“If you want peace and development, work for social justice” is the theme of the United Nations World Social Justice Day which was marked this week. In a statement, the world body says, social justice is an underlying principle for peaceful and prosperous co-existence within and among nations. “We uphold social justice principles when we promote gender equality or the rights of indigenous peoples and migrants. We advance social justice when we remove barriers that people face because of gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, culture or disability,” the UN adds.
For the UN, the pursuit of social justice for all is at the core of its global mission to promote development and human dignity. The adoption by the International Labour Organization of the declaration on social justice for a fair globalization is one recent example of the UN system’s commitment to social justice. The Declaration focuses on guaranteeing fair outcomes for all through employment, social protection, social dialogue and fundamental principles and rights at work, the UN says.
According to the UN, the ILO estimates that currently about two billion people live in fragile and conflict-affected situations. Of them more than 400 million are aged 15 to 29. Job creation, better quality jobs and better access to jobs for the bottom 40 per cent have the potential to increase incomes and contribute to more cohesive and equitable societies. Thus they are important to prevent violent conflicts and to address post-conflict challenges.
On June 10, 2008, the ILO unanimously adopted the declaration on social justice for a fair globalization. This is the third major statement of principles and policies adopted by the International Labour Conference since the ILO’s Constitution of 1919. It builds on the Philadelphia Declaration of 1944 and the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work of 1998. The 2008 Declaration expresses the contemporary vision of the ILO’s mandate in the era of globalization. This landmark Declaration is a powerful reaffirmation of ILO values. It is the outcome of tripartite consultations that started in the wake of the Report of the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization. By adopting this text, the representatives of governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations from 182 member States emphasize the key role of the tripartite organization in helping to achieve progress and social justice in the context of globalization. Together, they commit to enhance the ILO’s capacity to advance these goals, through the Decent Work Agenda. The Declaration institutionalizes the Decent Work concept developed by the ILO since 1999, placing it at the core of the Organization’s policies to reach its constitutional objectives, the ILO says.
In Sri Lanka, a just society was the main principle and promise of the social revolution on January 08, 2015, when President Maithripala Sirisena was elected to office and formed the government with the United National Front (UNF), which was headed by Prime Minster Ranil Wickremesinghe. The late Ven. Sobitha Nayaka Thera, with the National Movement for Social Justice played a key role in this revolution along with about 50 other civic action groups and political parties including the radical Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP).
Four years later, some progress has been made. On April 28, 2015, President Sirisena voluntarily stripped himself of most of the powers of the virtually all powerful Executive Presidency. Through this 19th Amendment, more powers were given to the Prime Minister and the Parliament with the setting up of an all-party Constitutional Council to ratify or reject key appointments made by the President. Independent commissions also appointed for the public service, the Police, human rights, elections, and to investigate allegations of bribery and corruption. Another important move was the adoption of the Right to Information Law, with an independent RTI Commission set up to hear the appeals of any person who was denied access to information on major public issues.
But after a few months, an open split emerged between the President and the UNF. With the next Presidential election scheduled to be held this year, the President is reportedly pleading for nomination as a joint candidate of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and the badly battered Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). However indications are that the SLPP will nominate the former President’s brother Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. With conflicts within conflicts and confusion within confusion, it would be unjust now to talk about a just society.