Amnesty director encourages students to “use their power” to change the world
The regional director of Amnesty International recently spoke about the importance of basic human rights and how students play an integral role in protecting them, in a recent presentation to the Lehigh community in Maginess Hall.
Folabi Olagbaju, who is originally from Nigeria, has worked on many projects as the regional director including establishing partnerships with other nonprofit organizations such as the Sierra Club to expand the protection of basic human rights.
Amnesty International had a goal when it began and it has evolved over time, he said. “Our work began with protecting those who were prisoners of conscience, meaning people who were imprisoned for advocating their rights in a peaceful and non-violent manner,” Olagbaju said. People’s basic human rights are inherent and cannot be taken away, he added.
Amnesty International’s work has gone from just freeing prisoners to investigating disappearances and improving conditions within prisons, he said. Human rights issues that are important presently are Amnesty’s main focus, Olagbaju said. “We are not about popularity, we stand for basic human rights.”
Although the United States is a privileged nation, there are still crimes against peoples’ basic human rights in the United States, Olagbaju said.
According to Olagbaju, after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the American government started to allow torture of prisoners who were thought to be linked to terrorist groups. “By engaging in acts of torture our government was committing an illegal act,” he said. These actions have made Amnesty International’s work around the world more difficult but “the fight is still on,” Olagbaju said.
He hopes that with a new president all torture will stop and a greater respect for human rights will be restored.
“From where I was raised, I was told that ‘For whom a lot is given, a lot is also expected,’” he said. Olagbaju asked the students to make a commitment to improving human rights. “You have a lot of power beyond your wildest imagination,” he said.
Students have a lot of power because adults, government leaders, and corporations will listen to them, Olagbaju explained.
“Politicians are very good at counting two things. They are good at counting money and they are good at counting votes,” he said. Because of the power of voters in elections a student who has many elections to vote in has a lot of power to bring about change.
Corporations work in the same way because they would want customers to continue to buy their products, he said.
Even simple activities like writing letters, especially handwritten letters, can play an important role in making improvements to human rights issues, Olagbaju said.
“I want you to think about how you can make the world a better place than you met it because that is the magic of Amnesty,” Olagbaju said