5 great books on human rights you should read

December 10 is a day to celebrate the inherent rights of every person, everywhere.

Inspiring reads to celebrate Human Rights Day.

Human Rights Day is observed every year on December 10, which is the anniversary of the day that the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Recent headlines have reminded us, including authors who have been advocating human rights in their works for centuries, that injustice does not only occur on far-flung shores but also at home.

It's also worth noting that human rights for the 21st century are starkly different from before. We're no longer meeting the human needs enshrined in a declaration, hence it's necessary to postulate new rights, such as the right to live free from discrimination, the right to live in a habitable world, etc. Some of these books below may not be exactly easy or pleasant to read but it will surely inspire generations to come. 


Long Walk to Freedom (1994)
By Nelson Mandela

To his countrymen and much of the world, Nelson Mandela is the saviour of South Africa. He, however, never considered himself a messiah nor a moralist, but a pragmatist at the core. Mandela began writing the book in 1975 during his 27-year imprisonment, fleshing out stories from working as one of only a few black African lawyers in Johannesburg to launching an armed struggle against the intransigent apartheid government. He led the moral crusade for majority rule in South Africa against a white supremacist police state, risked his life, and surrendered his personal freedom. In the end, South Africa managed to transition to democracy — and no one deserves more credit for this than Nelson Mandela.


Shadow (2010)
By Michael Morpurgo

Having written over 100 books and won countless awards, the British author has built a reputation as one of the greatest children’s storyteller of all time. You’ll often find an animal in his books, be it a calvary horse in War Horse or, in the case of Shadow, a sniffer dog. Set partly in Afghanistan, partly at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre in the UK, Shadow tells the story of Aman, the Afghan boy fleeing the horrors of war. The book, which fuses the anguish of the refugee experience and healing power of friendship, traces how a boy befriends a western dog which appears outside the caves where he lives with his mother. 


Girl in Transition (2011)
By Jean Kwok

Author Kwok, who emigrated from Hong Kong as a young girl, brings to the page the lives of countless immigrants who are caught between the pressure to succeed in America, their duty to their family, and their own personal desires. Gruelling labour abuses become stumbling endurances for the protagonist in the book, Kimberley Chang, who goes through a series of tribulations with her widowed mother. It’s a moving tale of hardship and triumph, peppered with the clever use of Chinese culture and traditions that make for a compelling read.

Behind the Beautiful Forever: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (2012)
By Katherine Boo

Boo is not a novelist, per se. This deep-digging journalist offers a in-depth view at the underbelly of one of the world’s largest metropolises — India. The New Yorker staff who won a Pulitzer Prize while working at The Washington Post follows the lives of some of Mumbai’s most deprived citizens and dirt-poor residents of a squatter slum, chronicling them all on written notes, video recordings and photographs. The book carries the reader headlong into a world undergoing tumultuous change as religion, caste, sex and economic envy turn brutal. 


I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban (2013)
By Malala Yousafzai

Every development economist knows it. Even the World Bank knows it — educating girls is the surest way to reduce poverty in the world. More than 50 years after government everywhere agreed on the Declaration of Human Rights, millions of children are still being denied schooling. Nowhere is that lesson more evident in the story of Malala Yousafzai, who was shot point-blank in the head by the Taliban for speaking out about her God-given right to attend school. She’s now a Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate. But let’s not forget she was also the same 15-year-old child who took a bullet for a whole generation.


These books are available at good bookstores including Kinokuniya Malaysia and MPH.


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