IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT !
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) made by the Human Rights Council of the members states of the United Nations vis à vis their human rights records will be considered at the 1st UPR session 7-18 April 2008 in Geneva. The states to be covered at the first session are listed on the web site : www.ohchr.org/english/hrcouncil/upr . The first ones include : Bahrain, Morocco, India, Indonesia etc. The second batch includes : Pakistan, Japan. Sri Lanka. The third batch includes Israel and Serbia. NGO contributions to the UPR must be sent to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the deadline is fixed at 20 November 2007. The first 'round' of the UPR will last four years beginning 2008. Interfaith International members and colleagues should send their (maximum two-page) summaries about the human rights situation in any particular country to Dr. Charles Graves if possible by 10 November 2007.
The 6th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva revealed many new features of the contemporary world. There was a huge demand placed upon our organisation before and during the 6th Council session. There are very few other NGOs which might, eventually, represent the groups which enter the Interfaith International delegation. Some of the prospective NGOs are prevented from attaining 'NGO consultatve status with ECOSOC' because a certain state in the 'Committee of 19 (states)' at U.N. headquarters in New York at their bi-yearly meetings delay or even veto their entrance into status. This has been the case for several years with Dr. Kashinath Pandita's organisation and that of the Ambedkar Institute in Mumbai (Dalits). Also of all Tibetan groups related to the Dalai Lama. Moreover, groups and political parties fighting for their ethnic, civil and political rights in Iraq, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, some African countries, China,Tibet, etc. have not been able to find any other NGO besides Interfaith International to represent them at the Human Rights Council.
Much of the ethnic and human rights problems still existing in South Asia can be traced back to the quite artificial division of the former British Empire there into two nation states divided from each other on the basis of religious belonging alone (Pakistan and India). The advent of Bangladesh shows that the solution to the diversity of cultures in South asia made by the British authorities was not comprehensive enough. Moreover, many peoples did not wish to join one of the two proposed state entities, and other peoples and religious groups were divided by the partition. In the first category were the Baluch (a majority did not want to be part of Pakistan) and the Buddhist kingdoms in what is now far-Eastern India - Assam, Manipur, Tripura, Chittagong etc. These peoples were more or less forcibly incorporated into new Pakistan or India. In the second category were those peoples which were neither Muslim nor Hindu, e.g. the Sindhis (whose Islam was more or less 'Sufi' and many of whom counted themselves as 'Hindus'). Again, the Sikhs, whose Punjab was divided between Pakistan and India and who had no kingdom of their own any more. Also, the most difficult case of the Kashmiris whose old (non-British) maharajahs were forced to chose between two countries (India and Pakistan) towards both of which they had no definitive affinity.
Our Interfaith International delegation at the 6th session of the Council included 25 persons from these groups, including Tamils from Sri Lanka.
Another major element to today's international geopolitical reality is the continuing problematic of Iraq. This includes the most obvious indiscriminate killings of Iraqi citizens by terrorist groups, the massive internal displacement of Iraqis due to the terrorism and lack of amenities, the refugees who have gone to neighbouring countries, the problems facing the newly-elected Parliament and its governments, the conflicts of USA and the Islamic Republic of Iran in the region etc. Unfortunately at the 6th session of the Council our invited speaker (the vice secretary-general of the Al-Hakim Foundation of Najaf) was not able to participate in a planned panel on Iraq. It is hoped at the 7th session (December 10-14 2007) a full-blown panel on Iraq will be sponsored by the Interfaith International together with the Permanent Mission of Iraq to the UN in Geneva. At the 6th session, several Iraqis were part of the I.I. delegation and participated in all the I.I. briefings. It is hoped that the Al-Hakim Foundation (Najaf) which has now officially received 'consultative status with ECOSOC' will be able to organise its own sessions at the H. R. Council, and Interfaith International will join it as co-sponsor.
