Close to one hundred journalists were killed last year and almost two hundred remain behind bars worldwide simply for doing their job. Two weeks back we, the authors, called on the UN in Geneva to take immediate action by creating the position of a Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for the Safety of Journalists. A letter highlighting the importance of the appointment was also presented from the Fahmy Foundation and the Canadian Journalists for Freedom of Expression to Ambassador Rosemary McCarney representing Canada at the United Nations.
Despite numerous resolutions adopted on this monumental issue in the past decade, including by the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly, illiberal governments and extremist groups have been increasingly targeting reporters leaving almost no neutral ground to report freely and safely—a fundamental core of democracy.
In order to implement these binding laws only a Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Protection of Journalists, working closely and swiftly with a mandate applicable to that of the UN Secretary General, will bring the much needed political experience and legitimacy to extract and help targeted journalists. This special envoy will bear the main responsibility of monitoring compliance by UN member states within their obligations under international law.
Throughout history the honorable craft of journalism was a dangerous one. In this age of terrorism many governments are using new, vague terrorism laws and the so-called “war on terrorism” as an excuse to clampdown on civil liberties in what could be considered a partial war on journalism and human rights. There is no doubt that daily terrorist attacks require unprecedented strategies to counter this heightened wave of terrorism. We echo the sentiments of the masses and can only beat the terrorists hoping to rob us of our humanity when our leaders maintain that balance between implementing a security approach while maintaining those hard-earned civil liberties.
Indeed, the “end of history”, a notion that gained a certain degree of traction in the late nineteen-eighties, now seems hopelessly optimistic. The unstoppable progress of liberal democracies, allied with an ever-expanding economy – a fantasy of “happy globalisation” -- has been stripped away to reveal a grim recognition of nationalism, religious extremism, wild capitalism and its economic shocks. The human cost of unregulated globalisation is everywhere apparent.
Today, autocrats hide behind the façade of democracy as they loot their countries and corrode human rights. Newspapers are threatened with closure, journalists imprisoned. Plutocrats control vast swathes of the media with a corresponding reduction in both quantity and quality of news coverage. Paradoxically, given the rapid dissemination of ideas in our Internet age, both the freedom of the press and freedom of expression are increasingly imperilled. Is the dream of liberal democracies, with its promise of social progress and economic fairness, only a dream?
A fortnight ago Liberal International, the world federation of Liberal Parties and peoples committed to equality of opportunity, social progress and freedom of expression, testified to the global erosion of liberal democracy and human rights by authoritarian regimes to the Human Rights Council in Geneva. When this council was created in 2006 cynics argued that it would be ineffective and indeed controlled by countries that have no interest in furthering human rights in the world. And indeed that did initially appear to be a real possibility, especially when one looked at the background of those elected to sit in the council. But slowly, over the past decade, the Council is becoming an effective instrument for human rights progress. And it has likewise served as a means of moral persuasion for many of its members. The very fact of membership, the slow and patient testimony from multiple witnesses and organisations, becomes a force for positive political change.
Ideas inspire, ideologies attempt to provide coherent practice, but organisations are not bureaucratic obstacles to good governance but can rather serve as a means of dissemination and encouragement. The recognition of liberal political parties by our organisation can prove a support in countries antipathic to democratic principles. And to close with one current example, given the recent Pride marches around Canada, the Human Rights Council’s decision last week to nominate an independent expert to evaluate the rights of LGBT citizens in its member states can only be seen as a potential good. Given that in many of these states the risk posed for freedom of expression of these citizens is a matter of life or death, a common evaluation can push intolerant governments toward democratic freedoms for all of its citizens.
Responsibility to Protect - Safeguard journalists and secure democratic values: UN must appoint Special Representative - Juli Minoves-Triquell PhD: President of Liberal International, Ambassador to the United Nations (1995-2001) and Mohamed Fahmy: Award-winning journalist
The noble aspirations of the Responsibility to Protect (also known as “R2P”) are under threat like never before. The problem is not just that the incidence of atrocity crimes has increased since the historic lows achieved in this century’s first decade, thanks largely to the eruption of violent conflict and mass atrocities in the Middle East and Sahel and the collapse of South Sudan into chaos. Nor is it primarily to do with the rise of non-state armed groups and violent extremists that commit and glorify brazen atrocities. Both of these are significant challenges that demand fresh thinking and renewed efforts to prevent and respond more effectively to atrocity crimes. The size of the challenge, though, is magnified by an increasing problem of political commitment and gnawing doubt about whether the international community, including its liberal states, really meant it when it committed itself to R2P.
