By Dr Mathura P Shrestha, Former Minister of Health, Govt of Nepal
Prof of Community Health, Tribhuvan University, Nepal
Rights to life and living, rights to develop, rights to protection and security, and rights to participate in political, social, cultural and economic settings or affairs of community, country and the world are fundamental birthrights of every human. Human rights should be viewed holistically in relation to all dimensions and perspectives of human life and living and not in isolation.
Presented in the Interaction Program organized by ESC Subcommittee (HRTMCC), Kathmandu, January 09, 2007 (Paush 25, 2063)
1. Meaning and holistic perspectives
Rights to life and living, rights to develop, rights to protection and security, and rights to participate in political, social, cultural and economic settings or affairs of community, country and the world are fundamental birthrights of every human. These rights in fact extend even prior to birth of all viable fetuses in womb. Human rights therefore should be viewed holistically in relation to all dimensions and perspectives of human life and living and not in isolation.
2. Philosophy of Meaningful living
Every human has aspirations and rights to a respectable living with dignity but without guilt, threats, fear, subjugation, exploitation, and sense of discrimination or disparity or marginalization of any kind or form; and without a need to exploit or subjugate other humans, societies or cultures and the nature. A human can’t be called healthy or even normal without these attributes. Thus these attributes are essential human needs though not always quantifiable. By nature a human desires own liberation from all types of bonds, boundaries and walls. Liberation from perpetual enslaving habits, consumptions, conditions or so called ways of life including sociopolitical compulsions, economic demagogies, energy slaves, technology and present day’s notion of affluence constitutes his/her philosophical, psychosocial and spiritual needs.
For that kind of liberation we, the people of Nepal and of the world have first of all a shared responsibility to strive and struggle for egalitarian and just societies and socially responsible living. The shared responsibility is the reflection of typical human dream knocking on our imagination and intellect from the very advent of human civilization, and therefore are fundamental basis, principles and concepts of human rights development, and harmonious, peaceful and prospering societies. When a society, a nation, has no ears and eyes for the problems of its peoples, one and all, and its neighbors, something is wrong with that nation, with that society1.
3. Rights to identity, name and relationship in political, social, cultural, economic and ecological settings
About ten years ago along with medical students of IOM during a community health diagnosis expedition in a remote village inhabited by deprived Bote ethnic groups I happened to enquire a boy, returning from a primary school of a distant ‘upper class village’ in tattered outfit, his name. The answer was,
“What name? Everybody calls me Pudke (Derogatory term for dwarf or one with short stature).”
“Who gave you this name?”
“The Headmaster in the school.”
“What is your name given by your parents?”
“Mangale, because I was born in Tuesday.”
The headmaster had refused to register him as Mangale. He thought that it was too respectable for a poor boy of minority Bote ethnic group like him, even though Mangale too had overtly derogatory tone relating to the day he was born.
Many in Nepal have their identity compromised. They even do not have a right to name in proper sense. Parents venturing to have respectable names for their children in their own languages are jeered or even insulted on having to dared to have their cultural identity.
Loktantra (democracy) will not have any meaning without rights to identity, name and dignified social, cultural and economic status or if people are segregated or deprived politically, socio-culturally, economically, by gender or physical state or any human attributes. Centuries’ old feudalism has dehumanized our societies, cultures, and even religions. If these maladies are not corrected Loktantra would not take its roots. All are equal irrespective of physical, social, cultural or economic attributes. Diversity is the strength and beauty of Nepal. Cultural belligerence or dominance in the name of ‘one country, one nation, one dress-code, one language, one religion, one culture and one identity’ is a curse of Nepal, or any country for that matter.
For the same region, it is mere human folly or ignorance to try to label an inanimate body or a non-human living (with no understanding of human culture, or conversely, with human lacking capacity to understand these in their terms) by a particular religion or nationality. A nation or state or a tree or a plant or a mountain can’t have any religion. They are secular by any standard of logical or even religious sense. A particular species of animal or plant may be specific to a geographic locality or a country. People in that country may even take pride on that. But to award a particular flower, plant, tree, animal or any pieces of nature as national one is human stupidity as the question would naturally arise, whether any other one was non-national.
