Celebrating Human Rights Day 2015

Visit from CCRP
December 17, 2015
The Formation of UK Women of Faith Network
December 20, 2015

RfPUK Executive Director Jehangir Sarosh was invited to address the participants at a celebration of Human Rights Day (10th of December) organised by The International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF).

The Revd Chris Hudson from Northern Ireland also spoke at the event about the lack of religious freedom in Ireland and Northern Ireland and how people are dealing with the issue.

We are posting Jehangir’s speech for your perusal:

I would like to attempt to offer a personal perspective, as a Zoroastrian, as we celebrate this day on Human Rights

The concept of human rights is not new. Ashoka the Great (304-232 BC), the 3rd emperor of the Mauryan empire, advocated Buddhist principles of peace and non-violence. However, instead of just privately living according to these standards, he shifted the entire mindset and led his empire into the ways of peace. He started to focus his efforts mainly on welfare, non-violence, fair treatment and law as well as spreading Buddhism. All his rules and policies were eventually inscribed into several pillars throughout his whole empire. These are now known as Ashoka’s edicts. His edicts still bear a huge influence up to today, including the display of the silhouette of one of the pillars in the center of the Indian flag. (source: Wikipedia)

The Cyrus Cylinder circa. 530 BC has been hailed as the world’s first universal declaration of human rights, and in 1971 the United Nations published translation of it in all official UN languages. A copy of the same is at the UN Headquarters in New York City. The British Museum has stated that the Cylinder was “the first attempt we know about running a society, a state with different nationalities and faiths—a new kind of statecraft.” The Cylinder was one of the first documents in history listing the fundamental rights of all peoples, which, throughout the years has evolved into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (source: Wikipedia).

Shamy Chakrabarti in her book On Liberty said that human rights laws can protect us from premature death and a wholly avoidable degradation, from modern day slavery and unlawful detention, thus guaranteeing fairness in the courtroom. Human rights laws safeguard privacy and family life, they protect free conscience and the creativity, they defend free association and expression and the vital democratic action and participation in a good society.

People defend these laws with their courage and lives while those in authority and those who wish to gain power often try to revoke/abolish or ignore these laws.

An article in the Guardian stated that the Conservative manifesto suggested that replacing the HRA with a British bill of rights “will break the formal link between British courts and the European court of human rights, and make our own supreme court the ultimate arbiter of human rights matters in the UK”. There are many in the Conservative party who would like to go much, much further and adopt a far more radical solution. The Home Secretary, for example, has made clear her desire to see Britain’s complete withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights. These sentiments are also reflected by members of some other parties too.

I mention this because for me human rights laws need to be universal, and not based on local or national cultural rights.
Just as they have to outweigh religious rights for such laws are culturally based in the context of time and location/geography and they are reformed as we evolve and become wiser. So too national laws need to be applicable and acceptable universally. Why? Because human rights should embrace all peoples, it is the ultimate law of the principle of security. And security has to be shared security, for if there is no security for you there is no security for me. That is why RfPUK has established a Multi-faith Committee on Shared Security. We also need to remember human rights should come first; because we are human beings before we are Christians Muslims Zoroastrians etc. we can change our religion but not your humanness.

Religious rights may or may not protect human rights, but human rights definitely protect religious rights of freedom to worship, offering the freedom to have a religion and also to not have any religious belief, which is the common ethical ground that we share in wholly identified in the Universal declaration.

We further need to remember; religions speak of our responsibility (Dharma/ duty ) to uphold the rights of others who may not reflect your own conviction. As we all know human rights laws would be unnecessary if we obeyed that dictum.

The European Council of Religious Leaders’ statement on advancing human dignity states that “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) is an expression of shared values, which are recognised across religions and cultures. The values we share are human principles, which can guarantee a common growth.
…. we believe that our contribution to the fullest acceptance of human rights is to insist that a complete understanding of the human person and of their dignity must be rooted deeply in the ultimate source that makes us human. We believe that genuine human freedom is expressed in the commitment to choose the truth and justice that which secures the foundational dignity of human beings.”

In his message for today the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke of our freedoms and referred to freedom from fear.

For me, freedom from fear is probably the most important for fear is generally of the future, and all we have is the future, for although we carry the baggage of yesterday we forget to remember the past is gone and need to remember that we live in the present is, and what we aim at will be what we become.

A recent article in the Guardian, Musuma Rahim, a clinical psychologist said “a small part of me thinks that the only way to survive is to deny that I’m a Muslim.” Her insecurity and fear is a product from what we are becoming, what we are condoning if we keep silent and permit human rights laws to be disregarded. As members of the International Association for Religious Freedom it is our duty to live up to our primary task. Let us single-mindedly work on that, together.

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