Unanimously agreed by Heads of State and Government in 2005, and unanimously affirmed by both the UN General Assembly and its Security Council, R2P is a disarmingly simple idea that no government now disputes. It holds that states are responsible for protecting their populations from atrocity crimes and that they should assist one another in fulfilling this responsibility. When atrocity crimes occur, the international community should use “diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means” to protect populations and should these be ineffective, should take “timely and decisive action” to protect populations using all the powers available to the UN Security Council, including economic sanctions, criminal prosecutions and the use of force if necessary. Yet despite this clear and unqualified commitment to forge a world free of mass atrocities, international practice has been less than resolute.
There have been some notable successes. In Kenya in 2013, determined international action helped prevent a repeat of the communal violence that marred that country’s 2008 election. In Guinea in 2008, a country’s slide into atrocity crimes was halted. As bad as things are in Libya, they might have been much worse had it not been for the decisive action taken in 2011. Those that think otherwise should consider the much greater price of inaction in Syria. Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether the world has done enough to stem violence in Burundi and Myanmar’s remarkable transition remains in the balance. But too often, as in the Central African Republic (CAR), the international community has been too slow to act or, as in Syria, too divided to do so. Most worrying of all, however, is the evidence of growing impunity. Not only are violent extremists becoming more brazen, the past year has also seen great powers violate the laws of armed conflict or provide material support to those that do.
Of course, R2P was always meant to be a challenge. It is deliberately aspirational. After all, R2P emerged from the world’s failure to protect the civilians of Rwanda and Srebrenica in the 1990s. R2P is doing its job when it exposes the fact that the international community has failed the people of Syria, responded too slowly to the crisis in CAR, and has yet to establish peace and protection in South Sudan. R2P has helped raise our collective expectation that populations around the world ought to be protected from atrocity crimes. Exposing that gap between rhetoric and reality is a first step towards closing that gap, but it is imperative that those states that most loudly proclaim their commitment to R2P begin to take the steps needed to fulfil it. All too often, practice has fallen short of expectations and as that gap grows the institutions to which people look for protection will confront a crisis of legitimacy.
When traditional institutions fail to fulfil peoples’ needs, they look to alternatives. The emergence of violent extremist non-state armed groups that brazenly commit mass atrocities is one such consequence – arising as they do out of governance failures in the Middle East, Sahel and elsewhere. Tackling this new source of threat is main piece of unfinished conceptual work facing R2P. Doing so requires a three-part strategy that addresses the underlying causes of their violence, degrades their capacity to commit atrocities, and reduces the opportunities for them to do so.
Cleared eyed thinking is needed when it comes to addressing the underlying cause. These groups have not caused global instability but have emerged out of areas of protracted instability and civil war. To respond effectively, we need to deal with the causes and not just the consequences. That means committing political will, time and resources to finding political settlements to protracted conflicts and to helping states extend their authority and the rule of law into regions that have become increasingly lawless. It means providing viable and legitimate alternatives to extremist violence, ending practices of discrimination, and creating economic opportunities whilst reducing pronounced inequalities.
Degrading the means to commit atrocities requires a joined-up and transnational approach that involves implementing targeted strategies to counter violent extremist ideology, curbing the flow of recruits across borders, ending transnational flows of arms, finances and other goods that are needed to commit atrocities, and providing humanitarian support to vulnerable communities.
Finally, removing opportunity involves looking at the contexts in which these groups arise and recognising that groups such as IS, al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda, and Boko Haram emerge out of protracted conflict and instability. To address this, more investment in conflict prevention, measures to reduce state fragility, and the resolution of ongoing armed conflict is needed. Above all, we must recognise that R2P and countering violent extremism are connected not just to one another, but also to more traditional agendas of international peace and security.
