Nepali Times
Human rights and wrongs

The month of UN days is upon us. This week alone 1 December is World AIDS Day, 3 December is the International Day of Disabled Persons and the 5th is the International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development (shouldn't every day be for social and economic development?). Then come the International Civil Aviation Day on 7 December, the Human Rights Day on the 10th, the International Day of Solidarity with Migrant Workers and Their Families on the 18th and the International Day for Biological Diversity on the 29th. At this rate, we will need an almanac to figure out what all the days in the year are for. In this land of jatras, the bikas anniversaries have themselves become jatras.

Devoting a "day" to something as important as social development in a sense trivialises it. Perfect excuse for ministers to give vapid speeches that people hear, but don't listen to. Television covers it in detail: minister at podium reading from a prepared speech, pan across bored-looking donor faces, cut to chief guest delivering keynote address.

On the Human Rights Day, you can be sure there will be more ministers giving more speeches, NGO-wallas organising seminars and paying ample lip service. This year it will be marked on an even grander manner since the Human Rights Commission has just come into being.

In an age when media and public have become jaded with all the sterile rhetoric, it is difficult to imagine how revolutionary the Universal Declaration of Human Rights truly was when it was signed in 1948. But in the years since, it has become clear that if you leave it up to governments they will define human rights according to what serves their interest. It doesn't matter that they are sons-of-bitches, as long as they are our sons-of-bitches.

Basic human rights are not just inalienable. Political rights must co-exist with social and economic rights. Freedom does not just mean not being jailed for one's political beliefs; it also means freedom from hunger, freedom from illiteracy, and freedom from disease. In Nepal, this means at least the minimum amount of food for a healthy life, the right to at least basic education, the right to primary health care. In today's Nepal, it is also the right to go and tend the fields without being shot, the right to be a teacher without being beheaded in broad daylight in front of your students.

Violations of human rights need not always be overtly violent. Human rights can be violated silently by crooked priorities and crooked politicians. When a corrupt official pockets kickbacks while building maternity hospitals, and schools don't have roofs because the contractor bribed someone to get away with it-those are violations of the peoples' rights. The challenge for Nepali civil society is to show the same sense of outrage about the mass death of thousands of children in Nepal every day of preventable causes like diarrhoeal dehydration, measles and respiratory infections as they do about high-profile prisoners of conscience.

Indeed, we have seen that the violations of social rights within countries ultimately lead to the violation of political rights as well. Just look around you: it is deprivation, neglect, impoverishment and corruption that create the conditions for demagogues in government and extremists to carry out their agenda of intolerance. This is the beginning of the backlash against an uncaring national elite. A ruling class that cannot after 50 years fulfil the basic human right to health, education and shelter of its neediest citizens has no pontificate about human rights. Let us remember the saying: "If you are among thieves and you are silent, then that makes you a thief as well."

This December, please spare us the speeches.
1000% Better

Indiscipline is the mother of all evils. All domestic institutions-agencies, banks, and companies-have been hurt due to lack of discipline or governance. If institutions cannot stand how can society move ahead? All the political parties should try to write down discipline in their policy platforms. Their leaders and members should act as role models. They can do so by keeping their word, acting in good faith, completing their assignments according to a specific time frame, setting targets and accomplishing them as promised. If they can do half of these things, the country will be 1,000 percent better off.

-The Nation (Bangkok)

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)