James Rothwell interviews Bianca Jagger about her own organisation, the Bianca Jagger Foundation, about the work she does towards government accountability and how to make sure that human rights laws are adhered to.
Bianca Jagger is not your average campaigner. The Nicaraguan-born human rights activist has seen enough abuse with her own eyes to know why what she does is important – and woe betide any foolish right-wing skeptic that thinks otherwise.
By her own admission, there are a lot of misconceptions in the press about what exactly Jagger does for the human rights cause. But speaking to her one cold winter evening, it becomes obvious that no injustice is too obscure for her attention. Especially not Britain’s complicity in botched executions overseas, an issue that continues to go unnoticed by the British media.
“I worked on that issue with [human rights charity] Reprieve, and I was truly shocked by it. I wrote to the Prime Minister, and I was shocked by it because Britain is a member of the EU that has abolished the death penalty. Personally, I take this issue very seriously.”
The issue in question – which gained limited coverage from the Guardian, only to fizzle out there a few months ago – concerned Dream Pharma, an Acton-based company that sold faulty lethal injection drugs to US states, for execution, at a %300 mark-up. But the trouble hasn’t stopped there by any means.
“To see that a European company was selling this one product that was used for execution in the United States is deeply concerning. And, now, they have sold an enormous amount of that drug to US states, for executions. We did campaign against them, and they said they would no longer be selling those drugs – but now, there are Indian companies, and others, that are doing it.”
When I called Dream Pharma’s CEO earlier last year about the issue, he blew me off. The business secretary didn’t care either. So how does the Bianca Jagger Foundation force politicians and the public to take stock of such flagrant abuses of human rights, in our own back yard?
“The Bianca Jagger Foundation, and Reprieve, which I often work with, puts a lot of pressure on the government here. In that case, we put a lot of pressure on the governments of other countries where companies are selling these drugs.”
“Social media has played its role”, she adds, “but we need to do more than that, we need to make governments accountable and make them adhere to our own laws in the European Union, rules that prohibit us, in any way, in the EU, from selling drugs that are being used for the execution of citizens in another country.”
There is another benefit that social media has brought to the public, as Jagger stresses: “The rise of social media has led to the mainstream media, which you must remember is owned by big corporations, losing its monopoly. With social media, you’re getting information much, much faster than they do. And for the mainstream media, it’s just a case of repeating or copying or re-tweeting, for their own publications. So they’re beginning to really feel the heat.”
Social media is helping to spread awareness of cases like Dream Pharma – and unlike charity wristbands and crass appeal videos, this is often the kind of awareness that leads to laws getting passed. For Jagger, it’s still about the big picture in general of fighting the abuse of human rights, no matter where in the world. It’s one hell of an undertaking – but it’s reassuring that she stills cares a great deal about the penniless, marginalized citizens in America who are strapped down to gurneys and poisoned with faulty execution drugs.