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Friday, November 9, 2007

Welcome to Global Human Rights Defence’s new Human Rights Blog!

This blog will be used as a forum for a weekly reflection about human rights issues, in particular those relating to minority rights, in South Asia. Here you can expect some more personal thoughts in contrast to the regular news reporting where objectivity is crucial. It is also an opportunity for me to share the latest updates relating to GHRD’s activities both in the Netherlands and internationally, and for you to respond directly. I am looking forward to hear your opinions and feedback!

Today, almost sixty years after the adaptation of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, universal human rights for all is still a utopian concept for the majority of the world population.

As the Human Rights Officer of GHRD, one of my main responsibilities is to ensure that the often unheard stories of human rights abuses will be told. They are not pleasant, these stories. Families are being evicted and forced into a life as refugees, their houses are burnt to ashes, fathers are being tortured in prison, women and children gang raped and journalists and human rights defenders that are trying to speak up are being threatened into silence.

It has been an eventful week in South Asia. Pakistan introduced a state of emergency and massive human rights abuse immediately followed. Magistrates, lawyers and activists have been detained and unlawfully placed under house arrest. The similarities with the creeping militarization over the past year in Bangladesh are many and frightening.

On the positive side, Bangladesh has finally (officially) separated the judiciary from political control. The actual implication remains to be seen - Bangladesh provides a textbook example of how development is hindered despite new legislation; it is the implementation that is the real challenge. Human rights continue to be violated in the shadow of new protective regulations, with the only difference that the government earned an international alibi through the new legislation. For example, (Gang) Rape, domestic violence, acid attacks, trafficking in women and dowry related violence is still a major problem, despite the new Suppression of Violence against Women and Children Act, the Dowry Protection Act and the Acid Control Act in Bangladesh.

And speaking of discrepancy between theoretical framework and reality: The United Nations continue to produce empirical reports stating evident facts about world wide human misery. “Sex is being used as a tool of weapon under conflict” is the title of a ‘new’ UN report. “Sex-ratio values in India contribution to the overall ‘masculinization’ of Asia says another. As important information as it is; it’s hardly news.

I would be much more shocked if I was to read about practical and achievements or strategies of the UN to battle these problems, or about the development of a rigorous monitoring system to hold the states accountable.

One of the most horrific readings this week was a case about the death in custody of an Adibashi leader in Bangladesh in March. According to the police: “he ran away, tripped, and lost consciousness and died at the hospital”. However, when the family recovered the body it bore torture marks like eyes plucked, testicles removed, anus mutilated, two hand palms smashed, and nails of three fingers of the right hand removed, to name a few. If that is how a body leaves a Bangladeshi hospital, then I surely would not like to end up in one of their prisons…

We are preparing for a silent protest in The Hague on Human Rights Day on 10th December and the Dutch Human Rights Commissioner will receive our petition and Annual Human Rights Reports. Time and route will be announced soon for all of you that want to join us and express your outrage against such abuse!

Finally, Hindus worldwide celebrate Diwali today – the festival of lights that encourages people to “finding light in darkness, achieving knowledge where there is ignorance, and spreading love amidst hatred.”

Regardless of belief or religion, this is certainly something we all could (should) relate to.


The UN News Centre

Diwali festival

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