Abann Yor is now a leader in the New Zealand community, but his road from South Sudan to Auckland was mired in tragedy. He has lost a staggering 24 members of his family in the conflict in Sudan. His younger brother Obaj was living in a city attacked by militia men about 6 months ago. Abann heard that it took 10 days for any help to reach the massacre site, and by then the bodies were mostly indistinguishable, some decomposed and others eaten by dogs. When asked to describe his home town on the banks of the Nile, Abann says, "When you go there now, you see only bones."
I cannot pretend to understand what Abann is going through, waking up each day wondering, perhaps even dreading, if he will get news of his family. But, I understand the pain of losing a loved one. My life is sharply divided between when my mother was with me and everything after. Yet, I got something with her that many people never get to experience: the chance to say goodbye. My mum died quietly at home, surrounded by loved ones.
The only thing more tragic than death itself is dying alone. Yet, around the world, in dark prison cells or poorly maintained hospitals, innocent people take their last breaths all alone. It happens more often than we may want to admit. Since 2010, Amnesty International has documented torture or other ill-treatment in nearly three-quarters of the world. The few people who survive the horrific experience of torture rarely recover. Others expel their last breath surrounded by people who want to kill them for who they are: their ethnic background, religion, where they live, who they love.
Over 10,000 people a year -- journalists, bloggers, charity workers -- mysteriously disappear at the hands of government forces. Their families never get the chance to say goodbye to them. Their daughters live the rest of their lives wondering if their mothers are still alive. Their children are forever haunted by the thought of their parents dying alone with no one there to hold their hands or look comfortingly into their eyes. Family members spend each morning waking up in the cruel limbo between the before and after, unable to fully move on.
While there is nothing I can do to get my mother back, the tragedy and disgrace of human rights abuse can be avoided. I can honor my mother's generosity by choosing to fight for the value of human life. While my mother died of cancer, her illness never defined her. She was always committed to people whose struggle for life was much harder than her own. I can help other families get the kind of closure I have been given.
My mum was born in the boom after the Second World War. Were she still alive, she would be outraged to know that for the first time since WWII, there are more than 50 million displaced people escaping life or death situations. Less than 1% of them are permanently resettled each year. 49,500,000 families like Abann's wait for the chance to move on. It doesn't have to be this way. These are cruel manmade disasters not biological mutations or unstoppable acts of nature.
Like many diseases, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Conflicts can be detected and controlled early. Animosity and tension build like a nagging injury. They should not be left to fester until they grow uncontrollable. With the proper course of treatment, their damage can often be minimized. War crimes can be investigated and prosecuted before they metastasize. Authoritarianism can be excised like a tumor. Corruption can be cauterized before it infects a whole society.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights offers a timeless cure for human rights abuses. It should be prescribed far more often. When a government knows that the world is watching and will hold them accountable, they behave differently. In 50 years of human rights work at Amnesty International, we have seen this time and time again. The wounds of war do heal when they are properly attended to. With truth and reconciliation, communities move forward together. It is time to treat the whole human rights abuse instead of addressing symptoms after it is too late to fully recover.
Every child deserves the right to say goodbye to their parents. If I can help one more family fulfill that basic human right, then I will have lived long enough to make my mother proud. On Giving Tuesday, I hope you will join me in honoring her legacy by sharing the generosity of the human spirit and the bond of human rights.
This post is part of a series produced in celebration of #GivingTuesday, which will take place this year (2014) on December 2. The idea behind #GivingTuesday is to kickoff the holiday-giving season, in the same way that Black Friday and Cyber Monday kickoff the holiday-shopping season. The Huffington Post will feature posts on #GivingTuesday all month in November. To see all the posts in the series, visit here; follow the conversation via #GivingTuesday and learn more here.
And if you'd like to share your own #GivingTuesday story, please send us your 500-850-word post to impactblogs@huffingtonpost.