By P. Soma Palan –
I refer to the above captioned news Report in the Daily Mirror of 24th September, and two subsequent reports (a)“ Cardinal Clarifies” of 26thand (b) “ People shaped by Buddhist civilization do not violate Human Rights” of 28th September.
With due respect to the Rev. Cardinal, I wish to comment on the views expressed in these reports, as an independent and objective analyst, sifting the truths from the untruths. I am not a VIP or an intellectual opinion maker, but a humble citizen analyzing what is written, and presenting a correct view point, from my understanding of the subject matter.
Human Rights is the latest Religion
The Rev. Cardinal, by saying that Human Rights are the latest Religion, wittingly or unwittingly, belittling the universally declared concept of Human Rights. Human Rights, is a Secular Concept and not a religious doctrine. By saying it is a “new religion”, the Cardinal is being derisive of Human Rights. Human Rights are about Human beings, unlike Religion, which is about unknown and unknowable God. Religion cannot be a substitute for Human Rights. Human Rights and Religion are separate and different. However, there is a commonality of moral value, in both.
Rev. Cardinal has said that “if we practice religion properly, there is no need to talk about Human Rights”. In other words, what he is saying is that “Human Rights” are dispensable and superfluous, when religion prevails. Is this standpoint tenable? Human Rights encompass a collection of rights and not solely the right to life. Isn’t it preposterous to think that practicing of religion, properly, will bring about the multiple and various Human Rights to humanity?
The Cardinal, further states that “those who do not practice religion are the ones who crow over Human Rights.” On the contrary, I would say, those who seem pious and practice religion and crow about religion, as an external display, (for populist and political reasons) who are seen more in temples around the country and South Indian temples, are the great violators of Human Rights and Humanitarian Laws, and alleged to have committed “War Crimes”, amounting to genocide of unarmed civilian Tamils, and for abductions and killing people ,who disagreed with them, through the “ White Van” culture. Scuttling freedom of expression by silencing journalists to death and attacking Media Institutions. Thus there is a miss-match between Human Rights and Practice of Religion. Therefore, the notion that practicing religion properly, will have a humanizing and harmonizing influence on people and will serve Human Rights, and therefore render Human Rights redundant, sounds nonsensical.
Rev. Cardinal is reported to have said that, “although the Western Nations attempt to teach lessons on Human Rights to Sri Lanka, it had a multi religious society that had upheld Human Rights for centuries through their religious practices”. Isn’t this grandiloquent statement, hollow and contradictory, in the light atrocities committed by people, and sometimes with the complicity of the State, against racial and religious minorities from 1915 Muslim riots onwards, and 1958, 1983 communal riots against the Tamils, and recent riots against the Muslims in Aluthgama, Digana and violent attacks against evangelical Christian churches, a gross violation of Human Rights? To decry Western Nations giving Sri Lanka lessons in Human Rights, as we are religious puritans and beyond reproach of Human Rights violations, and to claim that we know our Human Rights more than them, is just rhetorical empty talk. But the Cardinal and the Church has no qualms about accepting a Western religion, Christianity, and its religious teachings, which is alien to our Buddhist/ Hindu Culture, but only averse to the Secular Human Rights values which are of Universal significance, although initiated by Western nations.
Rev. Cardinal argues that “ if people practice their religion properly”, Human Rights will be upheld, automatically. According to the Cardinal, in ancient and medieval times, people practiced their religion properly and hence there was no need for Human Rights. Is this view true? I would say no. In ancient and medieval times, in their ignorance, people suffered social practices, which would now constitute violations of Human Rights. Under the feudal Landlord System, there was serfdom, which was willingly accepted. The working people were mere chattel. The system of Rajakariya, compulsory labour, was a violation of Human Rights. People yielded to these social mal-practices as there was no awareness of the concept of Human Rights. There were no Institutional mechanisms to create awareness of Human Rights and their protection. Under the Despotic Monarchism, there were gruesome torture of wrong doers and barbaric executions of people by beheading and pounding their Heads in mortars. Under the colonial Rulers, particularly the Portuguese, there was forcible conversion of Buddhists and Hindus to Catholic religion. Violations of Human Rights were happening all the time. But there was no protests and articulation of Human Rights. The Politico-SocioEconomic Order of the day was taken for granted, as the norm. To say this apparent conflict-free harmony of the Social Order, was due to the practice of religion centuries ago, without any intervention of the Western Human Rights regime, is sheer intellectual dishonesty.
Rev. Cardinal has made somewhat of a retraction, by clarifying what he said, previously, the next day. Clarifications/explanations, on second thoughts, are a sign of lack of certainty and conviction and casual vagueness in making pronouncements. If one is certain of what is said, a need for clarification would not arise. It cannot be said that the Media misreported him, because he has not said so.
The Advent of Human Rights Doctrine
The Concept of Human Rights in its legal form and Institutional structures, with an Universal dimension, developed in the 20th century on the aftermath of the second World War in 1945.However, there were precursory causative events in world history ,which contributed to the formulation of Human Rights ,as per the Charter of the United Nations Organization. These causes can be classified as:
1. Remote historical causes
2. Contemporary causes.
I shall mention them in point form without elaborating as it will take much space.