R2P is a challenge to world leaders, thought leaders and civil society actors alike. It is not a self-implementing panacea to the world’s problems. Whether or not the international community fulfils its commitment depends entirely on the choices we make. But unless those that champion the principle most loudly do more to support its realisation, more and more people will begin to ask whether world leaders really meant it when they promised an end to genocide and mass atrocities.
Professor Alex J. Bellamy, Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies and Director, Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect at The University of Queensland, Australia and Non-Resident Senior Adviser at the International Peace Institute, New York
One of the things that struck me as I greeted 2016 was Richtopia’s 250 Most Influential Women Leaders ranking. I had earned the 108th place – which is not necessarily indicative of my influence in the Malaysian government’s decision making process. Perhaps measurement was made in terms of actual charges and police investigations against me. I cannot claim to have spent more than one night in prison; but at the least I am confident of being the first female MP arrested for speaking out in parliament!
As International Women’s Day passed this year (8th March 2016) I realize it is now close to a year since I was arrested for sedition; and more than a year since my father, Anwar Ibrahim - the then Opposition Leader was imprisoned. There is no comparison between the two incidents – my one night was but a mere glimpse of his years being detained for his principled conviction – more than a tumultuous ten years for being a prickly conscience against the government of the day.
If some were to ask what I remembered most from being a second term female legislator, I would say – it is my father’s trust and firm resolve to empower me in being all that I can be.
Women voters constitute more than 52% of all Malaysian electorates. Female legislators in parliament hover at a miniscule 10%; save for Anwar Ibrahim’s decision to adopt 30% female representation at all levels as my party’s policy - bolstering women’s representation to in the opposition held state government.
Malaysia is filled with successful women at all levels of society – from spirited home makers, to professionals with the uncanny skill of managing work-life balance – to our fiercely respected female Governor of Central Bank.
We have reached 52.4% female participation in the labour force – which probably beckons a friendlier, flexible working policy to address 75% of university students consisting of women.
The above are the usual statistics depicted in articles. The rarer ones I think needing redress is the 68,000 people were placed in Malaysia's subpar immigration detentions in 2013 - mainly Burmese, Indonesians, and Bangladeshis. Our national human rights institution, SUHAKAM, reported that 1,406 children were detained in detention centres (immigration depots) from January to October 2013.
Section 34(1) of the Immigration Act provides that persons may be detained for “such period as may be necessary” pending removal. Immigration detainees generally spend between two months and two years in detention.
Even genuine refugees to Malaysia face the same predicament as illegal immigrants.
According to Aljazeera, "Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees and refugees and asylum seekers who find themselves in the country lead a precarious existence on the margins of society, at risk of arrest as "illegal immigrants" as Malaysia makes no distinction between undocumented workers and refugees. Most live in the cities, but they aren't allowed to work or send their children to school.
The report continues, “...at the end of September (2015), there were more than 158,000 refugees in Malaysia, according to the UNHCR, most of them from Myanmar. But the country also has significant communities of people from countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, as well as 1,110 Syrians.”
The hypocrisy of the Malaysian government is clear to be seen when just last October Malaysia's Prime Minister, Najib Razak, announced his plan to take in the Syrians at the United Nations. In total, 3,000 Syrian refugees were offered asylum while the ones already in Malaysia were still leading a life in limbo.
As I spent the night in jail last March, I was greeted with the crying of two small Vietnamese children. Their mother was breastfeeding the younger son, while the older one had to rely on the sympathy of prison personnel for disposable diapers and other amenities. Indeed, how can we as a society permit children to be treated in such a way?
I am mother to two young children. I cannot imagine that whilst we keep looking at the ostensibly more important indicators of growth and success, we forget to take a closer look in our own less glamorous backyards - in our prisons, immigration detention centres, and the slums which exist even in a middle income nation such as Malaysia.
Most recently the jailing of a single mother caught our nation's attention. S. Sellamah, 36, was jailed for five days after failing to pay RM200 (44Euro; $51; £35) for stealing a two-kilogramme packet of Milo for her 2-year-old child. After spending 1 night in jail, it took the kind hearted act of an anonymous good Samaritan who paid the RM200 fine to spare Sellamah from another 4 days in her cell. While her sentence in itself is heart-wrenching enough, the fact that a fellow Malaysian mother had to steal a packet of chocolate drink for her young child is deeply disturbing.
