On Wednesday 17th October, The Lafayette Club hosted Benedict Rogers as our third speaker of the year. Mr Rogers is a well-respected human rights activist and journalist: he is a contributor to The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Huffington Post, and has appeared on BBC News, CNN, Sky News and Al Jazeera in this capacity. Mr Rogers currently works for the international human rights organisation CSW. He is also Co-founder and Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party's Human Rights Commission. In 2017, Mr Rogers founded Hong Kong Watch, an independent investigative group concerned with freedom, rule of law and human rights in Hong Kong.
Mr Rogers began with a series of quotes by illustrious individuals from throughout history to highlight the everlasting struggle for the improvement of human rights: “It is a fundamental human right, a privilege of nature, that every man should worship according to his own convictions” – Tertullian “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” – Thomas Jefferson “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” – Martin Luther King Jr.
He went on to describe various cases of human rights abuses in Asia, and how he has tried to assist those affected. In Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim majority country, religious intolerance is growing against Atheists, Christians and Ahmadis. The audience were surprised to hear about churches being forced to close and the ruthless destruction of Ahmadi villages in what used to be known as a tolerant nation. Mr Rogers also highlighted the case of Myanmar, where “militant Buddhism” has led to the devastating persecution of Rohingya Muslims; he described how in one instance, army officials played football with the Qur‘an before burning down a mosque. And while global awareness of the atrocities being committed against the Rohingya is increasing, the world is yet to notice how the Kachin people of Myanmar are “being used as human minesweepers”.
Conversation then turned to recent controversies. Mr Rogers mentioned the worldwide coverage of the infamous slapping incident at a panel event he was hosting at the Tory Party’s Annual Conference, and how the refusal of his entry into Hong Kong sparked global attention, with governments and media outlets across the world discussing the issue.
He concluded with a simple yet hugely important question: “All of us can do something… what can you do to defend the rights of those who are denied them?”