19 September, 2020

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The Crisis Within The Human Rights Movement Today

By Sajeeva Samaranayake –

Sajeeva Samaranayake

Most of us are working for human rights – on different themes, in different work settings and in different countries. But we would like to think we have a common objective, and it would be good if this were so. The reality is that we are at cross purposes and sometimes working against our stated objectives.

Deep down there seem to be two things that drive us.

We have this faith in ideals and concepts – fortified by the already massive and ever growing edifice of human rights conventions, rules and guidelines. This seems to have every answer to every human problem. Coupled with this is a desire to control external situations and bring them into conformity with our ideals.

This mindset is legitimised to such an extent that the human rights lobby today has no qualms about using the International Criminal Court at global level and local criminal courts at national level to respond to human rights violations. This is the global panacea for all evil today.

It is true that the criminal law has an established interface with human rights in two areas:

The criminal process itself – with its long delays and miscarriages of justice is among the prime violators of human rights all over the world

This violator is cleverly disguised as our saviour when it comes to human rights violations – and institutions like the ICC it is assumed will be immune from the usual political power dynamics that plague criminal justice nationally

There is no doubt that the criminal law has a role and place in any society. But within crisis ridden divided 3rd world societies its potential value seems to be grossly exaggerated.

The current seamless connectivity between human rights and the criminal law has brought some human rights activists into a collision course with intransigent governments that violate human rights in several trouble spots around the world. This can go on, but it should not be the centre of our attention.

Other human rights activists who are not so enamoured with the criminal process and who seek a deeper, spiritual, cultural and social approach which seeks to transform attitudes that lie at the root of all problems are becoming increasingly marginalized from this new battlefield as a neo Victorian morality play is being staged with great passion by the protagonists on either side – the accusers and defenders.

Is this new paradigm which also seems to deny human rights a broader role outside the criminal court simply a perpetuation of old categorizations that imprison us? Should we offer help for tomorrow rather than punishment for yesterday? Or do we think, in the idealistic, comprehensive and fence sitting manner of the typical UN official that we can have both? Most importantly what should our role and position be as moderate but committed and concerned citizens?

* Sajeeva Samaranayake :Attorney at Law, LLB (Hons), LLM (Family Justice Studies – Merit) East Anglia; State Counsel 1994 – 2003; Child Protection Specialist – unicef Sri Lanka 2003 – 2008; Independent Consultant on Law and Child Protection 2009 onwards.

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    Sanjeeva writes “Most of us are working for human rights – on different themes, in different work settings and in different countries. But we would like to think we have a common objective, and it would be good if this were so….”

    What common objective?
    Only very few working on human rights has the objectives … Majority has only agendas not objectives . Take the example of US, the champions of human rights and the policeman of the world … Everybody who has even a iota of knowledge about world affairs know that this HR champion abuses ‘human rights” to the extreme without any shame …

    Sanjeeva continues … “…We have this faith in ideals and concepts – fortified by the already massive and ever growing edifice of human rights conventions, rules and guidelines …”

    Sanjeeva, you have forgotten to include the most important one to many in HR field … I think it should be read .. “…Majority of us, working in HR has this faith in DOLLARS rather than in ideals and concepts and hence the crisis within HR industry ….”

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      Yeah I wholeheartedly agree with Bruno Umbato.

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        There is a far bigger crisis within the human rights movement than spoken hear, and that is the failure to address economic and social rights and justice in an era of unbridled corporate and bankers’ greed, (also sanctioned and promoted by the Bretton Woods Twins the IMF and World Bank), that has cause global financial turbulence of which ironically the Euro zone debt crisis is a manifestation.
        Too much attention goes to political and civil rights concerns which are no doubt important, and not enough to economic and social violence which is a deeper STRUCTURAL VIOLENCE that generates civil rights abuse in poor countries with bad governance — like Sri Lanka which dsepite that criminal clown Cabraal at the Central Bank’s claim that Lanka is a middle income country( on false math) is today a basket case.. And the great business community that the HR community likes to cultivate is the worst offender and violator of Economic and Social Rights – conspiring with corrupt political elites in looting public wealth and transferring national assets into private hands also through insider dealing in the stock market aka. rich man’s casino.

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    Bruno & Jim Hardy:
    There are millions of people who have been committed to concepts of human rights who have dipped into their own pockets over a very long time. To suggest that anyone concerned about human rights is looking for money is simply a LIE. Members of organizations such as Amnesty International dip into their scarce resources to support the organization while many of those spending their time pillorying the very concept of human rights are IN THE PAY REPRESSIVE GOVERNMENTS. Doing an audit of where those defending the Sri Lanka government get their money might be an eye-opener. Can you deny that , Malinda Seneviratne, Dayan Jayatilleka, Rajiva Wijesinha etc. etc.are not on the government payroll or paid by members of the Rajapaksa family? That is the reality. To ignore that fact while tarring everyone supporting human rights with some brush of your manufacture is nothing short of ludicrous

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      Dear Anti-Boru,

      Lets get this straight – Amnesty may have been as self sacrificing as you relate some decades ago but that s not the character of the organisation that you see now, riven by infighting from what I hear, accepting money from the Tiger lobby and generally engaging in the most ill advised of campaigns such as the cricket ball fiasco a few years ago.

      I would like to say that thre are individual decent human rights activists who still dip into their own pockets but not these vast organisations nor their local equivalents who double charge donors, hide their own expenses under false documents etc.

      And to acknowlede the reality of the government paid lackeys is not to say that false human rights campaigners should be just allowed to escape scot free. They have put to shame and dragged into their own pit, all the other principled actvists who can only stand aside and watch helplessly.