All such experiences should serve as reminders of dispensing policies predicated on social justice as we traverse the future intertwined with global shocks.
I believe the idealism that continues to thrive in Liberal International is one that provides hope for a better and sustainable future.
Let's resolve to provide more opportunity to defend and highlight the plight of women and children. I hope that each one of them could bask in the support of adults - in providing trust in their capabilities and encouragement for them to be whatever they can be. Just like my father did for me.
“It’s the economy, stupid” is a classic expression from Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. But the question is if feminists all too often make the same mistake as the Bush campaign and disregard the importance of money.
I am convinced that most women have strong memories of their first self-made money. Some of these stories are life-changing. We should all carry these stories as a part of our history and political knowledge. Stories of how a first job outside the house gave her self-esteem and the financial possibility to divorce from a dysfunctional marriage. Stories of how a job at a bank in a bigger city also led to a life with more freedom. Women all over the world make these journeys of freedom every day. And as liberals, we need to make sure that even more women will enjoy the liberty you get from earning your own money.
My feminist predecessors in Sweden were right when they, in the 1960s, focused on the economy. Their demands were separate taxation (as opposed to being taxed jointly with their spouse), the right to full-time work as well as quality childcare. The results came immediately. The share of married women in the workforce increased from 50 per cent to more than 80 within a decade of the introduction of individual taxation in the beginning of the 1970s.
Liberal feminists have always viewed financial independence as the starting point for giving women the freedom to shape their dreams. But recently the feminist debate has all too often focussed on other issues, such as the female body and beauty myths. These are also important issues. However, they do not make as concrete a difference in women’s lives as earning your own money does.
It is time to go back to basics again. We have the knowledge. Highly educated European housewives constitute a lack of freedom on not just an individual level, but also on an international level in terms of a substantial financial loss for the European Union. The same is true for other regions in the world. We know that there is a strong correlation between individual taxation and female participation in the workforce. We know that high-quality childcare and a more equal distribution of unpaid work between men and women makes it easier for women to go to work. There should be no argument between feminists on this matter.
In politics I have a saying: “Match your history, lead your present and earn your future”. The feminists of today have a lot to live up to in this field. The defence of a woman’s right to her body, knowledge and struggle, is of utmost importance. But one must not forget the economy. Women working and earning their own money is the foundation of female emancipation. As the bestselling author Candace Bushnell so accurately described it: There is nothing better than spending your own hard-earned money.
Last year political parties of the Africa Liberal Network (ALN) made a huge leap in the promotion and protection of human rights, including LGBTI rights, in Africa. During the Network’s historic 2014 General Assembly in Marrakech, Morocco, I had the honour of being a part of formulating the groundbreaking Marrakech Declaration – a Human Rights Framework for Africa, by Africans.
We are immensely proud that this Human Rights Framework commits our ALN member parties to fight against all forms of discrimination on any grounds, including race, gender and sexual orientation.
The fact that sexual orientation is included in the Declaration is a tremendous achievement for African liberals. It firmly entrenches our view that LGBTI rights are important, recognized, and above all that they are human rights and should form part of the ALN’s Human Rights Framework.
Regardless of sexuality, I believe that an African is an African. An African is a human, and must, therefore, be treated with the dignity, respect and the rights afforded to all humanity as envisioned by liberals. I am of the view that it is time to move on from all forms of colonial thought; I recognise and appreciate my LGBTI African brothers and sisters.
The 12 points of the Declaration are incredibly important to Human Rights in Africa. For the first time, over 40 African political parties gathered together and agreed on a Human Rights Framework.
Other critical areas that the Declaration covers include:
- Climate change and the fight against it;
- Human and sex trafficking as well as child soldiers;
- Civil liberties, such as freedom of speech and belief;
- Freedom of association and access to public affairs;
- Freedom from arbitrary arrest and prohibition of the death penalty
- Compulsory and free primary education for all African children;
The issues and causes included in the Marrakech Declaration are of utmost importance and urgency in Africa. We believe that the ALN is the network that can truly champion Human Rights in Africa from a Liberal perspective. In this way, the Declaration also serves as a reference point for African governments, parties and governments-in-waiting to implement in policies and actions.