- Minister Mangala Samaraweera referred to one, in the Daily Mirror of 26th September. That is the intolerance of the Catholic Church and their religious zealots, wiping out Non-believers through the Inquisition and religious wars of the Crusades, during the medieval period.
- Colonial conquests of the Western nations of Afro-Asian and East Asian territories and exploitation of the subject people and conversion of them to Christianity by the Portuguese, Dutch and the British.
- The Magna Carta (great Charter) of 1215 and the Bill of Rights of Britain resisting the despotic injustices of their King and the Lords.
- Persecution of the Protestants by the catholic Queen Mary the first, called the Marian persecutions, which led to the flight of Protestants to the new World, America.
- The War of Independence by the American Colonies against the mother country, Britain.
- The American Civil War and abolition of slavery and the birth of the American Constitution and Fundamental Rights of the people.
- The French Revolution of 1789 and the overthrow of the Monarchy, and the proclamation of the concepts of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, which became the watchwords of modern Human Rights.
- The year of Revolutions of 1848 in Europe and the overthrow of Despotic Monarchies and the rise of Nation States.
- The Russian Proletarian revolution of 1917 and the overthrow of the despotic Czar and the establishment of the rule of the Proletariat.
- Industrial Revolution of the early 19th century in Britain and the rise of Capitalism and exploitation of labour, leading to recognition of Labour Rights.
- Labour protest in U.S.A and recognition of Workers’ Rights and the birth of May Day commemoration.
- Western Colonialism and subjugation of Afro-Asian and East Asian countries and exploitation of the countries and people, denial of Civil Rights and Racial discrimination and the obnoxious Apartheid Policy.
- Rise of Nazi Fascism of Hitler’s Germany and genocide of the Jews.
- Second World War and the atomic carnage of Hiroshima and Nagsaki led to Out –Lawing War.
- Birth of UNO and its Charter of Fundamental Rights and setting up of its ancillary Agencies as WHO, ILO, FAO, UNHRC, UNESCO and several UN Conventions , International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law, Setting up International Jurisdiction and the International Courts of Justice.
Could the above complex Secular Human Rights Instruments, and Various Conventions at (6) above could have been brought about by practicing Religion, properly? If not for these, there would have been a return to primitive barbarism.
Thus, Human Rights have come to play a vital and major role in the affairs of all countries in the modern world and would last to eternity. It is not dispensable, but a Universal need , an existential necessity of the Universe. It is not a Fad to be derisively called as a new religion. In truth, it is much more than religion. Because, at its core is humanity and humanism, which is also the central ingredient of Religion, than a mere belief in “other worldliness”. Human Rights are a Secular Concept , and complex in nature and, therefore, Religion can never be a Substitute for Human Rights, despite the true intensity and propriety of the practice of Religion, and its minimal and indirect influence on Human Rights.
(c)People shaped by Buddhist civilization do not violate Human Rights
The above statement of the Rev. Cardinal is a total negation of the real truth.
- The Cardinal states that “ a Society which attempts to make Human Rights a Religion could safeguard Human Rights effectively through Buddhist teachings.” Further the Cardinal says that “Rights of all people in this country are safeguarded when Buddhist culture is safeguarded”(emphasis mine). These are absolutist statements, implying that no other religious teachings as Christianity, Hinduism, Islam could safeguard Human Rights. I am surprised that a religious personage of education and intellect, having a misconception of Fundamental Human Rights, which are secular and based on legal frameworks. Can the Buddhist teachings and culture, nay, of any religion and culture, for that matter ,provide and protect various Human Rights that are enshrined in Law?
- Rev. Cardinal’s statement that “Human Rights are safeguarded in our country ,much more than what is prescribed by the UN”, to say the least, it is laughable. Refer (a) 3 &4 above of Human Rights atrocities committed in the country.
It is a queer irony that, the Head of the Catholic Church of Sri Lanka has become the Chief spokesman for Buddhism and the Buddhist Sangha, and upholder of Buddhist teachings and Buddhist civilization. I am somewhat confused and doubtful as to whether he has renounced from the position of Cardinal and Head of the Catholic Church of Sri Lanka. However, if it is so, it is a welcome change, that he is returning to the religion of his ancestors, Buddhism.
The Catholic Church had maintained an admirable detachment and honorable decorum, minding its religious vocation. It is a pity that there is a beginning of a trend to swerve away from this path in recent times. It appears the Church is imperceptibly attracted towards politics and worldly affairs, like its counterpart , the Buddhist Sangha, which is publicly and openly doing so.The deviation of the Church towards mundane affairs, is evident from the views it has expressed recently, such as (a) accepting the
“Foremost place for Buddhism” in the Constitution by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith (b) the current statement of the Cardinal that” Human Rights is the latest Religion of the Western nations. These views are indicative of the Catholic Church getting politicized and becoming an apologist to the Sinhala Buddhist Politicians. It seems, like the Buddhist Sangha, the Catholic Church too, is aspiring to play the role of an Advisor to the Rulers of the country and imitate the arrogant claim of the Buddhist Sangha that ,they are the “ Protectors” of the Nation and de-facto, informal rulers of the country. I hope the Catholic Church, will not tarnish its long standing tradition of detachment from politics, and fall into the putrid pit of the Buddhist Sangha.