Amnesty stall at Paléo since 1977! Defending Human Rights
Every year, Paléo chooses a humanitarian NGO as a partner for the festival, giving it more visibility and support. This year, the chosen charity is Amnesty, whose work defending human rights and campaigning to liberate political prisoners across the world has been going on for decades. Their presence at Paléo goes back to the very beginning, as they have had a stall there since 1977- a year after the festival started! This makes them the oldest stall at the festival, and their good work hasn’t faltered since. I (Jonas) took this opportunity to go and talk with the people who run the local Amnesty chapter about their good work and their latest campaign about sexual consent.
Based in London, Amnesty International has been defending human rights since the 60s and works in a decentralised fashion. The Amnesty stall in Paléo is run by the local group from la Côte. The different campaigns led by the group are defined by the central Swiss group, but they are free to choose to support the campaigns that they want to.
Most of their work used to be focused on political prisoners, and the actions would take the form of letter writing workshops, but they have moved with their times and Amnesty now focuses on a number of rights, grouped under the acronym ESCR – Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This has led to a focus on many issues such as access to water, fighting homophobia, and the topic of their newest campaign, fighting sexual violence.
Nyon branch of Amnesty
With a dozen active members, the local Amnesty group meets every two months and holds a stall at the market in Nyon four times a year. Anyone is welcome to join, according to their strengths and desires, and the work is shared depending on what people are comfortable with. Whether some are more out-going and can talk easily to strangers, others might be more comfortable writing or translating, and everyone is valuable. If you’re interested in joining Amnesty, you can go to their facebook page for more information. They also have a youth programme for people under 26 and are looking at creating a new group at the Gymnase de Nyon next year.
They explained that their presence at Paléo was valuable as it made it possible to touch a large crowd and engage with people who were more inclined to stop and learn than when they hold a stall on the marketplace. As part of their work is gathering signatures for petitions and in solidarity with prisoners around the world, having access to 50’000 people a day is important! They did note that depending on who was playing that night, they had more or less people come to their stall!
Consent is the key
Amnesty’s newest campaign focuses on sexual violence, and a petition has been launched to define sexual aggression from the perspective of consent. This campaign stems from Switzerland’s signature of the Istanbul convention, which was drafted in 2011 and aims to fight violence towards women and conjugal violence around the world. So far, eight countries have signed this convention in the EU.
Whereas rape and sexual violence are defined legally today by constraint, meaning that many victims will not be believed unless they have been beaten up by their aggressor, putting the focus on consent shifts the conversation towards the victim’s testimony. As part of this campaign, Amnesty led a wide-spread survey, the first investigation of this scope and precision in Switzerland. The numbers that were published are quite alarming, with over 1 woman in 5 saying they’d been the victim of sexual violence, but only 8% of aggressions being reported to the police.
The focus of Amnesty’s campaign is, on one hand, to get federal laws to change, but also to educate and inform people about questions of consent. The following short video illustrates the concept in a fun and straightforward manner.
Creating a safe and welcoming atmosphere at Paléo
Amnesty’s campaign seemed like the perfect occasion to learn more about the measures Paléo has put in place to prevent any kind of assault and unwelcome behaviour, and how they react to such cases. I met up with Mario Fossati Paléo’s secretary-general, to talk about how the festival deals with these issues.
As Fossati explained, measures concerning sexual aggressions fall first of all under the larger issue of dealing with all types of violence and theft on the grounds. This is done through a variety of measures, and the head of security at Paléo, Pascal Viot, has written his PhD thesis on the festival and is a researcher in urban sociology. The festival employs over 1000 people for security during the week, making for an incredibly dense security network across the grounds – akin to that of a military dictatorship Fossati jokingly compares – with 1 security member per 50 people on the grounds, not counting private security firms and the police who are also present outside the grounds. The first measures include welcoming people before they enter the grounds, making sure they have their tickets before the ticket checks. The idea behind that is that greeting people with a smile and in a hassle-free environment, will make them feel more relaxed and ready for a good time.
A lot of observation takes place on the grounds, to prevent anything from theft to sexual assault, and there is also a visible security presence to encourage people to come and report any problematic behaviour. According to Fossati, this works really well as people seem to trust Paléo’s security more than they would the police, making it easier for people to reach out. The organisation has a checkup meeting every morning during the festival, to make sure everything is going fine, and stay up to date on events.
When it comes to general incivilities, Paléo has seen a decline of fights and theft over the last few years, including this year-so far-, even though there were concerns about the heat leading to more tension. But if you compare figures, Paléo boasts lower rates of crime than a town of the same size! For the festival, this is partly to do with the atmosphere that they strive to create, and the hope that people gathering for a good time are less inclined to be violent.
No recorded assault, but the Festival stays vigilant
There haven’t been any recorded cases of rape at the festival in the last 15 years. As reassuring as this fact is, it must be considered in the light of the numbers that Amnesty have published, and the very low number of women who declare what has happened to them. This is something that Fossati is conscious of, and they are always thinking of new ways to make sure that people are safe on the grounds.
This festival season has already seen cases of rape happen, notably at Dour festival in Belgium and at the Hellfest in France. The way that the latter reacted to the woman’s claim was concerning, and their initial response read as the textbook example of how not to respond to a rape victim. Paléo is part of a European network of festivals called Euroscenic, and they share on many different topics, including these, so the events that happened at other festivals earlier this summer are very much on their radar, and Fossati said that what happened in France pushed them to reflect on how things are done at Paléo.
The briefing given to all the heads of the security teams before the festival covered this specifically, all the security staff are briefed on how to relate to someone who comes to them for any kind of sexual misconduct. They are taught to never put the person’s story into question and to transfer the information higher up. The information travels up to the highest levels very fast, as they treat these cases very seriously, and people who are trained to deal with these experiences are sent immediately.
The security teams have also been told to look specifically for suspicious behaviour, like men trailing women to closely, etc., and especially for cases like the one at the Hellfest, where a woman was drugged and taken off by her aggressor. If security sees someone leading a semi-responsive person away, they are instructed to go and investigate and take them to the infirmary.
Changing attitudes and educating the crowd
These measures are reassuring, but it leaves the question of how the festival could go further when it comes to making sure Paléo becomes a safe place for all, notably when it comes to issues like groping in the big crowds during concerts that such promiscuity makes sadly quite frequent. Amnesty’s visual campaign does have Fossati and the organisation of the festival thinking of the idea of having signage about such questions, but he did admit that so far, the security concerns have been more focused on issues with the heat or crowd movements. Even if the festival is aware and does act on these issues, there might be a bit of wishful thinking when it comes to the idea that people who come to Paléo won’t have those kinds of behaviour, something that they did seem aware of.
The answer obviously lies with a general societal shift when it comes to how women are treated today, and Paléo’s role is not to solve that question single-handedly, but it does seem like they are thinking about these questions and will keep working towards making the festival a place where everybody can feel comfortable.
In the meantime, below are some resources on how to respond if you are witness to harassment – don’t stay passive! Changing mentalities and society will also happen with laws that help victims more, so if you can, don’t forget to sign Amnesty’s petition to center the laws about sexual violence around consent, and if you feel like doing more, don’t hesitate to contact Amnesty’s local chapter, as this is a great way of doing some good as well as meeting locals in the area. They value everyone’s help, however much you’re capable or willing to commit!