As African liberals, the ALN continues to lead the way in human rights in developing democracies on our continent of Africa, and we will continue to stand as a beacon of hope for all Africans. The ALN is a home for all, no matter his or her sexuality.
In the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) we embraced human rights and progressive values as our fundamental principles the moment the party was founded in 1986. Over the last 30 years, and when we were in government between 2000-08, we advocated for the respect of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) rights in Taiwanese society, including the right for same-sex couples to marry and by promoting LGBTI education in Taiwan; equality for LGBTI communities became a very important cause for us.
Even in the face of political backlash, the DPP has maintained unwavering support for LGBTI communities. As a political party, DPP has to tackle the challenges of elections and in the past few years our chairpersons and legislators have publicly demonstrated their support for LGBTI rights, however there are still stark ideological differences between conservative voters and LGBTI rights advocates.
As young Taiwanese people became more open-minded on LGBTI issues and showed more respect to LGBTI groups, DPP has been able to increase its collaboration with pro-equality organizations and individuals.
Although the majority of conservative KMT politicians tended to cooperate with anti-LGBTI organizations, DPP has witnessed an increasing number of party members who are supportive of LGBTI issues relevant to the community.
Taiwan holds Asia’s largest LGBTI Pride Parade every year - a demonstration that Taiwan’s advancement of LGBTI rights can serve as a model for other Asian countries.
This year, the DPP, participated in the Taipei Pride Parade as a political party. Our participation sparked a lot of discussion and many observers thought this move was a risky one during an election year. Nonetheless, when we made the decision to attend, we were driven by the belief that we do not need to conceal our support for the values endorsed by the majority of DPP members and supporters: this embodies our attitude on LGBTI rights.
Freedom of religion or belief may be the only “classical” fundamental freedom which sometimes triggers mixed emotions among liberals. Of course, some religious traditionalists may also voice skepticism, possibly based on fear that recognizing religion as a matter of personal freedom might lead to a trivialization of faith issues. This sort of reluctance is certainly less surprising. The strange experience is that people who otherwise feel passionate about rights to freedom – freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of associations etc. – often display some ambivalence when confronted with claims of freedom of religion. A liberal right rejected by liberals (or some of them) – what is that?
The assassination of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists in Paris in January this year has refueled the old discussion about an alleged antagonism between freedom of expression and freedom of religion. Whereas freedom of expression often figures as the epitome of political liberalism in the broadest sense of the word, freedom of religion is sometimes located in a different camp. And while freedom of expression gives a “green light” to intellectual experimentation and satirical provocation, freedom of religion seems to function more like a “stop sign” – “don’t go too far in your provocations!” Hence the impression that these two rights, in spite of the common heading of “freedom”, actually point in different, perhaps even opposite directions.
As popular as this perception may be, it is wrong. Freedom of religion or belief does not protect religions in themselves (i.e. their claims to truth), traditional identities or even hegemonies. Instead, it empowers human beings, traditional believers as well as dissenters and critics. Everyone should enjoy their freedom to search for an ultimate meaning in life, to come to different results (or no result) in such endeavors, to seek and impart information on faith-related matters, to go to church or remain at home, to change their religion or abandon it, to cherish their inherited faith or to remain indifferent, to contribute to religious community life, engage in religious education etc. Right holders are human beings, as individuals and in community with others, and in private as well as in public. In this sense, freedom of religion or belief follows exactly the same logic as freedom of expression and indeed any other human right. It specifically recognizes human beings as holders of deep, existential, identity-shaping convictions.
Liberals have good reasons to commit themselves to the thorough implementation of freedom of religion or belief, in conjunction with all other human rights. At the same time, freedom of religion or belief does pose an interesting challenge to liberals. It serves as a reminder that the subject of human rights, is a rather complex; human being’s existential convictions can go in very different directions. Diversity is easier said than done – most certainly in the area of religious diversity. In order to define adequate policies in our increasingly multi-cultural and multi-religious societies, political liberalism should show new sensitivity for the religious dimensions of human life.