4. Right to self determination/sovereign rights
Right to self-determination is every human’s fundamental right. A human has right to decide or choose for himself/herself with full awareness or enses of benefits or risks of having taken that decision or choosing that. A decision taken on behalf of any with disability to independent decision or to exercise proxy right to self-determination because of physical or mental condition may under no excuse go against the wellbeing, safety or benefit of the person in question. Right to self determination or individual sovereign right is closely liked to the rights to information, informed dialogue and informed choices (without threats, deception or enticement), right to confidentiality, social responsibility of a person or persons concerned on the principle of doing no harm but good to all concerned or on maximizing benefits and minimizing risks of all served, and principles of distributive justice, restorative justice and transformative justice.
The concept of distributive justice is distribution of justice according to real needs. Those who needs more to redress the sufferings and degree of injustices should get proportionately more. In societies wrecked by thousands of years of inequalities the so-called equality in justice systems will only accelerate disparity among the rich and powerful in one hand and the poor and deprived on the other to access justice. Restorative justice concept is proposed to expand the inadequacies of punitive and retributive justice in order to eliminate continuing state of impunity. Restorative justice requires, at minimum, addressals of victims’ harms and needs, hold offenders accountable to put right those harms, and involve victims, offenders, and communities in this process2. Transformative justice encourages to book offenders, to motivate offenders to accept responsibilities and guilt in order to mitigate harm done not only to victims and communities but also to themselves by proper atonement and participation into education, transformation and rehabilitation processes to transform themselves to truly responsible citizen with strong demotivation to crimes or harms to peoples and societies3. Probably the first concept of transformative justice generated more than 2500 years ago at the time of Buddha with the transformation of Angulimala, a bandit, cruel murderer who wore a garland of severed little fingers out of ones he murdered. The outlaw was nuisance in North Indian kingdoms. Even powerful rulers of Pataliputra, Magadha and Kosala could not succeed in putting him down. He even tried to kill Buddha who stood unfearful and undeterred of the impending attack. Buddha’s serenity and sermon changed him. Following the incident Angulimala repented, renounced all including evil desires to prevail by harming others, underwent a strong atonement process, and lived a life of hermit on alms. He began to get pardon from relatives of his victims. He, in the long run, became one of the great disciples of the Buddha preaching Buddha’s philosophy4.
5. Twelve levels living
Authority everywhere and at all time tends to narrow down the scope and areas of so called ‘Basic Minimum Needs’. However human living has following essential levels both as rights as well as minimum needed opportunities without disparity and deprivation:
- Food security including appropriate and equitable distribution
- Protective dressing with respect to individual culture and climatic needs
- Secured shelter
- Social and individual security
- Productive employment with respectable income
- Clean and sustainable environment including safe drinking water and sanitation
- Political, social, cultural and economic identity, empowerment and dignified inter-human relationship including active and conscious participation in political, social, cultural and economic affairs and activities from locality through nation and region to those of the globe
- Contribution to society with one’s production and creativity including rights to research, innovate and develop
- Recreation and entertainment including participation in art, poetry, music, paintings, sculpture, dance etc.
- Fundamental human rights.
Human living can’t be full if any one of these is denied or fragmented.
6. Globalization – an slaving tool of imperialists and neo-liberals
To quote Debabar Banerji, ‘Globalization is a mere episode in the history of dominance of the rich industrialized countries over the poor ones; its parentage extends right up to the days of colonialism and imperialism. The infamous Opium Wars, genocide of the indigenous peoples, slave trade, the holocaust of the World War II, the Vietnam War, (now aggression on Afghanistan and Iraq) are some of the episodes in the long and inglorious history of the relationship between the North and the South, between the rich and the poor and between the powerful and the powerless… The globalization is only unethical justification of unequal relationship5’.
