As the Commonwealth Youth Programme hosts a summit of youth leaders in London, Azhar (Ali) Fateh reflects on a month that has seen despots toppled in the Middle East and a resurgence in respect for human rights and democracy.
Using the most advanced methods of communication – Facebook, Twitter and personal blogs – the youth of the two countries were able to topple their decades-old dictatorial regimes in a matter of days.
One main factor that triggered the revolution in these Arab states, where a month ago it was impossible to even think about such a civilian movement, was the population’s urgency towards their basic human rights and democracy.
Alike the youth in Tunisia and Egypt, the younger generation that resides in Commonwealth states and constitutes half of its population, is also ardent for democracy and universal human rights.
This week’s ‘Youth, Human Rights and Democracy’ conference, held at Marlborough House, has attracted delegates from around the globe, including places like Tonga, Swaziland and Zambia. What a clear indication that human rights and democracy are universal needs – and the people of Commonwealth are no exception
This five-day conference aims to promote better understanding about human rights and democracy so that these delegates, once back in their own countries, can act as agents of change at the community level to educate people about their rights, as guaranteed by their peculiar national constitution.
The idea is not to provide them with heavy books or research papers containing theories on human rights, that have no real implications on the ground and are created only to be left alone in the deep end of a book shelf. But instead to educate and train these delegates on how the judiciary in their respective countries works to protect the rights of ordinary citizens.
As Dr Selina Goulboune, the lead trainer in the conference and a former Dean of the University of Greenwich said, “we don’t want them to only recite theories but instead we aim to provide them with specific knowledge on laws and complaint commissions that can be approached if their basic human rights are infringed in their local communities.”
On the second day of the conference, when a delegate from India raised a case in which the judiciary had used testimonies from police officials as means of evidence to prosecute a civilian, the delegate was informed that such evidence may not be impartial and that the victims of such cases should file their complaints at a court higher in authority than the one which declared the verdict.
In this case it was the High Court that had given the verdict and anyone wanting to complain has the option to register their case with the Supreme Court.
Another, a delegate from Zambia raised an issue in which multinational pharmaceutical companies had conducted medical experiments that led to 130 ladies being infected with the HIV disease. The delegate was informed that victims of such cases should approach their local courts to register their complaints as such crimes severely infringe an individual’s right to information and, most importantly, their right to live.
Abuses of human beings through medical experiments are not new to Africa and most of them result in people being infected with life threatening diseases. With such knowledge, the people can take a legal course of action against the perpetrators – a useful tool to tackle future incidents like this.
The world today is afflicted by numerous major problems – child labor, genocide, underage prostitution, extremism, oppression, to name a few. Many of these problems are allowed to prevail as people lack the basic knowledge about their rights and so are not able to exert pressure on authorities responsible for upholding their rights.
On the other hand, most of the developing world is still under an authoritarian dictatorship in the form of kingdoms or army rule, thus lacking any suitable infrastructure to promote a democratically elected leadership that can reflect the real problems of the people in a parliament.
With such conferences, not only will the Commonwealth be able to create far greater awareness among young people about human rights and democracy, but will also provide them with a clear track to follow to implement these rights.
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