Religion is frequently blamed as a cause of violent conflict, yet dialogue between faith communities, and faith-based approaches to peacemaking, have been shown to be invaluable in promoting understanding and reconciliation. With the rise in radicalization and extremism in the post 9/11 environment, interfaith dialogue is a form of peacemaking that is increasingly recognized for its relevance to 21st century conflict, in areas where there is armed hostility, and also among ethnic communities worldwide that are impacted by those hostilities miles away.
I am pleased that over the last thirty years, I have been part of several dialogue programs, including the Canadian Association of Jews andMuslims, the Women’s InterculturalNetwork and an Arab/Jewish dialogue group. It is clear that the key to the success of any dialogue program is the development of trust amongst the participants, the development of ongoing relationships, and the ability of the participants to develop communication skills conducive to conflict resolution.
It has long been known by psychologists that direct contact reduces intergroup prejudices. Recent studies have even shown that just imagining a positive interaction with a member of another group can also reduce prejudice. Another key factor that reduces prejudice and enhances understanding is empathy, or the ability to “put oneself in the other’s shoes.” The North American Native expression “never judge a person until you have walked a mile in his moccasins” is similar to the Hebrew sage Hillel’s admonition “separate not from thy community… and judge not another person until you have been in his place.” Regretfully, many dialogue programs fail because most of the time people end up talking past each other, continue to be defensive, and fail to try to see things from others’ points of view. People too often recognize human rights violations against their own group, and understand when they (or their people) are the victims; but they fail to recognize when they (or their people) are the perpetrators of human rights abuses against the “other”, because they may be in a position of power and privilege on another dimension (e.g. gender, race, religion, sexual orientation). Relations within our own faith groups are often so complex and challenging that many people have great difficulty in such discussions with members of their own group; so they also have difficulty in seeing how people of different faiths or ethnicities can come to love and respect those whom they see as being on “the other side”. However, when dialogue sessions are properly facilitated, and participants have had prior preparation and practice with empathetic communication, the use of “I messages”, and active or “compassionate” listening, they become less ‘ethnocentric’. When they can come to understand one another’s feelings of hurt and pain, never again will they think it is only ‘perception’ that there is racism, antisemitism…or any other of the ‘isms’ or ‘phobias’. In dialogue, it is important to listen to what others are saying and feeling, and try to understand it.
In Canada, Dr. Victor Goldbloom, a former Liberal Cabinet Minister in the Province of Quebec, has been involved in inter-faith dialogue for almost 60 years. He urged the Christian/Jewish Dialogue (that was begun in the 1950’s) to become more inclusive, particularly including Muslims, since members of the three Abrahamic faiths continue to struggle with the rise of hatred and extremism in the Middle East. As he put it in his recent autobiography, Building Bridges: each religion says ‘Ours is a religion of peace.’ Each religion says ‘Those who invoke our religion to explain and justify violent extremism are perverting it.’ And each community says ‘Our community should not be stigmatized and stereotyped because of a minority of extremists.’ But as sincere as these statements may be, the implication is that we are not responsible for our co-religionists. Although we are not directly responsible, it is the teaching of hatred that fuels the extremism that is destabilizing the world. We can all take responsibility for teaching differently and for redressing the imbalances that exist in the teaching of hatred. Interfaith and intercultural dialogue is a good place to start, and the earlier we start the better.
Increasingly, international governments have witnessed the need to understand religious sensitivities as a way to maintain international relations and cooperation with different states, and there have been several international conferences in recent years that have strengthened this point. The importance of youth engagement in interfaith dialogue cannot be overstated – neither can the importance of turning words into action.
A specifically worthy example is the Interfaith Encounter Association (IEA) that strives to use the power of religion as a force for peace and compassion instead of conflict. They believe that if religion is part of the problem, it must – and can – be part of the solution. Over the past 12 years, they have brought together people from different faiths and cultures to build lifetime bonds through sharing their cultures, beliefs, and traditions, and by creating a “safe space” for friendly disagreement. Reaching out to a wide spectrum of each population, they are building a broad-based, popular movement for peace, by bringing people together and breaking down the barriers of hatred toward the ‘other’. They believe that without this grassroots component, political efforts cannot succeed, and that religion, which so often is misused to divide and inflame, can also serve as a potent unifying force that helps to tear down walls of ignorance and fear.
