24 April 2009

we are ALL human rights defenders

although i knew there was a UN declaration on human rights defenders, it was not until i had to write about it that i learned its full name: the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

(yes, the full name is a mouthful, which is probably why it is popularly known as the declaration on human rights defenders.)

the declaration is thus addressed to everyone, not just states and human rights defenders. this is made clearer in its annex:
Stressing that all members of the international community shall fulfil, jointly and separately, their solemn obligation to promote and encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction of any kind…

Acknowledging the important role of international cooperation for, and the valuable work of individuals, groups and associations in contributing to, the effective elimination of all violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms of peoples and individuals…

in other words, it is everyone's responsibility to promote and protect human rights, and anyone who does so, is a human rights defender. for this reason, the declaration does not adopt any formal definition of 'human rights defender'.

not only was i happier to be sharing this responsibility, but i was also taken aback by the difference made by a name.

19 April 2009

me and bridget jones

about a week ago, i attended a party where i knew nearly everyone, but was good friends with only two persons. it was an interesting event, for various reasons that i won't go into right now. my comfort level varied over the five and a half hours i was there, which in turn determined how good a time i was having. the last hour was perhaps the lowest point, which of course shadowed the entire event to the extent that even though it was way past my bedtime, instead of collapsing into bed as soon as i got to my room, i wasted time in futile over-analysis.

the next day (or perhaps two days later) i watched bridget jones after a VERY long time (it was one of my favorite movies to watch in cairo. this probably had a lot to do with the fact that it was one of the four english movies i owned at that time). anyways, at one point during the movie, i suddenly felt that my behaviour at the party slightly resembled bridget's verbal ineptitude, and i was mortified. then came the scene of bj's birthday dinner with her friends, where everyone was having a good time despite the awful food. again, i felt an affinity with her; i am happy with my small group of friends, where no matter what, i don't feel like an idiot.

more than anything else, i think it bothers me that apart from those two good friends, no one else at the party knows me as a funny, slightly eccentric, intelligent person. i never manage to come across that way with people who are not my friends. argh.

life: of love and shadows

that literature mirrors life was brought home to me most poignantly while reading isabel allende's of love and shadows. it is one of her older novels (not sure why i didn't read it earlier) and as such, slightly different in tone and content from portrait in sepia or daughter of fortune. it is still characteristic allende though.

behind the title is a love story set in a military dictatorship. allende portrayed the daily repression, fear, silence and disappearances her characters must live some 25 years ago; i live with them today. while reading the novel, i felt as though she was describing the histories (and the present) of burma or sri lanka or bangladesh. i am just now editing a paper titled 'militarization and human rights in south asia'.

more than in particular quotes, the theme of repression, absurdity and quiet rebellion runs through the novel like a thread holding it all together. regardless, i still want to have some quotes down, so here goes:

"'From this moment you are to wear your hair long, Francisco. We must resist in every possible way,' mouthed his irate father, forgetting his own objection to shaggy-haired men."

"Until the day she visited the Morgue, Irene Baltran had lived in angelic ignorance, not from apathy or stupidity but because ignorance was the norm in her situation. Like... so many of her social class, she escaped into the orderly, peaceful world of the fashionable neighborhoods, the exclusive beach clubs... Irene had been educated to deny any unpleasantness, discounting it as a distortion of the facts."

"Years of authoritarian regime had established discretion as the basis for survival."

"Since it was impossible to eliminate poverty, it had been forbidden to mention it. The news in the press was soothing; they were living in a fairyland. Rumours of hungry women and children storming bakeries were completely false... Anyone who was discontented was considered anti-patriotic; happiness was obligatory. Through an unwritten but universally known law of segregation, two countries were functioning within the same national boundaries"

"It's all the same. Lieutenant Ramirez killer her, and he's the law. What can I do?"

"'Justice' was an almost forgotten term, no longer mentioned because, like the word 'liberty', it had subversive overtones."

"united in their compassionate desire to bring human solidarity where divine love seemed to be lacking."

03 April 2009

teenage rape victim in pakistan humiliated by judge

Court spectators and prosecutors expressed outrage at the behaviour of Additional District and Sessions Judge Nizar Ali Khawaja on 25 March 2009 in Karachi, when he allowed the case of a teenage gang rape victim, Ms Kainat Soomro, to become a spectacle in his courtroom.

While the 15-year-old victim was expecting an in-camera trial in the judge's private chambers, she was instead asked by the judge to describe and even demonstrate her rape, in detail, in front of her alleged attackers. Furthermore, at least 80 spectators were also present in the court room. Although the public prosecutor requested that anyone unrelated to the case be told to leave, the judge sided with the defense counsel, who argued that there were no legal obligations to bar citizens from an open court.

According to journalists and the prosecution, the defense counsel and the judge asked a string of invasive questions regarding the rape, which the teenager, who has had a sheltered, conservative upbringing, struggled with. She was asked when certain items of clothing were removed, exactly what actions were done to her, and when. In a few instances Kainat replied that she couldn't remember and felt out of her senses, having fainted; the judge then harshly berated her. Witnesses noted that he appeared to enjoy the invasive nature of the questions and Kainat’s humiliation.

what a pathetic excuse of a human being, not to mention judge. you can read more here and here.

