The Irish top the list when it comes to signing for rights

 

Where would you find Europe's most human rights-conscious people? Germany? Norway? Finland? No. Blanchardstown. Thumb-prints from no less than 60,000 people in support of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were collected in the west Dublin area as part of The Body Shop's international Make Your Mark campaign.

Of 30 participating campaigns across the world, the Irish campaign - with 378,556 thumb-prints, and 105,000 signatures from north and south - collected the greatest number of pledges per capita. The total for Blanchardstown alone exceeded that for all but two of 17 European countries.

Together with over 500,000 signatures collected by Amnesty International under its Get Up, Sign Up campaign, the pledges bring to 1 million the total number made by Irish people in support of the Declaration this year.

The two campaigns were the largest undertaken by the organisations, and they showed Ireland had a political conscience to match its legendary charity spirit. Or did they?

Peter Macdonald, managing director of The Body Shop in Ireland, admits the huge tally had as much to do with the commitment of a small number of dedicated campaigners than the general level of concern in society about human rights.

"When you look at the way refugees and Travellers are treated here, you can see that we are full of double standards in that we can be great at giving our names to something overseas but not so good at doing things well locally."

However, he says the campaign has helped to heighten an awareness of the Declaration among the Irish public as well as highlight specific cases of human rights abuses such as the imprisonment of two Burmese comedians for performing a Scrap Saturday-style satirical show in their country.

The Irish pledges were presented yesterday, along with over 10 million others from 105 countries, to the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, at a special ceremony at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris to mark the 50th anniversary of the Declaration.

The Body Shop sent nine staff members from its Blanchardstown outlet to the event in recognition of their achievement, while Amnesty had the honour of seeing Irish director, Ms Mary Lawlor, hand over the pledges on behalf of all European countries.

The Amnesty campaign was launched with great fanfare eight weeks ago by U2 and Ronnie Drew on O'Connell Bridge, Dublin. Among those who signed were the President, Mrs McAleese; the UN Human Rights Commissioner, Mary Robinson; Northern Ireland Secretary, Dr Mo Mowlam; and the Irish soccer team, led by manager Mick McCarthy.

In a drive to meet the ambitious 1 million target, Amnesty launched a "road train" halfway through the campaign which visited towns and cities throughout the State. Among those it reached were 70,000 people from Limerick and all 88 inhabitants of Cape Clear.

Some supermarket chains, retail outlets and banks - such as Supervalu, Centra, Superquinn, Tesco and Boots - agreed to put signature postcards on display. But others, including Dunnes Stores, Spar, Easons, Champion Stores, Xtra Vision, the Bank of Ireland, Ulster Bank and the Irish Permanent, declined to do so.

The campaign cost Amnesty's Irish section in the region of £100,000. Ms Jo Mangan, the organisation's media co-ordinator, says it was money well spent.

"One of our objectives was to gather as many names as possible but another was to raise the profile of Amnesty in the country and generate more supporters, and that has happened. We generated money during the campaign and the cost compared to campaigns run by other NGOs was very low considering what we achieved."

She added that the campaign has served its main purpose of putting the Declaration back into hands of the people. "With this action, the people of the world are saying to the governments of the world - through Kofi Annan - that they care about human rights. They are symbolically claiming back the Declaration, which was written by the people for the people."