Countless human right activists across the globe risk torture, harassment, and imprisonment as they defend human rights, including their own. Most of the advances that the world has made towards claiming human rights have been the result of grassroots campaigning by both human rights organizations and independent human right defenders. Some of these defenders are community activists fighting for fundamental social and economic rights or their “disappeared” relatives. By studying their backgrounds and life’s work, one can easily understand that human right activism requires sacrifice and unyielding willpower. Here are the life and experience of two leading human right defenders.
Alice Paul is one of the leading human right activists. As a 20th-century human right activist who played a significant role in the women’s suffrage movement, her activism led to the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States in 1920. She was born to parents who were strong advocates of gender equality. Growing up, Paul imbibed her parents’ values, beliefs, ideals, and principles that were reflected in her life’s work. Paul gave her life for the cause of fighting for women’s rights; she had no romantic relations nor did she ever get married. She spent most of her life fighting for the rights of women till in 1977 when she passed on at the age of 92. She always believed that everyone should do whatever they can do for the betterment of the society.
While studying at the University of Pennsylvania, Alice joined the National American Women’s Suffrage Association and later went on to form the National Women’s Party with Lucy Burns to defend the rights of women. The National Women’s Party staged non-violent protests, and Paul went on a hunger strike in an attempt to persuade the government to bring an amendment to the constitution to give women voting rights, and their efforts eventually resulted in the passage of the 19th Amendment.
Yeonmi Park, a North Korean defector, is another female human rights activist who played a significant role in the advancement of the world’s democracy. When Park was nine years old, she was invited to watch their government officers execute her best friend’s mother. Growing up in, she experienced many the human right abuses, but the killing kept bothering her the most. Twelve years have passed since Park witnessed the horrific incident. She is 21 years of age now and uses that experience to advocate for justice and respect for human rights. Park has travelled to many countries and uses both TV and social media platforms such as Facebook, Skype, Wechat, and Twitter to spread the word about human rights abuses in North Korea. In November 2014, she attended the Annual One Young World Summit in Dublin, where she appeared alongside world-renowned figures such as Kofi Annan, Sir Bob Geldof, and Dame Ellen MacArthur, the world record-breaking sailor. Park, who is always wearing a near permanent smile, hopes that the regime of Kim Jong-un will come of age and embrace democratic leadership ideals.