Hu­man rights and wrongs

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - OPINION -

This week, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity marked the 70th An­niver­sary of the Uni­ver­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Hu­man Rights. This year is also the hun­dredth year of the end of World War I. Ar­mistice Day just ended with elab­o­rate cel­e­bra­tions in Paris. One times foes France and Ger­many are now firm friends and the event saw Western and Fran­co­phone lead­ers in har­mo­nious at­ten­dance.

Thou­sands of sol­diers from the colonies took part in the ‘ Great War’— In­dian, Turks, Africans, Chi­nese, African-Amer­i­cans, even some Cey­lonese. Many were can­non fod­der.

Then came World War II. And, as the colonies be­came free, there emerged a cry for hu­man rights. To say that in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights have their roots in Europe’s wars is true but the rea­sons were not that al­tru­is­tic. The master-slave con­cept is also rooted in Europe and ex­ported to the colonies in Asia, Africa and Amer­ica.

To­day, France and Ger­many are bat­tling na­tion­al­ism couched in pa­tri­o­tism. White supremacy is fanned by the likes of Don­ald Trump. There is racial pro­fil­ing and the stig­ma­ti­sa­tion of en­tire races and re­li­gions. The refugee cri­sis has bred ten­sion with Europe re­fus­ing to be “colour blind”.

Amidst all this, the em­ploy­ment of hu­man rights as a po­lit­i­cal weapon has de­val­ued the Uni­ver­sal Dec­la­ra­tion. Sri Lanka, for in­stance, was se­lec­tively tar­geted. But the West con­tin­ues to sup­port Saudi Ara­bia which is be­hind the killings of hun­dreds of civil­ians in Ye­men. If it wants to teach its one-time colonies the con­cept of hu­man rights, it needs to turn the search­light in­wards now.

But in­tro­spec­tion is not a monopoly of the West, al­though it might claim hu­man rights is. Sri Lanka must do the same. And to­day, even as the coun­try is plunged into a con­sti­tu­tional and po­lit­i­cal cri­sis, it is worth point­ing out that, in such cir­cum­stances, the po­si­tion of hu­man rights is in­deed frag­ile. In the glar­ing ab­sence of re­spect for the supremacy of the Con­sti­tu­tion and the rule of law, the pro­tec­tion of hu­man rights be­comes a whim­si­cal con­cept.

Like ev­ery­thing else in Sri Lanka at present, the po­lit­i­cal caprices of a few are hold­ing en­tire sys­tems to ran­som. To­day, the coun­try still has a func­tion­ing in­de­pen­dent Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion only be­cause the 19th Amend­ment had made pro­vi­sion for mem­bers of the ex­ist­ing Com­mis­sion to con­tinue un­til the as­sump­tion of of­fice by new mem­bers. The term of the cur­rent Com­mis­sion­ers ended on Oc­to­ber 31.

When a coun­try does not have a demo­cratic dis­pen­sa­tion, the Con­sti­tu­tion along with the law and in­sti­tu­tions be­come in­stru­ments of po­lit­i­cal agen­das. Hu­man rights pro­tec­tion be­comes a lux­ury, if not a mere no­tion.

Many times in Sri Lanka’s his­tory, se­ri­ous in­stances of hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions have oc­curred in times of po­lit­i­cal up­heaval. When such tur­bu­lence within Gov­ern­ment is not re­solved in a peace­ful, le­git­i­mate man­ner, it gives rise—as it has done now—to fear of vi­o­lence and abuses.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Sri Lanka

© PressReader. All rights reserved.