Edinburgh World Justice Festival guide: Putting human rights and sustainability on the agenda

Caitlin Logan

Fortnight of events exploring social and economic justice around the world kicks off in Edinburgh

A FESTIVAL exploring the hard issues facing Scotland and the world today – from environmental sustainability and the UK’s housing crisis, to nuclear weapons and international conflicts and human rights abuses – will launch in Edinburgh on 30 September.

CommonSpace takes a look at what’s in store for the 2017 Edinburgh World Justice Festival.

The festival was born out of the ideals encapsulated by the Make Poverty History Marches which took place in Edinburgh and across the UK in 2005 in protest against man-made poverty.

This year, the festival will run until 16 October, with 30 events taking place across the city, and as many organisations involved in bringing the programme to life.

With the ambitious aim of “creating hope through people power” in a world where reasons for hope to wane are in abundance, the festival confronts head-on some of the most complex and controversial issues of our time.

Harriet Fildes, coordinator of the Edinburgh World Justice Festival, explained why the festival and its values are more relevant than ever: “This year’s festival is a valuable opportunity for us to show that Scotland can carve out a position as a global defender of human rights, peace and equality.

“At this crucial time in world history and with the theme of creating hope through people power, the festival will provide a space for people to come together and collectively create answers to Brexit, the rising tide of right-wing populism and how we move forward in the face of growing turbulence, inequality and injustice.

“Now is the time to bring our various causes, movements and inspiring individuals together.”

The festival events, which will include talks, debates, films and exhibitions, are all free to attend and will feature speakers from around the world and on the forefront of Scottish campaigns for justice and peace.

Global conflict and human rights

The festival is firmly focussed on the struggle for justice and freedom around the world, with events shining a light on the circumstances across different regions. Below are just some of the highlights.

2 October: The Scottish Free West Papua Campaign is hosting ‘Papua Merkeda: Towards Freedom in West Papua’ at St Augustine United Church. Benny Wenda, a campaigner for West Papuan independence and Nobel Peace prize nominee, will speak about the struggle amidst the Indonesian occupation of West Papua, followed by a led discussion on solidarity with the movement.  

5 October: The Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign will host a discussion, exhibition and information session at Tollcross Community Centre entitled ‘Time to Divest! Creating hope for a people denied’. Featuring Palestinians in Gaza and Scotland, the event will encourage people to take action to support Scottish divestment of business interests linked to the Israeli state.

9 October: The National Union of Journalists, UNISON and Scottish Solidarity with Kurdistan will present the experiences of Kurdish people who have experienced violence and intimidation at the hands of the Turkish government. ‘From Edinburgh to Istanbul: Solidarity with political prisoners’ will take place at St Augustine United Church.

12 October: Amnesty International and La Giovane Italia will present a film screening and discussion around the documentary 9 Days in Cairo, which explores the Egyptian government’s alleged role in the torture and murder of Italian student Guilio Regeni, who was researching the country’s trade unions.


The theme of nonviolence and how to promote it is also central to the festival.

4 October: A film screening of Shadow World, a documentary about the arms trade, will be hosted by Edinburgh Campaign against Arms Trade and Take One Action at Edinburgh University. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion on what can be done to challenge the trade, featuring the film-maker Andrew Feinstein.

9 October: The role and experience of women in campaigning for global peace will be explored in an open discussion led by Syrian feminist Khuloud Saba. The Scottish Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom will host the event at the Quaker Meeting House.

11 October: Another event at the Quaker Meeting House, hosted by Edinburgh CND, will hear from Faslane peace campaigners about their experiences and how people can support and expand on such campaigns.

15 October: The Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre will lead a ‘Peace Walk’ starting at St John’s Church on Princes Street. The walk will include visits to peace places, poles, statues and gardens, with readings of poems, stories of non violence, song and dance.


30 September: The festival will begin with an event on food sovereignty and what it might mean for Scotland, with speakers from Friends of the Earth Edinburgh and Nourish Scotland. The event will examine the issues of climate change and globalisation and how the food sovereignty movement seeks to challenge these to create a fairer system.

1 October: Family friendly workshops will be provided by local initiatives in natural building, up-cycling and waste reduction, as well as storytelling and creating a ‘peace pole’. Organised by the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre, the event aims – as expressed in its title – to promote ‘living non-violently to our earth’.

4 October: Biofuelwatch will lead a protest at the International Bioenergy Conference in festival square. The protest is directed at Enviva and other large wood pellet companies who are clearing endangered forests in the USA.

15 October: Another protest, this time aimed at Edinburgh City Council, will call for a fossil-free, zero-carbon, sustainable and equal vision for the city by 2050. Friends of the Earth Scotland is asking people to gather to form a human zero at the Mound.

Economic and social justice

A range of other issues are addressed in the festival’s events, which look at how to create a fairer and more equal country and world.

8 October: George Lakey, an American Quaker activist and author of ‘Viking Economics: How the Scandinavians got it right and how we can do’, will speak at the Quaker Meeting House as part of an exploration into what Britain can learn from the Nordics.

10 October: Common Weal will host an event at Edinburgh University which will consider how a housing system can be created that works for people, not the market. In light of the tragedy of Grenfell, Common Weal will argue that the evidence of injustice in the housing system is clearer than ever.

10 October: Also at Edinburgh University, Jubilee Scotland will present political economist Ann Pettifor, who will speak about her new book, ‘The Production of Money’. Pettifour will highlight the need for democracies to take back control of  money production from the finance sector.

Successful Social movements

12 October: Neil Davidson, author and lecturer at Glasgow University will be joined by international speakers at St Augustine United Church to take an in depth look at social movements and collective action around the world. 

14 October: The festival organisers will host a full day of workshops, speakers, stalls and activities, entitled ‘Building World Justice Today: The Power of Popular Movements’. The day will include speakers from Unison Scotland, Global Justice Now, Pen South Africa, as well as SNP MP Tommy Sheppard and Scottish Labour MP Danielle Rowley. Workshops will also be hosted by Friends of the Earth Scotland, Christian Aid, and Oxfam.

Find out more about the festival and book tickets here

Pictures courtesy of Edinburgh World Justice Festival, ThomChandler, Chris Booth, fotdmike and ChiralJohn.

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