What are the core concepts related to human rights? What did you learn about the background of human rights in modern history that has shifted your perspective or that has surprised you in some way?
Human rights are inalianable, indivisible and interdependent at the same time. This means that no human being can lose these rights, should be equally exercised throughout the society, not dependent on one’s personal importance and they are a part of a framework that consists of different aspects of life.
In this course I have learned that while human rights have been fought for for a long time, the greatest cruelty of human history had to occur (Holocaust and WWII) to result in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. While it is just a declaration, it does not carry any obligation for countries’ legislators.
How would you characterize the mission of Pen America? Which Pen initiatives or programs did you find most promising or interesting and why?
PEN America fights for the freedom of writers to express their thoughts and ideas, views on human rights. They have several initiatives to protect writers, achieve the freedom of expression in non-democratic countries, just like China, Mexico and for digital freedom of expression. I have recently heard about the censoring of online media and books in China, and the freedom of information is clearly not maintained in the country. For example, the 1989 Tianmen Square events are not featured in history books, printed or online media, and young Chinese do not know anything about the political events. By expanding their organization worldwide and creating PEN Centers in 100 countries, they can engage writers to fight for the same rights.
Both Philip Gourevitch and Toni Morrison discuss the challenges and responsibilities faced by writers when attempting to depict human rights crises and the human experience of human rights issues. What were the key issues faced by writers? What did you find particularly compelling in their talks? Why?
Philip Gourevitch states that the events were unimaginable, unthinkable and unspeakable, when talking about his reporting experience on genocide. He also says that facts can be changed, distorted and misunderstood. The role of writer should be to face the challenge and try to speak the unspeakable, while staying factual. Staying with facts and being truthful is the most challenging task, according to Gourevitch. Toni Morrison talks about writers’ responsibility to respond to chaos. Even when they have to fight for their right to publish or flee the country, they have to “construct meaning” in the midst of chaos. Turning sorrow into meaning is the main aim of writers.
Toni Morrison Discusses Freedom of Expression and the Writer’s Role. Web. http://www.pen.org/video/toni-morrison-discusses-freedom-expression-and-writers- role#sthash.ANYLHO5x.dpuf
Philip Gourevitch Discusses the Writer’s Responsibility in Reporting Tragedy. Web. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WInwfBeJOg4
Watson, J. (2013) Tiananmen Square: How Chinese Bloggers Play Cat and Mouse with Censors. The Atlantic. June 4, 2013