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1 November 2016

A tribute to human rights defenders

After leading Front Line Defenders for 15 years, on 6 October 2016 Mary Lawlor announced she was stepping down as Executive Director. In this letter, Mary pays tribute to human rights defenders around the world.

Dearest Human Rights Defenders

As some of you may have heard, I am retiring from Front Line Defenders at the beginning of November. But before I go, I want to pay tribute to you, one last time. When I set up Front Line Defenders 15 years ago to try and protect human rights defenders, I never realised how much I would carry you around like shadows on my heart. You are golden people who bring light, hope and change to the darkest corners of the world - yet you live with the smell of fear and the uncertainty of life.

I count it as one of the great blessings of my life to have had the privilege of following your unquenchable light. Your courage, constancy and inspirational force motivated me and gave me hope and energy. I dipped into your commitment and borrowed some of it for myself. There is a line in T.S Eliot’s “The Four Quartets” that reminds me of your commitment to justice and human rights. It goes, “music heard so deeply that it is not heard at all, but you are the music while the music lasts.”

I wish you laughter to wash away the tears, colleagues to support you in your struggle and love to feed your spirit.

Perhaps these words by George Bernard Shaw, an Irish writer, best express what your example has meant to me.

This is the true joy in life-
The being used for a mighty purpose
Recognized by yourself as a mighty one.

I am of the opinion that my life
Belongs to the whole community
And, as long as I live,
It is my privilege to do for it
Whatever I can…

Life is no brief candle to me-
It is a torch of splendid torch
Which I have go hold of
For the moment

And I want to make it burn
As brightly as possible
Before handing it on to future generations.

(by George Bernard Shaw)

With love and respect,
Mary Lawlor

Read also: Al Jazeera article - "Q&A with Mary Lawlor: Defending the rights defenders"