AFRICAN HUMAN RIGHTS LEADERSHIP CAMPAIGN, 2006-2007 « Law Offices of Timothy Bowles | Top Employment Law Firm in Los Angeles


African Human Rights Leadership Campaign

Origins, 2006-2007

If ten years back, a soothsayer had projected I would shortly be neck-deep in a growing peace and conflict transformation leadership training initiative in Africa, I would have terminated that person’s employment for excessive hallucinations.   Yet, in 2010, we are in our fifth year of innovation on just such a human rights Africa campaign, in five countries and growing.  The work has become my pro bono passion.

The first trip to Africa, in August, 2004, was as a relatively conventional American adventure tourist,  a safari with my dad for three weeks through some less-traveled preserves in Tanzania.  On this return to the developing world 30-plus years after a pre-law school trip to India and Nepal, the African spirit of hope, humanity and diversity seemed to reach in and squeeze my heart to near-bursting.

Thus touched, I volunteered in 2005 to assist Youth for Human Rights International and its founder Mary Shuttleworth on her annual world tour, helping with a regional student conference in Ghana on human rights abuses. We attracted participants from several African countries, including Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Uganda, and host Ghana.  Among these were Liberian Jay Yarsiah and Ghanaian Sammy Jacobs Abbey.

For that July, 2005 week in Accra and Cape Coast, Jay took me through his copy of the video documentary Liberia, An Uncivil War.  This is a jaw-dropping depiction of the 14-year civil conflict in Liberia, particularly the closing events in mid-2003 when rebel forces mortared Monrovia, the main city, civilian bodies were piled like cord wood outside the U.S. embassy, and President Charles Taylor was driven to exile in Nigeria with a relative calm maintained thereafter by international peacekeeping forces.

That week, Jay coupled the video with his recalls as a refugee.  The first incident was in 1991 at age 11, escaping with his family through child soldier checkpoints across the Mano River into Sierra Leone.  After return to Monrovia, the family fled again in 1995 aboard the packed and derelict ship Bulk Challenge, adrift on the Atlantic for weeks until Ghana’s President Jerry Rawlings allowed the refugees to land and take shelter in the 40,000 person U.N.-run camp at Buduburam.

Yet, Jay’s story did not end with declarations for retribution.  He described his determination to help create a worthwhile future in and for his country.  After all the reasons to hate and to strike back, his intention to contribute to the end of the madness was remarkable. Jay suggested I might want to come to Liberia at some point to see the human rights issues at play there.

I took him up on that invitation in May, 2006.  After a stay in Ghana to work with our colleague Sammy Jacobs Abbey (including a trip to the Buduburam Refugee Camp), I flew to Roberts Field, Liberia.  The 40-mile ride to Monrovia was through five United Nations military checkpoints. The main city had some 1.5 million inhabitants. Still, two-plus years following the August, 2003 ceasefire, the town had no electrical grid and no running water.

I wondered upon arrival what could possibly be done to improve conditions with a population traumatized by indiscriminate rape, execution-by-whim, and unspeakable cruelty. Yet, as I was to learn repeatedly through the ensuing years from my determined 20-something hosts and from thousands of other young people we have ultimately reached, any well-intentioned effort is better than inaction.

Indeed, our somewhat random experiment at human rights education on that first visit – improvising impromptu discussions at high school campuses about the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 – has evolved into an expanding initiative of youth leadership training in five African countries.  Please see African Human Rights Leadership Campaign, Beginnings, 2006 – 2007, a further blog describing the first tentative steps on this journey.

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Best wishes, Tim Bowles