On the occasion of Human Rights Day, the director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative feels optimistic after recent talks in Fiji.
Sanjoy Hazarika, a former New York Times journalist, was in the country attending the International Civil Society Week (ICSW) conference last week.Mr Hazarika has been acclaimed internationally for designing and developing innovative strategies for inclusive health and governance. As part of his work with the initiative, the Assam native of North-Eastern India hopes to reform the police and prison systems in Commonwealth countries.
Another important goal in his agenda is achieving freedom of information for all citizens as a constitutional provision.He is considered an expert of North-east Indian region, and a specialist of migration.His books, of which include Writing on the Wall, Reflections on the North-East, Strangers of the Mist, Tales of War and Peace from India’s North East among others, have received worldwide plaudits.
In an exclusive interview with Fiji Sun, Mr Hazarika discussed challenges faced today in the field of human rights and why it is important to defend them.
HERE ARE EXCERPTS FROM THE INTERVIEW:
Do you think human rights activists should be feeling optimistic right now in the current climate?
It’s a tough call. The world is moving forward in some places, at least, like the United States and parts of Europe. South Asia and India, like a few others, are more a right-wing and conservative dispensation.
But I see hope in what we have had this (last) week (ICSW) of collaboration and coming together and co-operation because then you realise there are many people in the same spot, facing the same issues, and we need to work together much better because the pressures are not limited to one country.
We have to work smartly using new technologies and new strategies in order to deal with new problems. Governments across the world have been able to use technology, use our strategy to actually diminish civil society voices and we need to be one step ahead all the time.
So it’s not just a question of defending; it’s a matter of taking it forward.
Resistance can only take you up to a point, but you need to strategise and you need to reach young people and that’s where a lot of energy, ideas and time needs to be spent because transformation does come with the involvement of young people.
What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with regards to human rights?
I was just talking in a small group about how everything is inter-connected. You can’t talk about poverty without talking about good governance; you can’t talk about good governance without talking about access to information; you can’t talk about access to information without talking about freedom to information.
All these things are inter-connected. You can’t also have good governance without good policing and accepting that other people who look different, have different orientations, have different faiths – have an equal fundamental right.
The SDGs are critical – looking forward to 2030 is also important; the fact that you have a certain timeframe in which to prepare for the next 20-30 years but I think it’s important to say that it’s not the future of the planet; it’s the generations – children and grandchildren – that are at stake.
What’s very important is reviewing what Governments pledge themselves to and claim that they will implement and that I think it is happening but it is happening in a rather spotty way across the world.
Why do you think it is important to document human rights violations?
I think it’s important to document for a very simple reason – for the sake of documentation itself. It’s important to have a record of what is happening and what has happened, that nobody can deny.
Deniability becomes difficult. The second is what the Legal Aid Commission and the Government here is trying to do is the first hour appearance where within an hour of a person’s arrest somebody from the Legal Aid Commission will be there to provide legal support to the person, enabling him or her to understand his or her rights and what the Police can and cannot do.
I think that started in Switzerland and it’s a process that needs to grow across the world. If you are able to do it here it will wonderful. It can be exported in best practice to other parts of the world.
There many things that can be done by the media for good governance because you are just reporting the facts. We are not reporting what we think should happen.
Is the commercial sexual exploitation of children the real threat for the Pacific as the region’s popularity rises?
I think there is a very real risk of it; not just coming but I understand that the problem is already there.
I’m not just talking about here but that is an issue across the Pacific and across many parts of the world. I think that wherever there is a lot of tourism, where there is laxity in terms of implementing the law because there are many interests involved and we’ve seen this in many parts of the world.
Unless civil society and the media keep a close watch, this can become a huge problem. It’s a clear danger.
How can we make a difference?
I think that we have to follow what our heart tells us to do in terms of if you see a moralistic wrong-doing or something that really offends your sense of ethics – we are all born with that – we need to speak out against it.
It may not be easy; in some cases it even can be dangerous. If we see a bad thing that has happened to someone and ignore it – it will come back to us every day. It’s a very simple thing but that’s how rights are protected: when people speak up for them.
As journalists, we have to write to on things we know, we find out and we can corroborate and publish because these are all issues that are not limited to one place; there’s a resonance to it everywhere.
Like the issue of child abuse or domestic violence. It’s being reported increasingly across the world; not because it’s happening more but because people are talking about it.
Edited by Ranoba Baoa