There are many organizations that use interfaith dialogue to strive to provide strong foundations for a greater understanding of different religions in an effort to promote peace. They need the support of liberal and progressive people everywhere, to maintain momentum with continuous calls for peaceful coexistence, and to counter the tendency of some faith communities to use and abuse religion to justify violence. Interfaith dialogue serves to highlight a key role religion can play in global affairs by promoting shared values as a means to achieve peace. It is important also to take an egalitarian approach, ensuring that women, youth and other minority voices are heard within and between groups.
As my Australian colleague Jeremy Jones puts it, interfaith dialogue and cooperation is prompted by common interests, common concerns and common passions - but above all by common sense. Religion is an essential component in the identities of so much of humanity. But when so formulated, it is a source of antagonism and conflict. If we want a world founded on harmony, mutual coexistence and justice, true religious leaders will be in the forefront of framing the public discourse in a way promoting positive ideals, not divisive ideologies.
The success of several interfaith dialogue programs in hostile environments gives credence to the idea that religion, which is so often used to divide and inflame, can also serve as a unifying force to help tear down walls of ignorance and fear. It takes courage to participate in interfaith dialogue in times of conflict; but we must continue to dialogue with compassion, empathy and hope -- even at the most difficult times – putting words into action, because it is through meeting and knowing the ‘other’ that the conflict will finally end.
Dr. Karen Mock is an educational psychologist and teacher educator. She is the former Executive Director of the League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada, and of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, a federal Crown Corporation. Dr. Mock was a candidate for the Liberal Party of Canada in the last federal election. She is currently a Director of the Ottawa-based Pearson Centre for Progressive Policy.
Edition 2: R2P - A Liberal Priority- Hon. Lloyd Axworthy, Former Foreign Minister of Canada (Liberal Party of Canada)
The Liberal government of Jean Chrétien followed a strand of policy based on the human security concept - putting the protection of individuals as a key goal in foreign policy.
What is important is to build on the R2P framework so that it can form the basis of effective international action in the protection of people, and get away from loose coalitions of the willing with limited rules of agreement, and sporadic coordination.
Elsewhere, I've written more extensively how the reform and improvement of R2P should be a priority for liberals around the world. Altering the use of the veto on humanitarian action, substantially improving early warning capacity of the UN, involving women actively in peace-keeping missions, the development of a rapid reaction force to meet a variety of risks, much more effective utilization of financial forensic tools to cut the supply of money to those engaged in crimes against humanity.
This should be a serious source of debate and action for Liberal international in helping to mobilise support for the application of the R2P paradigm as the model for international collaboration.
There is a longing for a different kind of order. It's the ”Affirmation of Ordinary Life”, as described by The Canadian political philosopher Charles Taylor, in his book The Secular Age. The right to choose, without fear, to raise children, to find employment and to appreciate and respect our natural world. That’s the dream that is now spilling over into the consciousness of a global community.
With this, however, come the responsibilities to share that affirmation and work towards values of human security, well-being and justice beyond our borders, to reach beyond the parochial in defence of human rights. To use the insights of Charles Taylor once more:
Our age makes higher demands of solidarity and benevolence on people today than ever before. Never before have people been asked to stretch out so far, and so consistently, so systematically, so as a matter of course to the stranger outside the gates.
Edition 1: Participation of Women in Politics - Phumzile van Damme, Member of Parliament (Democratic Alliance, South Africa)
When asked about being a woman in politics by Times magazine in 1984, the first female Mayor of San Francisco, Diane Feinsteinn said – “toughness doesn't have to come in a pinstripe suit.”
I entered politics on the inspiration of ‘tough women’ such as Dianne Feinsteinn, Patricia de Lille, Helen Zille and Lindiwe Mazibuko.
Politics is a tough game, and it requires all politicians, regardless of sex, to be tough. It is even more so the case for women, because sadly, politics continues to be male-dominated.
