Elie Wiesel: A decorated hero for the Persecuted

 

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Mr Wiesel died on 3 July 2016 in his home in Manhattan aged 87.

Few months ago, I first read Elie’s Wiesel  autobiographical book ‘The Night’ which is about his excruciating early experiences of Holocaust, etched on his mind as a 15 year old young boy. Captured and taken into the concentration camps in Nazi Germany, he was deprived of everything he held dear in his life. The loss of his immediate family members, dignity and above all his humanness. Having survived the Holocaust,  It later became his passion to speak out against the persecution which he continued to do so until his death. He argued that why during the Holocaust in Nazi Germany which killed 6 million Jews remained a silent story? How can we tolerate such an intolerance?

His sense of loss, anger, anguish,guilt and bitterness exude through his words:

“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed,” Mr. Wiesel wrote. “Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God himself. Never.”

The original manuscript of ‘The Night’ was written in Yiddish. It  was 800 pages long, later an abridged version was printed in French language ‘La Nuit’.

‘The Night’ became one of the most heart-wrenching stories I read in my life, the pain and agony encapsulated in the life of Elie Wiesel gives a reader a sense of contentment about one’s own life, no matter how tumultuous circumstance are around our lives, there is something to appreciate. ‘The Night’ became the expression of Mr Wiesel’s rebellion against God, his faith as well as to the causes of injustice, inequalities and persecution which became the pegs of the Nazi Germany death machine.

Mr Wiesel, became the decorated hero for the persecuted who received countless honours and awards from governments and institutions around the world. He also received a Nobel Prize in 1986 for his role in speaking against persecution, violence, repression and racism. He is also the recipient of more than 100 honourary doctorates.

Mr Wiesel remained a life-long advocate for human rights issues. He served on International Council for the Human Rights where he raised the South African Apartied, Argentinian ‘disappearance’ policy in the dirty war and the Bosnian genocide. He also gave hearing in front of UN Security Council to speak about Darfur humanitarian Crisis in September, 2006. Being the head of the Elie Wiesal Foundation which was established to raise horrors around the world and to promote dialogue on issues which cause divisions and deaths.

So rarely a single life has touched the hearts of millions with its soul-searching account that perpetuated the memory of Holocaust than Elie Wiesel. The Noble Prize Committee while conferring the honour noted;

“Wiesel is a messenger to mankind. His message is one of peace, atonement and human dignity. His belief that forces fighting evil in the world can be victorious is a hard-won belief.”

Wiesel is survived by his wife Marion, their son Shlomo Elisha Wiesel, and his stepdaughter Jennifer and two grandchildren.

The Wiesel legacy is to ‘speak the unspeakable’ and to be the ‘voice the voiceless’. The challenge though looks insurmountable for us in 21st century in midst of countless wide-raged conflicts in and around the world yet the very ‘mission’ has been meticulously executed by Mr Wiesel himself.  A real hero of our times whose life example can be a road map for everyone, from being a meaningless existence in a concentration camp to a meaningful and abundant life outside of it.

Photo0126Shahid Khan is the vice-chairperson of Global Minorities Alliance. He tweets @shahidshabaz

 

Saudia Arabia, The new UN Custodian of the Human Rights?

copyright CC CHRISTOPHER DOMBRES

Saudi Arabia has been appointed as the head of a United Nation Human Rights Council (UNHRC) panel. No, it is not a joke, even though in normal cases, the words “Saudi Arabia” and “human rights” in the same sentence are a hint to yet another break of fundamental human rights in the Arabic country. Not surprisingly, this decision has been labelled as the “final nail in the coffin for the credibility of the UNHRC”. Just as a quick reminder, 87 people had been put to death in Saudi Arabia alone in 2014. This number is going to be topped this year, as we are already heading towards 100 executions (Amnesty International report these figures are much higher).

Human rights violations in Saudi Arabia commits (and the list is long) include torture, executions, religious persecution, violation of rights related to gender equality and information rights. These fundamental rights are violated; let alone modern concepts as freedom of speech, right to assembly association or due process of the law.

Nowadays, the aggression against Yemen is probably the best proof of the Arabic arrogance and disrespect of the International rules. In fact, Saudi Arabia has intervened in the domestic civil war, disregarding the principle of self- determination. Local Yemeni forces, loyal to the former president Saleh, were contesting the internationally recognized government of President Hadi. The civil war is one of the numerous outcomes of the Arab spring in the region and Saudi Arabia has definitely no right of intervention in Yemen’s internal affairs. According to the media reports, there are ten million people in the need of food, water and medical assistance. Nearly 1000 children have died. The situation is desperate.

