In his superb article 'A Human Rights Wish-list for 2013', Jack Healey encouraged us to chose our own wish-list. I have taken up that suggestion.
My 10-point wish-list is as follows:
1. Make 'Freedom of Conscience' a human right for all. Freedom of thought, conscience and religion, often known as 'freedom of religion or belief' (FORB), is enshrined in Article 18 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet it is one of the most widely violated and yet most neglected human rights today. It suffers from the misperception that it is a right only for the 'religious', and yet it includes, and must include, protection for the right not to believe too. Christians are facing widespread persecution in many parts of the world, as events in Iran, Nigeria and Burma over Christmas have shown; but Bahai's in Iran, Ahmadi Muslims in Indonesia and Pakistan, Shi'a Muslims in Indonesia, Uighur Muslims in China, Falun Gong, Tibetan Buddhists and other religious communities have experienced, religious intolerance affects people of all religions. Similarly, the imprisonment of atheists in Indonesia and Egypt demonstrate that Article 18 is relevant to non-religious people. A new report by the International Humanist and Ethical Union, called Freedom of Thought 2012: A Global Report on Discrimination Against Humanists, Atheists and the Non-religious, illustrates this much over-looked aspect. Article 18 is the most basic of human rights, because without freedom of thought, conscience or religion, what good are other freedoms? My hope is that Article 18 would be mainstreamed.
2. Speak up for each other. When religious freedom has been given any attention, it has tended to be by groups speaking up for their own kind. Christians championing the persecuted church; Muslims speaking up for Palestine, Kashmir, or the Rohingyas in Burma; Buddhists advocating for Tibet or Burma. I would like to see a world in which we spoke up for each other, and for a society in which we can be free to follow our beliefs in peace and without coercion, and to defend the right of others' to do the same. I'd like to see Muslims, Buddhists and secularists speak up for Christians facing dire persecution in countries such as Iran, Pakistan or Nigeria, but at the same time a world in which Christians spoke up for people of other faiths and none, as I did when I visited Alex Aan, jailed in Indonesia because he is an atheist.
3. Spotlight the world's most repressive regime. North Korea is the world's most closed nation, ruled by the most repressive regime. It is the only dictatorship in the world which is both a dynasty and, according to its own bizarre propaganda, a deity. More than 200,000 people are in prison camps, as shown by this video. The time has come for the United Nations to take heed of the call by survivors of the gulag, and by a coalition of over 40 NGOs from around the world, supported by the former UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in North Korea and now the current Special Rapporteur, for an independent, international investigation into crimes against humanity.
4. Recognise that promoting human rights is not only a matter of morals, it is in our own interests. Ten years ago, I co-authored a paper called New Ground. That paved the way for the creation of the Conservative Party's Human Rights Commission. I have long argued that human rights, trade and security interests are not mutually exclusive or incompatible. To ensure security and other strategic interests are protected, and to promote trade and economic growth, stable, reliable governments are needed. Repression breeds resentment; dictators sow instability. We must learn the lesson from history: dictators reek of corruption and fuel extremism. Tyranny and terror feed off each other.
5. Consistency in foreign policy. British Foreign Secretary William Hague has an excellent rhetorical record on human rights. He has consistently said that human rights must be "at the very heart" of foreign policy. As the author of a biography of William Wilberforce, who led the campaign to end the slave trade two centuries ago, his commitment to these values is clear. But British foreign policy, and the attitudes of other British ministers, have not always reflected the Foreign Secretary's lead. It is time for all Ministers and diplomats, and for policy, to get in line with the principle that human rights must be at the centre.
6. A global campaign to end sexual violence. William Hague has initiated an extraordinary, bold and commendable campaign to end sexual violence. This deserves backing from governments, NGOs and the general public around the globe, and merits much greater attention.
7. End the use of child soldiers. As the campaign to end sexual violence develops, similar attention should be given to the horrific practice of forcible recruitment of child soldiers in too many parts of the world.
8. Restore democracy in the Maldives. In 2006, the Maldives began a transition to democracy, which developed two years later with the election of Mohamed Nasheed as the country's first democratically-elected President. Nasheed had been a political prisoner, held in solitary confinement or under house arrest, and subjected to torture and beatings. His election paved the way for the peaceful establishment of democracy in a country which claims to be one hundred per cent Muslim. In 2012, however, all this hope was undone when he was overthrown in a coup d'etat by cronies of the former dictator, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, in alliance with Islamists. Amnesty International has described the Maldives now as a "human rights crisis". Religious intolerance has increased dramatically and shockingly. It cannot be in our interests to sit by and watch democracy die and extremist Islamism take over.
9. Don't ignore Indonesia. Indonesia has been widely and rightly praised for its remarkable transition from dictatorship to democracy, and for its tradition of moderate Islam and pluralism enshrined in the state ideology, the 'Pancasila'. As the world's largest Muslim majority nation, Indonesia is right to be proud of these achievements. Yet they are under increasing threat from a combination of Islamist extremism and government weakness. Christians, Ahmadi Muslims, Shi'a Muslims and others are facing increasingly violent religious intolerance from an extremist minority, and the government is doing little to protect them or curb the rise in intolerance. In addition, the military's campaign of terror in West Papua continues. The international community should urge the Indonesian government, in its own interests, to take steps to protect religious pluralism and to enter into dialogue with the people of West Papua, otherwise its reputation for religious tolerance, human rights and democracy will be undermined and tarnished.
10. Avoid premature euphoria over Burma. In the past two years, some surprising and very welcome changes have occurred in Burma. But there is still a very long way to go, and some serious setbacks have arisen. Over Christmas and New Year, the Burma Army launched air strikes against the Kachin ethnic people, and the horrific ethnic cleansing of the Muslim Rohingya people which began last summer is still a major concern. The changes we have seen so far are primarily a change in atmosphere, with greater space for media and civil society, but they are not 'irreversible'. There needs to be serious reform of the constitution, institutions and legislation; the establishment of a peace process with the ethnic nationalities, including the Kachin, involving a political dialogue, leading to the formation of a federal democracy - only then can we say Burma has truly changes. Signs of hope are there, but there are reasons to remain gravely concerned. The international community must develop a carefully calibrated policy that encourages the reforms, supports capacity building, while maintaining pressure for substantial change.
This is my wish-list. To keep human rights on the agenda, I hope others will respond to Jack Healey's invitation and produce theirs.
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