In December, THUAS's Faith in Human Rights Festival reflects on human rights. Exactly one year before the global celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That declaration was drafted by our ancestors in a world where the consequences of climate change were not news. A world where people did not get sick from polluting industries, and nobody knew the word ocean soup. Is it time for human rights modernisation?

In southern Madagascar, more than a million people have barely enough to eat due to a devastating drought. In Wijk aan Zee, children are getting cancer from dust rains from polluting industries. Bangladesh is losing more and more farmland due to rising sea levels. The Amazon region threatens to turn into a savannah. Mountains of plastic waste from the Netherlands end up in Indonesia, threatening human and animal health. Everyone knows the examples of how we as humans treat nature and thus damage the liveability of the earth for ourselves, animals and plants. And endangering our own human rights and those of others.

Climate change harms human rights

Climate change will become the main cause of human rights violations worldwide within the next five years. So writes Wordt Vervolgd, Amnesty International's human rights magazine, in 2021. Amnesty asked 40 Dutch human rights experts for their opinions. Their conclusion? “Climate change is making more and more areas of the earth unliveable, which will lead to greater refugee flows.” Population groups that are already vulnerable suffer the most such as indigenous communities, migrants, women, the elderly, children and the poor.

Man no longer centre stage

"Our ancestors should have listened better to the philosopher Spinoza," believes Tamara Lewis. She is a member of the research group Global Citizenship and, among other things, researches relationships between human rights and nature. Spinoza lived in the 17th century, during the Age of Enlightenment. According to Spinoza, God is the world. Nature, animals, people: everything is God. And therefore, humans should treat each other and nature carefully and well. And man is no better than an animal. And one human being no better than another. "Our ancestors chose a different path. They considered humans the centre of existence and the starting point for laws and regulations. And made nature their own." According to Tamara, a change in thinking is needed. "The earth does not belong to man. The human rights formulated by our ancestors 75 years ago come with duties, namely caring for everything on earth."

Nature gets rights too

Ideas to restore the balance between humans and nature are springing up everywhere. And are also leading to action. In an increasing number of countries, nature is getting rights because protection of forests, rivers and other elements of a healthy habitat directly affects human and animal life and health.  For instance, the Turag River in Bangladesh became a legal entity. Many people depend on this river for water, irrigation, washing and transport. The local community found the pollution of the Turag unacceptable. The river was also in danger of disappearing as companies and governments dumped sand and polluted soil into the river to create industry. As a legal entity, the river was given a voice in administrative decisions. Rights for nature are on the rise worldwide. Also, in the Netherlands. For example, the Maas Clean-up Foundation wants recognition of the Maas as a legal entity.

Nature and music

During the Faith in Human Rights festival, we challenge you to think about the future of human rights. What do they mean for you and for generations to come? To inspire you, there are several activities you can take part in. For instance, you can listen to a concert by students of the Royal Conservatoire The Hague. They will play pieces on the theme ´man and nature´ by composer Kate Moore. She studied at the Royal Conservatoire but grew up in Sydney, Australia. "Nature has always been a great inspiration for me. As a young person, I would go hiking in the bush and experience the power nature gave me. I need nature to feel free and be completely myself. The destruction of nature worldwide fills me with sorrow and dread. With my music, I want to inspire people to give more appreciation to nature." Kate wrote ´Days and Nature´ while on an artist residency in the bush in Australia. `The piece is about the way in which the organic growth of natural environments and ecosystems are interrupted by human intervention through industry."

Feel connected

Porter Ellerman is one of the Royal Conservatoire students who will play during the festival. Porter is a percussionist and grew up in Arizona (US). Just before he left for the Netherlands in 2021, there were plans to build a highway right through the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. "I was leaving so couldn't do much. Then I realised that as a musician, I don't just want to entertain people with my music, but also tell a message. With my music, I want to be able to make a difference." Among other things, Porter is exploring how he can use music to make people more aware of the importance of nature. "If you connect an amplifier to a cactus, you hear the sound of a cactus. So every plan has its own voice." Porter plays along with the piece ‘Child of Tree’ by John Cage. "Music releases creativity. Our music doesn't tell you what to do to protect nature. I hope you hear and feel that we, composer and musicians, care about nature and you feel connected to us and the other listeners. Together we can make the earth more liveable."

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