International Human Rights Day (IHRD) is observed every year on 10 December – the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR is a milestone document, which proclaims the inalienable rights that everyone is entitled to as a human being – regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
To mark International Human Rights Day (IHRD) 2021, several staff members across UoR have written blog pieces about protected characteristics and their importance.
Dr Ruvi Ziegler, Associate Professor, School of Law
Ruvi Ziegler is the Chair of the University’s LGBT+ Staff Network. In this piece, he reflects on his own experiences and how this shapes his work with the network.
In May 2019, I convened an international conference at Reading on ‘Contemporary Challenges facing LGBT+ asylum seekers: UK and Global Perspectives’ which brought together practitioners, NGOs, and academics. For LGBT+ asylum seekers, there is often a double whammy: their predicament means that are unsafe both in their home countries and among their fellow nationals in the country of asylum who, having fled persecution on other grounds, may share the dominant social norms of their home country in respect of LGBT+ rights.
I recently got married in a progressive (vegan) Jewish wedding in South Africa, which has legalised same-sex marriage in 2006 (the fifth country to have done so). For many people across the world, marriage remains unattainable. Even for those who live and love in political spaces where they are legally able to marry, there are many who would not have their families celebrate with them, and who still experience shame around their sexuality. Indeed, some of our staff come from communities where such public affirmation for their love is out of reach -alarmingly, a recent survey reveals that 26% of UK adults would be ashamed to have an LGBT+ child.
The grim legal, political, and social realities across the globe mean that my husband and I have to modify our behaviour when we travel together: from LGBT+ free zones, to countries where advocating for gay rights may constitute ‘propaganda’, to hotels where requesting a double room may lead to vigorous questioning, to outright criminalisation on pain of imprisonment or worse – the experience of a same-sex couple is materially different than that of other couples. Simply being visible as same-sex couple is a potentially risky (and forced) political statement.
It is utterly infuriating that, what is publicly celebrated in one country is criminally condemned in another (you need only look across the South African border to Zimbabwe or to its neighbour Zambia). I believe that, we all have a responsibility to try to mend the world – the Jewish notion of Tikkun Olam. I have reached out to the newly formed All-Parliamentary Party Group on Global LGBT rights – its establishment in this Parliament is an encouraging development which demonstrates that, on this issue, cross-party cooperation is possible. Over years of public engagement, including as Chair of the Board of Trustees of New Europeans Association UK, as Chair of the Oxford European Association, and as an advisory council member of the Jewish human rights organisation Rene Cassin, I have developed a network of colleagues beyond academia – in civil society, the bar, and national politics- which I hope to utilise for the benefit of the staff network.