our front pages.

We must show leadership and remain resolute to treat those who suffer the most – or those who feel most alienated – with the compassion and respect they deserve.

2016 must be a year of answers. From what I understand, the reason for putting a menorah in one’s window is to symbolise that we must strive to spread light into the public domain.

The picture of the 1930s menorah has inspired me to impart all of the positivity and political will of which I am capable, to fight for progress on the human rights issues that challenge us all. I wish all Jewish News readers a happy Chanukah!

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