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Courtney Stoddart Courtney Stoddart, credit: Kat Gollock

Fly the Flag for Human Rights

News

Edinburgh International Festival commissions new work from poet and performer Courtney Stoddart to celebrate our shared human rights in 2020.

Fly the Flag is a unique annual celebration that brings collaborating arts organisations and human rights charities across the UK together to shine a light on our fundamental human rights. Through year-round projects and a special marking of Human Rights Day, Fly the Flag reminds us of our collective humanity and the importance of protecting those whose human rights are violated.  

The project was launched in 2018 in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, when artist and activist Ai Weiwei was commissioned to create a flag in honour of human rights. That flag is now flown across the UK in galleries and theatres, shopping centres and offices, schools and libraries, to mark their support on Human Rights Day.  

Last year, Edinburgh International Festival joined the celebration by taking the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the inspiration for our Morning Manifesto series, which invited writers from around the world to create manifestos for the future in collaboration with audiences.  

This year, the campaign for Human Rights Day on Thursday 10 December moves online and shifts its focus to poetry. Fly the Flag partners have commissioned poets, spoken word artists and writers to respond to Article 25, which outlines some of our most basic human rights including food, shelter and healthcare.  

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.”

This focus seems particularly apt in 2020 when many people around the world have found themselves vulnerable and in circumstances beyond their control, which put their basic human rights at risk. Artists will perform their work digitally, which you can access at flytheflag.org.uk as flags go up across the country. 

Edinburgh International Festival has commissioned acclaimed Scottish-Caribbean poet and performer Courtney Stoddart to create a piece in response to the themes of Article 25. Since beginning performing in 2019 Stoddart has achieved a meteoric rise to fame, performing nationally and internationally, at venues including the Traverse Theatre, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Leith Theatre and HOME Manchester. She recently gave a celebrated performance in Hannah Lavery’s Lament for Sheku Bayoh, co-produced by Edinburgh International Festival, the Lyceum and the National Theatre of Scotland.  

Stoddart’s work focuses on racism, imperialism, womanhood and growing up in Scotland. She writes with the intention to challenge the dominant power structures of our times, intertwining social, political, and historical discussion with rhythm and rhyme – and her poem Article 25 is no different.  

Courtney Stoddart Courtney Stoddart, credit: Kat Gollock

“It was important for me to be involved in this project as I believe that if we had a greater awareness of the injustices that are carried out across the globe in order to benefit the elite and understood more so the way we are all impacted by the corruption of those in powerful positions – we would do more to challenge these notions.”

Courtney Stoddart

Article 25 was written to shine a light on some of the shocking violations of human rights around the world, that much of the privileged world is blind to, especially those countries that are responsible for some of those violations. The poem tackles the inconsistencies in the narratives of international history head on and forms a rallying cry to those who will no longer allow the oppressed to go unheard – or as Stoddart puts it, “igniting our inner rebels”. She encourages her audience to challenge systems which affect their lives and claim back their ability to live freely and with enjoyment.  

Alongside the performances, schools around the country will receive a new virtual assembly pack with the poems, providing a moment for creativity in their assemblies and some thoughtful provocations around Article 25. Edinburgh International Festival’s Learning and Engagement team will be distributing the poems to schools across Edinburgh, including a specially recorded performance of Article 25 with an introduction from Courtney Stoddart for Leith Academy, where the International Festival has an ongoing residency. Leith Academy will also be gifted a flag to fly for Human Rights Day and take part in a project around Article 25 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that connects school and community.  

You can read Courtney Stoddart’s Article 25 below or head to flytheflag.org.uk to experience her powerful live performance on Thursday 10 December. 

You can also fly the flag physically. If you have a flag from 2018 or 2019, you can use that. If you need one, you can order them here.  

Ftf A25 Courtney Stoddart V3 00 00 00 00 Still001

Article 25
Article 25 I hope you are upheld 
cause now and in the past human rights are ignored and dispelled  
they say the government is there to protect you 
but they make choices which wrongly affect you 
look at their actions at home and abroad 
these are actions that should never receive an applause 
they claim their helping ‘developing’ nations 
while their debt to the UK is constantly inflating 
and the corporate media increase mass hating 
we would never have refugees 
if we didn’t keep selling bombs to overseas  
creating proxy wars through facades and deceit 
if we didn’t keep the people always on their knees 
if we didn’t leave the people without their basic needs  
We pretend we are ‘Great’ Britain  
an image built on lies and many refuse to listen 
they steal resources and enforce the colonial mission 
and they silence dissent just to keep us in submission  
and the windrush generation faces false extradition 
deportation based on racism and discrimination 
and as long as we’re content with bread and entertainment  
we watch the world turn devoid of explanation  
and I am still impatiently waiting for humanisation 
to be applied to those with dark faces, those that don’t originate from European places  
lives are wasted, brutalised and shamed  
and it’s a shame that we really have to live this way  
when I know most on earth if they really knew the 
way imperialism have extended it’s vision across the globe 
the ways that blood is shed for oil and gold 
many of us would stand up and we would uphold  
the declaration of human rights  
we would and we can resist oppression and fight  
the revolution has begun and we must continue to  
ignite the truth until our last breath  
that’s the only way we can honour the dead  
who have been taken by a system which is built on degradation 
white supremacist motivations  
we wouldn’t need Article 25 if the people at the top 
really cared about our lives 
we wouldn’t need provisions if the government didn’t cut off food supplies 
and steal farmland for corporations to buy  
we wouldn’t need shelter to provide if the US & UK bombs weren’t raining from the skies   
if they let the people live rather than ensuring that they die 
would we require healthcare if they weren’t making us sick?  
Would we require social services if they weren’t in the back pockets of those in politics  
of those in love with it, big brother - the wealth of it, the pleasures that they gain from it  
the security we need is protection from the elite who want us to deplete 
strip the souls from our feet 
so if you believe in this message then repeat after me  
we will no longer be victim to another man’s greed  
no longer watch the human family starve and bleed 
so let us educate and rebel and bring the system to it’s knees