02 April 2009

muslim journeys towards love

i stumbled upon these two books today, which piqued my attention: catch a fish from the sea (using the internet) by nasreen akhtar, and love in a headscarf by shelina janmohammed. written by british muslim women, both books are about finding a partner outside the traditional set ups. they seem funny and refreshing.

if anyone has read them, do let me know your thoughts.. i'm going to have to get them off amazon, as neither the public libraries nor hku have them, and i assume most bookstores here won't stock them either..

01 April 2009

Writer's 'racist slur' offends Filipinos

By Danilo Reyes
Column: Point of Action, UPI Asia Online
HONG KONG, China, March 31, 2009

A journalist in Hong Kong who described the Philippines as a "nation of servants" in his column may have written his article as a satire, and perhaps his insults were “not intentional,” but the Filipinos’ reaction demonstrates they could not take it lightly. Such comments are deeply hurtful, satirical or otherwise.

The article entitled "The War At Home," written by Chip Tsao, was published in HK Magazine on March 27, but the publishing company, the Asia City Publishing Group, had to pull it from their website three days later. Massive condemnation of the article in both Hong Kong and the Philippines forced the company to make an apology on Monday.

Before Chip Tsao’s article came to light, another local newspaper, The Standard, had published a report on Feb. 25 claiming that Filipinos were carriers of an infectious disease, a “superbug,” quoting an expert from the Center for Health Protection. Considering this a serious issue, I personally wrote to the CHP asking for clarification, only to find out the report did not “express the views of the CHP.”

But unlike HK Magazine, The Standard did not apologize, nor did its editor, Ivan Tong, reply to my letter or email. The journalist who wrote the article, Patsy Moy, stands by her story despite the disclaimer in the CHP’s letter to me.

In searching for a remedy to the problem of articles that misrepresent the Filipino community, I was told that the newly passed Racial Discrimination Ordinance in Hong Kong, though it has provisions to protect ethnic minorities from discrimination, applies only in the workplace. There is no redress for an ethnic group that is offended by published articles or reports.

Thus Filipinos in Hong Kong, for lack of other options, must resort to issuing statements and press releases to protest against discrimination or offensive and false comments. The Filipinos’ reaction to Chip Tsao’s supposedly “satirical” column is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that Filipinos collectively protested against comments they thought offensive.

I recall a controversy over Hollywood actress Claire Danes, who was declared "persona non grata" in the Philippines and whose movies were banned in the country after she commented, following filming in the city, that Manila was infested with cockroaches and rats. She later apologized. There was another case of a Canadian mentor who was condemned over her offensive comments about a Filipino toddler for not being able to use spoon and fork at a primary school.

The Filipinos may be fragmented and divided in some ways – by social class, ethnic group, dialect and ideology – but if their identity as Filipinos is shaken, if they are humiliated or offended, they come together. Perhaps this is a byproduct of their historical colonial past and oppressive regimes.

Let's take Chip Tsao's column as an example. He may argue that his article was intended as a satire; however, he touches upon the very reasons Filipinos have to come to Hong Kong to work as domestic helpers. They come not by their own choice, but are forced to do so by the lack of opportunities at home. This is due to both the abject failure of the Philippines government to develop the country’s economy and to the policy of exporting labor set up during the Marcos regime in the 1970s.

Therefore, it is not the Filipinos' choice as citizens that pushes them to serve foreign households as "modern slaves." This is the product of a policy, crafted by a dictatorial and oppressive regime, that has lasted to this day. It impacts the whole range of Filipinos, which actually includes different ethnic minorities scattered in more than 7,000 islands in the archipelago.

Writings and literary articles that are satirical in nature are not a monopoly of any group of people. This approach is nothing new to Filipinos. In fact, satire was widely used in works by Filipino nationalists like Jose Rizal in his novels, and others who inspired the Philippine revolution against colonial Spain in the 1800s. Thus, to argue that the Filipinos, in reading Chip Tsao, could not “read between the lines” is not accurate.

Filipino domestic workers are often better English speakers and writers than their employers, as English has been their medium of instruction from grade school through college – once again a product of a colonial American past imposed in the 1900s that continues in the education system to this day. It is not accurate to say they cannot grasp subtle meanings.

But in Rizal’s writings, in his politically charged satirical novel "Noli Me Tangere," he used as his objects of ridicule the Spanish friars, the oppressors and plunderers – not those who were suffering due to oppression, the Filipinos. This is what makes Chip Tsao’s approach condemnable. His objects of satire were the domestic workers who are already suffering, forced to separate from their families and to serve foreign households.

The problem with some writers is that they know full well what is offensive but they nevertheless test the waters. Journalism also entails responsibility. When U.S. President Barack Obama was elected, a Filipino-owned newspaper headline read: “Black in White House,” and not “Negro in White House.” In our modern times, not only Filipinos, but everyone knows how deeply it hurts for blacks to be described as Negroes.

In conclusion, I would like to borrow the late Filipino nationalist Jose "Pepe" Diokno's words from an essay written in 1984, in which he described the Philippines as “a nation for our children,” not a nation of servants as Tsao described it. Building a nation for our children has long been the aspiration of all Filipinos, including me.