In spite of increasing global affluence in terms of increasing average annual global income there has been a growing divide between the haves and the have-nots with actual number of people living in the poverty increasing worldwide6. Unfortunately Globalization has swamped all countries of the world like a flood or avalanche in economic, social and cultural foundations. It has embraced everyone in the world with a notion, rather a totally unfounded misconception, that globalization is a necessary evil or a price to pay for development of countries and societies, and for poverty reduction. Globalization even obligated legislative compulsions to plunder national and natural resources, to destroy biodiversity, to transfer community ownership of natural and traditional resources and their management to transnational companies, to privatize state-owned enterprises sacrificing access of the peoples to health, education, public services and development, to compromise sovereign rights of countries and peoples, especially of underdeveloped countries, and to virtually imprison knowledge, sciences, technologies, information systems – all traditionally accepted as common human goods – in the name of patent rights and IPR. Globalization in particular tends to compromise social, cultural, economic and even political or civil rights.
7. Myths and realities
Currently, there are many absurd practices and theories about human living, common human goods, rights and practices. We all have a common social responsibility to critically analyze the realities and explode myths.
First of all many bigwigs, particularly the despots or tyrants, in the past tried in several episodes to imprison knowledge, sciences, technologies, information systems. Not one ever succeeded. The present attempts to enforce patent rights and IPR to wean peoples from their creative thinking and to force peoples to passive consumerism, at a price, too will ultimately fail. But without active conscientization and sustained participation of peoples in the people’s struggle worldwide against the globalization, liberal economic enslavement, privatization and consumerism people will have an unnaturally prolonged period of enslavement and incarceration into passivism or to rat-race after mere economic survival or, at most, competition. People and ecosystem are then doomed to crisis or even cataclysm. We need to explode a myth that serious scientists and artists insist or advocate IPR or patent rights. For example, the scientists from 16 countries who charted human genetic codes actively resisted attempts by a TNC involved and some governments to legislate IPR of the mapped codes. The governments of respective countries were forced in stead to declare these as ‘common human goods’ out of bonds of IPR and patent rights. Human genetic code map is now freely available in internet.
Secondly, globalization advocates and neo liberal enforcers are strengthening borders and walls between and within countries, nations and peoples. Profits are made to override all human values, services and quality of human life or living.
Thirdly, the states are rapidly shedding off its obligations and responsibilities to the peoples especially those related to health, education, public services, security including social security and people’s rights including human rights. These are being commercialized denying the poor, deprived and disabled the access to these common human goods.
Fourthly, many so called human rights defenders are overtly stressing political and civil rights as fundamental and economic, social and cultural rights as secondary rights. There is no denying that political and civil rights are of paramount importance but these advocates devalue even political and civil rights by equating these to only electoral rights, freedom of speech without freeing peoples from exploitations and economic and cultural subjugations, freedom of information with most of the media sectors in developed as well as developing countries monopolized by the rich and the powerful minority in harvesting profit out of myths and hypes rater than providing true, transparent information, and motivation to thinking and behaving without health and ecological considerations, and without harmonious or eco-friendly relationships. On the other hand human rights are universal and indivisible and thus can’t be sectoralized or fragmented. It has to be holistic embracing all aspects human life and living. Civil and political rights (CPR) can’t mature and become meaningful without assertion of economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR). Similarly, ESCR can’t be realized without asserting CPR.
Fifthly, politics is not what is traditionally believed as art of manipulation, trickeries and hypes to maintain domination. Neither is it a juggling to ascend to state power. The rich, powerful and exploiting classes deliberately advocate a notion for the peoples to hate politics and to think or behave apolitically. This is the worst intervention in the domain of public consciousness to entice the peoples to be and remain addicted and lost to ‘happy-go-lucky’ types of duds so that these elite classes could continue to monopolize politics as bona fide political jamindars. Politics is about the people, their lives and livings. Thus politics is the people’s good in people’s domain. Politics can’t be separated from peoples’ lives. People without active participation in politics tend ever to remain dominated against their will. On the other hand, a country’s status of education (especially of consciousness), health and quality of life tend to be proportional to the level and quality of participation of its peoples in its politics. Politically conscious peoples are assets to a country’s loktantra and its democratic culture. With that people won’t be blindly following political leaders or even be swayed by the latter. Political leaders, on the other hand, will be obliged to think and behave according to the expressed aspirations and needs of their peoples. With this people-centered paradigm in politics we will be able to set many, many absurdities in socio-economic conditions of countries and the world to right and just. One example is a paradigm shift in political norm where the voices of people in loktantrik (democratic) countries will be stronger than bullets or bombs. Then we humans can really realize our age-old dream to outlaw the wars of all kinds and forms for all the time to come, and transform all conflicts with meaningful and informed dialogue and constructive engagement. Thus let us all advocate and motivate peoples to love politics rather than hate it.