Nevertheless, the country will now play quite an important role in the UNHRC. The panel it will lead is responsible, among other tasks, for interviewing and selecting experts who examine the human rights records of countries. To be honest, Saudi Arabia is most probably one of the least qualified countries to assume this role.

As said, this decision is but another threat to the UN´s credibility, but most probably the roots of wrong decisions are to be looked for in the structure, principles and processes of the institution.

As a basic principle, for instance, all members of the UN should be equal (this is why each state has got one vote, regardless of anything): “The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members”, this is stated by art. 2 of the UN Charter.

However, there are countries which are “more equal” than others, apparently: “Decisions of the Security Council on all other matters (not procedural ones) shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine members including the concurring votes of the permanent members; …”, UN Charter, art. 27, par. 3. This means that the permanent members (United Kingdom, United States of America, France, People´s Republic of China, Russian Federation) can block any decision of the institution. The UN has been founded in 1945, immediately after WWII, in order to “maintain international peace and security” (superfluous to remind that this aim has not been reached). The UN is now 70 years old and it has never been able to modernize itself in order to reflect the new situation of the geopolitical relations. If the veto- right had been kept only for the first years in order to grant to the then biggest actors of the international politics the power of making relevant decisions, it would have been understandable, but today it is not justifiable anymore.

Uncountable are the times the UN has interfered in internal situations, which were not international issues and may times UN has closed their eyes in front of genocides and continuous disregard of the humanitarian law.

These examples are made just and only in order to back the statement that the UN´s decision processes and organizational structure are spoiled and however the decision of appointing Saudi Arabia as head of the UNHRC´s panel cannot be a transparent one.

It is a shame to have a country which has such a poor human rights record to be the custodian of United Nations Human Rights Panel. If you want to try to change something, please sign and share this petition to urge United Nations to remove Saudia Arabia from the position it does not deserve.

Sign a petition here: Remove Saudi Arabia from the UN Council on Human Rights

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Tutsi and Hutus in Rwanda: a permanently difficult situation

Hutu refugee trek in 1997                                                                           (c) https://goo.gl/QZKa08

By Beatrice Maria Zanella

When we hear “Tutsi” or “Hutu”, our thoughts return to the year 1972, when the Hutu slaughter of 80,000 to 200,000 victims took place, and overwhelmingly to the year 1994, when the atrocities of the Rwandan genocide shocked the world. However, the Hutu-Tutsi conflict has roots that reach back far beyond this.

In pre-colonial times these two groups were able to live in relative harmony in an area split between modern-day Rwanda, Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo. Although the Tutsis were the minority, they traditionally belonged to the wealthier ruling class. During Colonial times (first came the Germans, then the Belgians), the Tutsis were treated with far more respect than the Hutus and allowed to keep their higher social status. In the 1950s, as Belgian interests changed, they began to support the Hutus as means of overthrowing the 500 year old Tutsi monarchy. Whereas in Rwanda the Tutsi were therefore overthrown, in Burundi, after an apparently peaceful change, the Hutus were defeated.

The aftermath of colonialism therefore saw two bordering countries governed by two different groups; the Hutus in Rwanda and the Tutsis in Burundi. Hutu power in Rwanda came to an end in 1994 after the tragic and bloody genocide of the Tutsis, but in Burundi the Tutsis still today hold most positions of influence.

Today, Hutus and Tutsis are spread between Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, currently the most conflict-ridden area. New generations are told not to accept the labels of “Tutsi” and “Hutu”. But tragic incidents still take place, such as a recent story of a Hutu policemen who told schoolchildren to divide themselves based ethnicity. After their refusal, all of them were shot. It will take a long time before perpetrators of genocide and survivors are able to coexist in peace.

How can Tutsis and Hutus be differentiated? Not so easily any more as the Rwandan government has eliminated ethnic designations on identity cards. National census on ethnicity is not carried out anymore: the question “What are you?” will elicit the answer “Rwandan” most of the time. But the memories of such a horrific event are not yet forgotten and it will take a long time for the dust to settle completely.

It is frequently highlighted how difficult it is to teach history in a neutral way. Often only the sufferings of the Tutsis are mentioned, as if they were the only victims of the genocide. Hutus are portrayed simplistically as perpetrators and slaughterers, and it is still often not acknowledged that many thousands of Hutus were also killed. For schools in Rwanda, the place where the next generation of Rwandans are shaped, this is not an easy topic to navigate. Positive steps towards a reconciliation have been taken in Rwanda by the current president P. Kagame, and many citizens plan to flee to neighbouring countries in 2017, when he plans to step down.

Given the relatively recent brutality and senseless violence of the 1994 genocide, perhaps we can look at the development progress and relative stability enjoyed by Rwandans today as something of a success story. Yet there are many steps towards a complete peaceful resolution still to come, a path which hopefully will continue to be taken over the coming years.

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