I am lucky to live in a country with a Constitution that promotes and ensures participation of women in sectors of society.
I am even luckier to be a Member of Parliament for the official opposition party in South Africa, the Democratic Alliance, where female leadership is not only celebrated, but also, encouraged.
This is sadly not the case for all women around the world. Women continue to be under-represented in the political arena in many countries.
According to the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Global Gender Gap Report countries such as Mongolia, the Bahamas, Uruguay, Botswana, Hungary, Malaysia, Qatar have low levels of female political empowerment.
I would encourage the women living in these countries to stand together and fight for equal representation.
After all, it was a group of women who organised one of the biggest protest marches against Apartheid, and undoubtedly contributed to the eventual unravelling of this unjust system.
On 9 August 1956, 50,000 women of all races marched to the seat of the Apartheid government in Pretoria to present a petition against the carrying of passes by women. The Apartheid government required all black people to carry a “pass” which designated where they could work and live. It helped the Apartheid government to control the movement of black people within South Africa.
The march is now recognised as one of the biggest in South Africa’s history and is now designated as a public holiday in South Africa known as 'Women’s Day' where women’s contribution against the struggle for Apartheid is recognised and celebrated.
In order to push for increased female participation in the political arena, it is important for women to stand together. It is also important for men in positions of power to encourage greater participation of women. The fight for Women’s Liberation is not a fight for women alone.
A democracy cannot begin to understand the needs of all of its constituencies if a core constituency is not represented at the decision-making table.
The fight for the liberation of women continues.
Edition 1: Women's Rights - Motivating Men to Fight for Gender Equality - Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Iceland
Gender inequality is one of the most significant human rights and development challenges facing the world. It harms women and girls and limits the potential of communities and nations. The effort to promote gender equality is too often seen as a “women’s issue”, with only women interested or responsible. But gender inequality is a global challenge and to solve it we must bring men and boys into the conversation. In essence, we need to tear down the stereotypes of men and women that are reinforced among men. Men are not only the problem; men are part and parcel of the solution and need to assume responsibility for the way things stand.
Twenty years ago, the Fourth World Conference on Women resulted in the most progressive blueprint ever for advancing women’s rights. But in 2014, too many inequalities still exist, in politics, business, the law, culture, education and beyond. Our progress is stagnating on a global scale.
The problems are serious. In many parts of the world, rape is not considered a crime, violence of all kinds against women is routine, and forced prostitution is not uncommon. Even in countries where progress in gender equality has been achieved, women earn less than men, do not have equal representation in parliaments, hold too few executive positions, and are slotted into gender-specific professions.
The involvement of men in the effort to achieve gender equality is widely recognised as a necessity. Countless UN Goodwill Ambassadors have spoken of the vital role men must play in mobilising communities, speaking out against inequality and sexism, and taking action against this pressing global issue, most recently through the HeForShe campaign.
At the UN General Assembly in September this year Iceland and Suriname launched the “Barbershop Conference”, to be held in New York 14-15 January 2015. The Barbershop conference is an initiative that aims at activating men and boys in the fight for gender equality and changing the discourse among men and boys. We believe that by having men talk about masculinity and gender equality with other men we may get a different kind of insight and may produce innovative ways of engaging, mobilizing and motivating men to fight for gender equality and address unhealthy stereotypes of masculinity.
The focus of the Conference is ending violence against women – the most pervasive violation of human rights and an unacceptable manifestation of gender-based discrimination and inequality. In particular, men will be encouraged to look at their own attitudes and behaviour and how they relate to the perpetuation of men’s violence against women. Various studies have shown linkages between rigid definitions of what it means to be a man or a woman and men’s use of violence against women. And in a wide variety of settings, the most consistent predictor of attitudes condoning violence against women is beliefs about appropriate roles for men and women. With the Barbershop Conference initiative, Iceland adds its weight to the Liberal International’s important Campaign on the Istanbul Convention.
The Barbershop Conference is not a question of the men “taking it from here” but rather of men facing up to the issues. We extend an invite to join us in this debate. And our hope is that the Barbershop conference in New York will be a meaningful contribution to change hearts and minds and towards for gender equality.