Finally, we all are sucked in the massive machine western ways of life of waste, over-consumption and over-eating in spite of the fact that a majority of population in Nepal is starving and surviving in dire poverty. ‘As the American public continues sleepwalking into a future of energy scarcity, climate change, and geopolitical turmoil, we (both in rich and poor countries alike) continued dreaming. 7’ We are being rapidly sucked into a great energy glut and capitalist country’s prescription to doom. Frantic search for alternative or renewable sources have yielded fewer success but with as many environmental problems of pollution of some other kind. To quote Ivan Illich, ‘While the people have begun to accept ecological limits maximum per capita energy use as a condition for physical survival, they do not yet think about the use of minimum feasible power as the foundation of any of various social orders that would be both modern and desirable. … Only participatory democracy creates the conditions for rational technology. …What is generally overlooked is that equity and energy can grow concurrently only to a point. Bellow a threshold of per capita wattage, motors improve the conditions for social progress. Above this threshold, energy grows at the expense of equity. Further energy affluence then means decreased distribution of control over that energy’. Ivan Illich further advocates ‘two roads from where we are to technological maturity: one is the road of liberation from affluence; the other is the road of liberation from dependence. … The impact of industrially packaged quanta of energy on social environment ends to be degrading, exhausting, and enslaving, and these effects come into play even before those which threaten pollution of physical environment and the extinction of the race. The crucial point at which these effects can be reversed is not, however, a matter of deduction, but of decision’8.
8. Human right is not what erodes rights of others
Irresponsible behavior cannot be justified as their human rights. Human right is not what erodes or deny rights of other humans, or destroy eco-harmony or eco-health.
Nepal’s oldest known culture, Tagera Ningma-Fungma (almost contemporary to China’s prehistoric Samsumg-Dae culture, Egypt’s Pharaoh culture or Indian Subcontinent’s Harappa Mohenjodaro culture) stipulated about seven thousand years back a philosophical theory on harmony or essential coexistence of opposite qualities in nature. Good or bad, heat or cold can’t exist independent of each other. Similar philosophy was further expounded as Yang-Ying theory 2600 years ago as Dao philosophy and recently by Marx as ‘Unity of opposites’. Human independence or freedom can’t be materialized without interdependence with other humans, societies, cultures and the nature. The concept forms a basis of relationship based on principles of ‘Panchasheela’ between humans and between nations. In Loktantra no one can be above loka or people; similarly no one can be placed bellow loka. Thus Loktantra is the most advanced form of republicanism as people and their respective world in the system are equal to each other in every respect.
Yen, Nepal Era: Tuesday, Pohela Ga 6, 1127 (January 9, 2007) updated on January 14, 2007
- Valentin Falin. The rational of peaceful coexistence. (From the notes of lecture presented on the 6th World Congress of the IPPNW, Cologne, May 29 – June 1, 1986).
- Howard Zehr. The little book of restorative justice. PA: Good Books Intercourse, 2002; 3-57. Access also www.goodbks.com
- Readers are advised to read Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi. From emperor to citizen – The autography of Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi (Vol. 1&2, Translated by WJF Jenner). Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1979.
- Bhikkhu Nanamoli. The life of the Buddha. Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1998; 128-150.
- Debabar Banarji. Impact of Globalization on the access of the poor to the health services. Khoj-Bin – JNHRC, Kathmandu 1998; 2(1):3-4. NY/London: WW Norton & Co., 2002: 3-22.
- Joseph E Stiglitz. Globalization and its Discontents. NY/London: WW Norton & Company, 2002; 3-22.
- James Howard Kunstler. Making other arrqangements – A wake-up call to a citizenry in the shadow of oil scarcity. Orion Magazine Jan-Feb 2007; downloaded from http://www.orionmagazine.org/pages/om/07-1om/kunstler.html
- See for critical understanding: Ivan Illich. Energy and Equity. Access http://reactor-core.org/energy-and-equity.html
Source: INSN.org – Jan 15, 2007