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Richard Burden MP celebrates Human Rights Day by taking action in support of Palestinian human rights defenders

Human Rights Day is celebrated annually to honour the adoption of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to remind us of the importance and value of the inalienable rights that we are all entitled to as human beings. Human Rights Day is an opportunity for us to remember those from all over the world who continue to fight for rights that we sometimes take for granted.

As Chair of the Britain-Palestine All-Party Parliamentary Group, I follow closely the human rights situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This includes human rights defenders peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly – rights that are enshrined in Articles 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Two such people are Issa Amro and Farid al-Atrash. Issa and Farid are two Palestinians who campaign against the construction of illegal settlements by Israel in the occupied West Bank. Farid is a lawyer and Issa is coordinator of the Youth Against Settlements group. Both are firm believers in non-violent protest. Amnesty International have described how during one such peaceful demonstration on 26 February 2016 in the Palestinian city of Hebron, Israeli forces threw sound bombs and fired tear gas at protestors.

Farid was arrested at the demonstration and Issa was arrested the day after. They now face trial in a military court on charges including participating in an illegal demonstration and attacking soldiers. They both deny the charges. In fact, video footage shows Farid holding a poster in front of an Israeli soldier before being pushed and violently arrested. Issa, meanwhile, has spoken of being beaten by Israeli police while in custody.

On Wednesday I attended Amnesty International’s annual Human Rights Day Reception, which took place in Parliament. The cases highlighted at the reception showed the wide range of people who are human rights defenders across the globe. They can be community leaders, journalists, teachers, farmers, poets, lawyers, students, politicians, health professionals or they may come from any other walk of life. Yet Amnesty International have documented an increase in attacks against human rights defenders globally. Sometimes this can take the form of harassment. Sometimes they are jailed. In some places they face torture and even death for upholding rights we take for granted here in the UK. Their courage is inspirational.

Yesterday’s Human Rights Day reception was an opportunity for me not only to voice my support for Issa Amro and Farid Al-Atrash but also to pay tribute to the vital work Amnesty International does more generally to shine a spotlight on the persecution of human rights defenders wherever they are, in documenting what is happening to them and in letting them know they are not alone.

You can take action too by sending a message of hope to Issa and Farid at https://www.amnesty.org.uk/write-for-rights/action/issa-amro-and-farid-al-atrash

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