The Commonwealth theme of ‘welcome’ is a distant dream for some citizens in commonwealth states, says Global Minorities Alliance.
Global Minorities Alliance (GMA), a Glasgow based human rights organisation which fights for the rights of the minorities worldwide, organised a discussion panel at Glasgow University Memorial Chapel to discuss the human rights issues present in member states of the commonwealth.
The talk was the part of GMA’s campaign to raise awareness of human rights abuses, from the anti- conversions laws in India to the criminalisation of LGBTI communities in a number of the African countries represented at the Commonwealth Games.
The event was an opportunity to create a space for concerned people to share and learn from each other’s experiences as well as to discuss human rights issues at home and abroad.
Speakers at the event came from wide range of UK human rights organisations: Shakti Women’s Aid, the Peter Tatchell Foundation, the Scottish Human Rights Commission, and GMA. They held the attention of the audience as they discussed the issues about religious persecution, women rights, LGBTI rights as well as human rights issues in Scotland.
Deirdre Flanigan,Communications and Outreach Coordinator of Scottish Human Rights Commission which protects and promotes the human rights for everyone in Scotland said:
“Human rights are universal standards. They are the fundamental entitlements which we all have – everyone in the world – to enable us to live with human dignity. Our goal as Scotland’s national human rights institution is to move us closer to being a country in which everyone can live with dignity.”
While she stressed the importance of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow which has presented an opportunity to embed the values of respect, diversity, tolerance and fairness that underpin a human rights based approach, she further maintained:
“Scotland can learn a lot from other countries as we try to make human rights real in people’s everyday lives, bridging the gap between good laws and good outcomes. We also have the chance to share some of our good practice with colleagues around the world, recognising that our human rights obligations do not stop at our borders.”
Mridul Wadhwa from Shakti Women’s Aid, which assists women in extreme circumstances fleeing from persecution, domestic abuse and violence, shared the experiences of the women from other countries who are subjected to domestic violence and come to take refuge in Scotland but also face dire consequences here, such as destitution.
She said women’s rights are being violated in many of the commonwealth countries, and that sometimes their rights are overshadowed by a patriarchal culture in which women are treated as property.
Ms Wadhwa also discussed Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), and said that since criminalization of FGM no case has been prosecuted in Scotland because of a culture of silence.
Peter Tatchell, Director of Peter Tatchell Foundation and a renowned LGBTI human rights activist, shared experiences of members of LGBTI community that are subject to criminalisation, punishment and sometimes execution in some commonwealth countries.
Mr Tatchell said:
“The specific right to love a person of the same-sex is not enshrined in international human rights law. This is a grave injustice that gives a green light to the many countries that imprison lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and inter-sex people.”
He further explained that Antigua legislation is on the statute books in nearly 80 countries – over half of which are members of the commonwealth.
“Even today, no international human rights convention explicitly acknowledges the right of gay people to equality and non-discrimination,” said Mr Tatchell.
Speaking on the plights of religious minorities in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, Shahid Khan, Vice-Chairperson of Global Minorities Alliance, said:
“These states, despite being signatories of the United Nations human rights conventions and treaties, have failed to protect religious minorities and continue to marginalise them.
“From accusations of blasphemy to the forcible conversions of minority women in Pakistan to the desecration of the Babri mosque in India to the Sikh persecution of 1986 minorities, these practices are diametrically opposed to the commonwealth values of human rights, tolerance, respect and understanding.”
Mr Khan quoted a report from Ain O Salish Kenrda, a human rights organisation in Bangladesh which promotes the democratic values of justice, peace and equality, which states that around 495 Hindu temples and 208 Hindu owned business were damaged alone in 2013. In the face of this on-going persecution Hindu community are left with no option than to migrate to India, reducing the population from 22% to 8.5%.
“What with the Commonwealth Games coming to our doorstep, we are delighted to welcome everybody to Glasgow – however, as a human rights organisation we are aware that not all commonwealth citizens are welcome in their own countries, with certain communities persecuted or even punished by law because of who they are,” said Mr Khan.
“With this in mind we organised the event ‘All Welcome? Human Rights and Commonwealth Countries’ to raise awareness of human rights issues in commonwealth countries, to look at what people are facing and what can be done about it. With speakers discussing persecution against women, LGBT persecution and religious persecution, we wanted to open up a debate about what it means to be a citizen in a wider commonwealth when you aren’t considered a full citizen of your own nation.”