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Youth must champion cause of Human Rights

2014 Apr 28

1948 was also significant from a Sri Lankan perspective, as this was our year of Independence. It signified the end of hundreds of years of Colonial domination by successive external powers, and ended the longest period of human rights violations that our country had endured in our 2500 year history. Here youth take part in the 2014 Independence Day celebrations held in Kegalle 1948 was also significant from a Sri Lankan perspective, as this was our year of Independence. It signified the end of hundreds of years of Colonial domination by successive external powers, and ended the longest period of human rights violations that our country had endured in our 2500 year history. Here youth take part in the 2014 Independence Day celebrations held in Kegalle Pic by Chandana Wijesinghe

Excerpts from the speech made by SL High Commissioner to the UK Dr Chris Nonis at ‘Road to Human Rights Conference’

The” Road to Human Rights Conference”, organized by the Youth Movement “Road to Human Rights”, headed by Youth Parliamentarian Ashan Perera, under the auspices of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Skills Development , and supported by the Ministry of Mass Media, and  ministry of Education, was held on April 25 (Friday). The event was graced by Minister of Youth Affairs Dulles Alllahapperuma, Sri Lankan High Commissioner to the UK Dr Chris Nonis , and Chairman of the National Youth Services Council Pium Perera.

 Dr Chris Nonis articulated the following in his speech.

1) He was pleased to speak at a conference involving education of youth, as it is  at a  Young age that  the mind is most open to enquiry and debate, and it is at a young age that they can challenge conventional wisdom, and  make progress which is an  imperative in developing countries in their transition from developing to developed nation.

2) 1948 was a seminal year for Human Rights, as the Universal declaration on Human Rights was formulated in that year, as a response to the gross human rights violations that had occurred during the World War 2

3) 1948 was also significant from a Sri Lankan perspective, as this was our year of Independence. It signified the end of hundreds of years of Colonial domination by successive external powers, and ended  the longest period of human rights violations that our country had endured in our 2500 year history. It signified the end of subjugation of our people; .as it has done in so many colonies, and the Sri Lankan people were then free to chart our own path.

4) Many may not realize that we achieved Universal suffrage 17 years prior to independence, and that unlike the Suffragettes in Britain, our females did not have to chain themselves to the railings of Parliament to achieve the vote for women. Everyone in Sri Lanka treasures their right to exercise their franchise, and we have had an unbroken tradition of successive democratically elected governments since Independance.

5) Our little country also taught the many countries round the world the concept of Human Rights for women and gender equity, by having the world’s first female prime minister.

6) Sadly we were later subjugated by 28 years of the autocracy and hegemony of terrorism. The terrorist leader  unleashed the greatest travesty of human rights, and  subjugated all  the innocent civilians  of Sri Lanka, of all ethnicitIes to the indiscriminate violence and killings during his reign of terror.

7) However  in May 2009, we achieved Peace under the leadership of HE Mahinda Rajapaksa,and in doing so he asserted the  greatest and most fundamental of Human rights –” the human right to life”:

8) We are now embarked on a comprehensive Rehabilitation, reintegration, reconciliation and reconstruction program as we heal the wounds of conflict, and it is incumbent upon all of us to join  together and  build a truly pluralistic and inclusive society, so everyone , from all ethnicities and backgrounds,  can reap the dividends of peace.

9) Nelson Mndela passed away a few months ago , and Dr Nonis recalled joining the campaign for his release from Prison. Dr Nonis said that Many people talk about Mandela in terms of his fight for justice and values, but what he really stood for during his fight against the racism of Apartheid, was against the  Oppression of a weaker power by a stronger power. He had attended many tributes to Mandela in the UK ,but he said the irony was that many people who are praising him and giving eulogies to him today  , were the same people who were criticising him heavily during his campaign to free his people, and similiarly  some external countries who criticise our country today, will eventually realise that what we in Sri Lanka  fought for was for the freedom of our people.

10) Dr Nonis spoke about the post-colonial critique of Human Rights, and that we see a tension between the “ individualist” theory of Human rights, based on the Liberal Democratic  approach, versus the  “Community based” notion of Human Rights, based on Socialist ideals . He stated that recently there is a tendency to emphasize the former, but that the rights of a country and its communities are equally important as the libertarian  “individualist” approach.

11)He warned against the invocation of human rights by some countries selectively for collateral political agendas, foreign policy interests  or economic dominance. Human rights violations have sometimes been used as a pretext to justify military intervention of some countries. Human rights should never be used as an instrument to subjugate a nation, or to invade another nation, or else there will be a subversion of the very human rights people are professing to protect.

12) He said that no right has primacy over the other. There should be no selective  prioritization of  some Human rights over others ; All rights should have equal status. Economic,  social, and cultural  rights are as important as civil and political rights . Dr Nonis said that the youth should develop the discernment to ensure that the “ right to development “was as important as other human rights. Especially when the majority of the world’s countries are still developing, especially those that have been colonised, and what is fundamental to these countries was the “right to development.”

He reminded the audience of the paper written by Nobel Prize Winner  Stiglitz, which  outlined the “Right to Trade”, a fundamental right for developing countries.

13) Dr Nonis stated that  that with over 2 billion of the world’s population still living in poverty, without adequate food, water, sanitation, housing and healthcare, yet 1% of the National Incomes of the high income countries can end poverty worldwide, yet where do we hear of the voices to end poverty.? Dr Nonis encouraged the youth in the audience  to also place emphasis on addressing  global poverty issues, which were fundamental human rights issues, but often relegated to second place, and that there can be no primacy of some human rights above others.

14) He said that a balanced approach to human rights requires a depth and breadth of understanding of the context of each country, and that we are all at different stages of development, particularly so for those who have been colonized or had prolonged periods of warfare.

15) Dr Nonis ended by saying that human rights begin from our hearts and minds. If we open our hearts to each other, and respect the diversity of each other, then we provide each other with dignity, and if we provide each other with dignity we will ensure a durable global peace. He said  that if we as human beings humble ourselves ,and  transcend our egos, and exhibit the virtues of  forgiveness; generosity ;caring , compassion  and respect  for the diversity of all  other human beings,  then this is far more powerful than having to have declarations on how to assert rights, and that it is the youth who can carry this forward as they are the future of all our countries.
- See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/politics/item/28551-youth-must-champion-cause-of-human-rights.html#sthash.gr6ZqjkE.dpuf

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