Launch of poem to mark the 25th Anniversary of the HRD Declaration

Nearly 40 years ago, when I was Chair of the Board of Amnesty International in Ireland, I approached Seamus Heaney to ask him if he would write a poem to commemorate Amnesty International’s 25th Anniversary. Seamus initially declined because “no cry I could have made in verse could have matched what was crying out in the dossiers” I had sent him detailing the imprisonment of countless numbers of human rights activists around the world. He let the request sit with him though and a number of months later, he sent us a draft of what is now one of his most well-known poems, From the Republic of Conscience. The minute I read it, I loved it and his words have stayed with me in my human rights work over the past 38 years.

Inspired by Seamus’ poem, this year I wanted to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the Human Rights Defenders Declaration with something that would last, that would help convey the message of human rights defenders and would also provide some sustenance to them. I was aware of Nikita Gill’s work and indeed had quoted her over the years in a number of speeches I had given, particularly in relation to women human rights defenders. I was delighted when Nikita accepted my request to mark this anniversary with a poem. The work she has created, ‘Seeds of Hope’, captures perfectly for me the spirit of human rights defenders.

Seeds of Hope

The world’s most resilient forest has a canopy
thick with truth, old oaks with glowing bright barks.
It is grown from seeds of light as a gesture towards hope.
And the people that nurture it carry its seeds far.

Their journey is not easy, but it is as necessary as these seeds.
They plant them in lands with troubled nights and needs.
They are carriers of justice and an infinite dream,
where a better, kinder world is every child’s right 

not an impossibility. It is a calling, something as primordial 
as the stars and the universe to uphold the truth and still sing,
despite the storms - turning cries of pain into a song of ease,
these ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

No one wants to be a martyr, understand. But some of us
have to choose to be lighthouses instead of hurricanes, 
and this choice, this choice makes all the difference,
for how else do we build a world that we can all believe in?

They say at the end of every tunnel, there is a light.
What they do not tell you is that someone has to be there
to hold up that light so that others can see the path,
wielding the torch of truth, no matter how hard it is to bear.

The world’s most resilient forest lives inside 
the human heart. And the people nurturing it 
are the legacies of hope who are the protectors of truth. 
The world owes them its love and an eternity of gratitude.


Nikita Gill
“Seeds of Hope” was read by Nikita Gill at the Human Rights Defenders Memorial monument in the Iveagh Gardens in Dublin, Ireland, in the presence of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Mary Lawlor, and the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Human Rights Unit Director, Jackie O’Halloran Bernstein.
More about the 25th anniversary of the UN Declaration on HRDs

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