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    This blame game we are addicted to – kan dos kiriyawa… gets in the way of a discussion …. Everyone has a point – but no one can appreciate a something which asserts a contrary point of view —- much more than dengue kan dos kiriyawa is the epidemic we must deal with.

    the moment we start blaming we put a full stop to learning. This is my only point. I am not sure if the LLRC picked this up – or whether this will go down in our history as the lesson postponed….zzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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    Justice systems are often misinterpreted as mechanisms of punishment. This should not be the case. Leave punishment to god (or Karma).

    The objective of a justice system should be to provide support for victims (not revenge!) and protect society from those who threaten the rights of others. This can be achieved via rehabilitation or imprisonment of human rights violators until such time they are no longer a threat to society.

    Get the objectives and purpose of justice right, and human rights will become a reality. Trying to impose Human Rights on societies through rules and laws will only create another religion like movement full of hypocrites and corrupt opportunistic leaders. In fact, that is what we have got today representing Human Rights.

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    There is also another crisis in the human rights movement in Sri Lanka – that of credibility. Only a few voices stand out from amongst the crowd.That is a bigger and more serious problem than ideological stands.

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    Sometimes – it is better to quote Sting rather than Dalai Lama

    “In the empire of the senses
    You’re the queen of all you survey
    All the cities all the nations
    Everything that falls your way
    There is a deeper world than this
    That you don’t understand
    There is a deeper world than this
    Tugging at your hand”

    The human rights movement is too busy criticizing others to be self critical. When you lose this self awareness – you lose the whole plot…your self, voice and authentic language – without moral authority you are no different from the people you criticize. THIS APPLIES TO ALL OF US

    This is the root – the dollars and big big problems flow from this little root….

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    @Sajeewa, I agree with you about the self critical element.

    Certainly this applies to all of us, the lawyers who allowed the country’s justice system to go to rack and ruin without doing anything to arrest that trend, the doctors who allowed the roots of the medical system to get irretrievably politicised, the educationists who stood bye while the education system was being destroyed and the media which abandoned principled positions on writing. It is not only the human rights movement which is to blame. It is a collective blame. As a retired public servant, I too am to blame for not speaking out sooner and griping in public.

    We need to look inwards – who among us stayed silent when things got to be so bad? We need also to stand up and applaud those who did not stay silent at the cost of sacrificing their personal and professional lives and learn from their bravery.

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    I agree with the general way of these comments but as a lawyer, I do not agree with the article itself.

    It is a simplistic theme and merely touches on relevancies without actually interrogating them. For example, what is meant by ‘deeper spiritual, cultural and social approach’by Sajeewa? All vague and fancy terms which do not mean anything.

    The basic fact is that our criminal justice system is not working through a combination of factors which must be addressed. In other countries, these systems do work to a lesser or greater exent. It all depends on our state of determination to put things in order. In the same way, the ICC is not looked upon as the cure for everything and certainly the power politics behind the ICC is not ignored by its analysts – it is simply that the ICC can be used to whatever extent possible in the absece of a better alternative.

    lETS HAVE THE DEBATE A BUT DEEPER THAN THIS, FOLKS!

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    Thank you Chandra

    I am very happy to read both your posts….

    Like you say the criminal law, ICC etc have their place – but if I were to refine my point blaming, condemnation, prosecution and punishment is all about moving the finger away from yourself – going outward… and for a society like ours this has no use.

    It is so extremely rare for a sri lankan to speak in the way you have done. This is going against the stream and internalizing your situation with the rest of society. When you are fully integrated like this you can have compassion and softness – something we need very badly.

    Then why did you having demonstrated in action the meaning of spiritual, cultural and social values then go on to dismiss those words?

    perhaps because they have lost their meaning in our society?? it does not mean that the words lack meaning but that we must give them a meaning and place in our society.

    I would take those three words as standing for human freedom for self discovery – for learning who we are – and this is not just a religious thing but a deeply human endeavour. The non violent communication that is needed to help this transformation is found in the arts – in songs and all kinds of expressions of freedom. They can even be found in this country to a person who looks with sensitivity.

    The most important thing within a culture is the ability to go deep and separate form from substance. This is how different cultures interact and learn from each other and stay alive. Sinhalese culture went into oblivion – the creative and original phase ended with the demise of the irrigation civilisation to be replaced by a culture of imitation – which is really no culture at all.

    If you look across the palk straits you will find how Indians live within their culture…. to them the externals may change – the great moghuls and british – the empires would come and go – but their faith in their own culture was strong. for us the externals are everything as we have no interior dimension to fall back on…. but this can change so long as it is at a deep and individual level

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    Thanks Sajeewa. I do agree with what you have said.

    Perhaps your comments could have usefully fomed part of the main article as they would have leant it greater form and substance.

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    Sajeeva,

    “Other human rights activists who are not so enamoured with the criminal process and who seek a deeper, spiritual, cultural and social approach which seeks to transform attitudes that lie at the root of all problems are becoming increasingly marginalized from this new battlefield as a neo Victorian morality play is being staged with great passion by the protagonists on either side – the accusers and defenders.”

    1. What do we do with a chap like Julampitiye Amare? Should we immediately release him and help him to get on a spiritual path like what Chandrasena Rajapaksa of the Southern Provincial High Court did in his order dated 23rd of April 2012?

    2. Where you singing the same tune when the government was pulping Prabhakaran? Were you advocating for Prabhakaran to be forgiven and put on the spiritual path?

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