South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

By Sachini Weerawardena

“In this globally inter-dependent world, we must work together where we can and constructively counsel each other where appropriate.” – President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

In an Open Society, government is constantly evolving and is open to criticism and change; a society that is able to tolerate new ideas and different modes of thought and action. The concept of  “open society” was originally developed by the early philosophers. An advocate of the concept, George Soros who is one of the wealthiest people in the world recently donated $100 million to an organization called The Human
Rights Watch. He states that “ Human rights underpin our greatest aspirations: they’ re at the heart of open societies.” A billionaire investor and philanthropist, he is also the founder and chairman of the Open Society Foundation.

The world’ s leading organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights focus international attention on where human rights have been violated; they give a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves. The donation Human Rights Watch recently received will be used to increase their international presence in the emerging power centers of the world. In order to speak to specific governments; they will directly address allies of those particular countries.

This might grant them more access in creating awareness within specific nations, perhaps even enabling them to pressure governments in to taking action to ensure higher standards of human dignity.

Responsibility however lies not just with those who govern us. The people need to take an active role and consider how fellow humans are treated; especially those who are the most vulnerable.It is all too common for us to compare other developed nations and point out their imperfections, thereby quite conveniently ignoring our own. The kind of thinking that encourages pointing fingers at violations of human dignity between states and somehow because theirs is worse makes ours better, seems rather pointless but unfortunately all too common. We should uphold ourselves and those who govern us to higher standards. It is always easier to turn a blind eye or shrug our shoulders. It is in truth, what we all do; turn a blind eye. After all, denial probably helps us sleep better at night.

While to an external enemy, for example the recent case of the housemaid who was tortured in Saudi Arabia, we are appalled and quick to rise up and protest against; the same does not apply when it is from within. Women and children still need greater protection, especially greater laws.Our society needs to be more open to issues we as Sri Lankans are reluctant to openly debate. For example, the recent report on university students being subjected to virginity tests is a clear violation of one’s privacy. Many would not even consider this abuse. Who dares speak out?More than ever before, countries cannot live in isolation. President Rajapaksa was right
when he stated in his recent address to the United Nations, “ In this globally inter-dependent world, we must work together where we can and constructively counsel each other where appropriate.” Work conducted by governments and organizations around the world have resulted in strengthening work on rights of women, children, refugees, and migrant workers. These organizations have been able to bring a human rights perspective to issues such as domestic violence, trafficking, rape as a war crime, and child soldiers. Perhaps it is time we Sri Lankans take a closer look at ourselves. We are not alone and we cannot live alone, even if we wanted to. Perhaps we should consider reacting more and creating awareness. Gandhi did say “ be the change you want to see in the world.” Perhaps it can start with better communication at home.

Creating actual dialogue between parents and children, an open society within the walls of our own homes might help. This generation might have gone by, but there is always the next. The concept of an open society might sound utopian, but not out of reach if we all play a part and care, just a little bit more.

Source: The Daily Mirror – 19.10.2010