To mark the launch of our new website and blog platform we spoke to Nicolas Beger, director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office, about his thoughts on the importance of freedom of expression and what motivated him to work in human rights.
Why is blogging and expressing your views freely online important, and why is this a human rights issue?
People have been oppressed or deprived of their humanity since the beginning of humankind. On each and every one of these occasions, courageous people have stood up and challenged these violations, often being the first to say out loud that as human beings, we all have rights that must be respected. Human rights defenders are at the core of human rights protection; freedom to speak, raise awareness and demand accountability is the only way to make change. Previously, Amnesty International has had to fight for freedom of expression in print media. In today’s digital age, we face a new challenge - online media is often the most restricted because it reaches so many more people. It is therefore both a threat to governments and an essential campaigning device for human rights activists. Blogging has become a tool to protect human rights, and accessing material freely is a human rights issue in itself.
Why did you become a human rights activist?
I belong to a very small minority who as children are told that "we do not exist". From very early on, I was disturbed and troubled by the tendency to exclude children that didn’t fit into what was perceived to be ‘normal’. Exclusion and prejudice made me suffer personally, with some dire long-term consequences. This made me angry but eventually it motivated me to act. And in turn activism became the best channel for using this energy to challenge discrimination. Writing, thinking and acting on human rights became my key occupation from the age of 15, with a focus on women's and LGBT rights during my university years. It is the principle of "all equal all different" that has formed the basis for my own identity and all of my subsequent career choices.
What inspires you most about your work?
I feel immensely privileged to work for an organization with such active members like Amnesty International. I guess that what inspires me most are the many human rights defenders I meet who dare to speak out, who do not give up, and who so often transcend their own suffering to constructively work for change. And it is hearing the human stories and seeing the faces behind the statistics, such as the Roma woman activist forcibly evicted three times with her children, or the young Eritrean man who lost his family when fleeing in a boat across the Mediterranean to ‘safety’ in Europe, that keeps me motivated on a daily basis. Sitting in my office in (rainy) Brussels, around the corner from the European Institutions, my job might seem far from the front line of human rights defenders’ work. But it is a vital part of what we need to do jointly to protect human rights. Trying to put myself in the shoes of those who have suffered so much, imagining just for two seconds how much horror such loss would bring to my own life - this inspires me again and again to continue working.