Honouring the day the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the Civil Society and Trade Union’s Collective assembled a group of people who stood by the ideals of democracy, freedom and independence.
In the afternoon of December 10, 2018, at the Jasmine Hall, BMICH, the organizers lined up an array of charismatic speakers to address an audience comprising religious leaders and human rights activists.
First up was Philip Dissanayake, Executive Director of the Right to Life Human Rights Centre. “This year we have gathered to celebrate International Human Rights Day as an anarchic state without a government,” he began. It only seemed apt that the line of discussion for the evening examined the current political crisis of the country which was controversially threatening civil rights. He went on to identify the driving force of the human rights movement, which was to defeat this ‘political coup.’
He described how the 19th Amendment enabled the judiciary to rise to its present status of power, allowing it to have taken the decisions it did with regard to the constitutional crisis. This, he stated, allowed the people to restore their faith in the legal institution. Furthermore, he said that over time the amendment had dispensed a level of independence among government servants. The intervention of the Police Commission to prevent the arbitrary executive action of transferring 54 policemen was the example he provided.
With regard to the ordeal at hand, he expressed, “This political struggle has paved the way for progressive people of the nation to flock together regardless of racial, religious, party and colour differences...people who have never come forward before have taken to the streets in the name of democracy,” J. C. Weliamuna President’s Counsel while also pointing out the importance of preserving the 19A in the light of securing fundamental human rights, addressed the underestimated sovereignty of the masses, their decisive role in the political arena and the consequent changes they are capable of making. He presented three requests in honour of the ceremonious day: For the masses to support the rights of the policemen whose institution has made vast progress since four years ago, for the media to preserve and promote human rights and be weary of the ethical disruption fed through television screens to youngsters and finally for political leaders to kindly follow the very constitutional laws taught to children on state-issued textbooks.
The forum accommodated the views of several human rights defendants representing institutions like the ‘Uva Shakthi Foundation’ and the National Trade Unions’ Front. They presented issues about the rights of female government workers, maternity leave rights that have been denied to them, the disregard of employee reports made to commissioners etc.
Dr. Nimalka Fernando, Commissioner, Office on Missing Persons recalled the struggles of the past, the self-sacrifices of local human rights activists whose efforts should not be belittled nor reversed in the face of this current breach of order. “We cannot train Human Rights defenders, they are born in the struggle,” she quoted Pakistani human rights activist Hina Jilani.
It is a dissipation of hesitation and fear in the common man that these speakers claimed they strive for. Their goal is to conquer the unlawful, which according to Mr. Dissanayake, is a battle won “by over 80%.” Having even engaged in over a fortnight of silent protesting at the Viharamahadevi Park, they expressed their determination to withstand these political obstacles, keeping in mind that according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all men and women are entitled to “the right to life, liberty and nationality, to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, to work, to be educated, [and] to take part in government.”
Pics by Nimalsiri Edirisinghe