"PROTECT HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS!"
-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
On December 10th, 1948, the world opened a new chapter in its quest for justice, liberty, equality and fraternity as it gave itself the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. India is a signatory to this Declaration and the fact is that when we gave ourselves the Constitution on 26th November, 1949, the UDHR greatly helped in defining the rights of Indian citizens.
As we usher in another Human Rights Day, its time to take stock of what is happening in various parts of the country. Human rights violations are on the increase instead of decreasing and this is the painful reality we need to come to grips with. Thousands of tribals are still denied access to the forests, lands, and water which they once owned. Wanton industrialization through mega-projects has resulted in displacement of thousands and with great harm to the environment. The dalits are still children of "a lesser God" in most parts of the country. Women and children, being the most vulnerable, are also easy targets to all types of violations. Fundamentalist forces blatantly continue their attacks on the minorities all over.
To top it all, the consistent exposés of rampant corruption in society speaks volumes of the fact that as one small section stands to gain through illegal and unethical profiteering, there is another section who is at the receiving end and most often, it is the poor and marginalized. The mining and the building lobbies are classical examples where "the bosses" are able to maximize their profits by exploiting others. They carry on with impunity and with apparent immunity.
What seems to becoming more and more accepted is the ability of powerful and vested interest to deny free speech, to silence and even to kill those who try to expose the rot in our system and to defend the rights of victims.
It is fitting therefore, that the theme for Human Rights Day this year is highlighting the role played by human rights defenders in protecting the rights of others and in order to end discrimination.
Human rights defenders speak out against abuse and violations including discrimination, exclusion, oppression and violence. They advocate justice and seek to protect the victims of human rights violations. They demand accountability for perpetrators and transparency in government action. In so doing, they are often putting at risk their own safety, and that of their families.
Here in Gujarat we see some who have relentlessly and conscientiously tried to bring justice for the victims of the Gujarat Carnage of 2002. Unfortunately, they too end up on the receiving end as some victims and associates are either bought up or are compromised by the other side. Even an appeal to the UN Commissioner for Human Rights invites contempt, scorn and ridicule; but the irony of it is that those who do the latter have absolutely no problem if multi-nationals are invited to loot the State, provide unjust wages and do not even meet established environmental safeguards. A feeling of embarrassment blinds one to a more serious reality.
It is therefore imperative that Human Rights Day 2010 highlights and promotes the achievements of human rights defenders and emphasize the primary role Governments must play in enabling and protecting their role. The Day is also intended to inspire a new generation of defenders to speak up and take action to end discrimination in all of its forms whenever and wherever it is manifested.
The story does not end after 10 December 2010. The focus on the work of human rights defenders will continue through all of 2011.
(*Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.)
December 10th , 2010
Address: PRASHANT, Hill Nagar, Near Kamdhenu Hall, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052