Another newly-important problem at the H.R. Council meetings is the growing influence of the Peoples' Republic of China in the sessions. It appears that the Chinese government does not know how to solve the ethnic problems which still exist in its Republic. Representatives of Tibetan groups organised at the 6th session a briefing on the Chinese government's control over the 'reincarnation' process in Tibetan Buddhist choices for heads of monasteries. China also interferes in the Uigur Muslims required hajj to Mecca, by appointing its own (Chinese, sometimes non-Muslim) representatives to go to Mecca. Moreover the Chinese authorities are still oppressing the Falun Gong practitioners in China and there have been reports of their mass imprisonment and the sale of their body organs. A special briefing was held at the 6th session (with I.I. as co-sponsor) to discuss these issues.
Moreover, there is a continuing debate over the Western Sahara issue at the Council. Interfaith International, as on previous occasions, sponsored a panel with pro-Moroccan 'Saharouis' and co-sponsored (but could not participate in a panel because of previous engagements) a similar panel proposed by the 'Polisario' . One positive note about this issue is that the two sides are now meeting in a series of dialogue sessions sponsored by the United Nations in New York and Geneva.
Two Iranian NGOs ( Association for the Victims of Violence and United Nations Association of Iran) actively participated in the 6th session of the HR Council and they requested Interfaith International to help them create a 'network' of NGOs to work together on human rights issues. Perhaps I.I. representatives will be invited to Tehran next year in this respect.
In oral statements before the Human Rights Council 6th session, Interfaith International delegates were able to speak only about three issues : human rights violations in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir ; racial discrimination against Tamils in Sri Lanka ; and the new Moroccan proposal for 'autonomy' for the Saharouis (a Moroccan government-friendly delegate spoke). It has become very difficult for NGOs to obtain the floor in debates because so many governments are speaking on each issue. Previously at the old 'Commission on Human Rights' if twenty governments spoke on a issue it was extraordinary. Now it is quite common for over 40 governments to speak on each issue, leaving very little chance for NGOs (unless they group themselves together in 5s or 10s and speak with one voice). For I.I. because our delegates' problems are quite specific related to their own religious or ethnic needs, it is difficult to find many co-sponsors for our oral interventions and therefore, as a single organisation asking for the floor, we are often low down on the speakers list. This can only be remedied by allying ourselves with other NGOs in 'common causes' (these common causes are often very vague and only useful to show the H R Council that there is considerable interest from the NGO side about a given topic. The 'common causes', moreover, rarely deal with specific human rights violations in a given country).
Prospects for the Future
It is quite obvious to observers that the new Human Rights Council (this time under the General Assembly of the UN and not under ECOSOC) has a quite different majority from the old 'Commission on Human Rights ' under ECOSOC. Reaching a majority vote in the new Council is left to the Asian and African members of the Council. The European / 'Western' members are in a minority and the Latin Americans and Caribbeans are often holding divergent or neutral stances. 'Special sessions' of the Council have been held on issues of Pakistan-Israel, Lebanon, Darfur, Myanmar etc. but it appears that there is, somehow, a slightly growing consensus between the Asia-African and Western nations on certain issues.
Another feature of the new Council is the outspoken participation of the Pakistan ambassador in the Council sessions as representing the OIC ( Organisation of Islamic Conference). On almost every agenda topic there is a joint statement of OIC members, spoken by Pakistan. In particular the OIC has raised the issue of 'defamation of religion' as an item on the Council agenda. It is especially relevant after September 11th and the Danish cartoon controversy. Many 'Western' countries do not want this issue discussed since they say that a general (non-specifically Muslim) approach should be made towards respect for religion. In answer to this the OIC has proposed that 'defamation of religion' be included under a Racism and Xenophobia agenda item and not under the 'Freedom of Religion and Belief ' agenda. It appears that this issue is highly important at the present time, and it is hoped that compromise will be reached.
Also, it has been reported that OIC is planning special 'consultative status' for NGOs similar to the ECOSOC status. Interfaith International is in discussion about this with the OIC representative in Geneva.
Moreover, the new Council has erected a new body to prepare for the Durban Review Conference (2009). It will be a follow-up to the 2001 United Nations World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. The chair of the 'organisational session' for the Review Conference, held in August 2007 in Geneva, was the (lady) ambassador of Libya. The chief promoters of this Review Conference are the Asia-African majority in the Council. Interfaith International, as secretary of the (CONGO-related) NGO Committee Against Racism, helped CONGO to organise a 'briefing' on 30 August 2007 concerning the NGO participation in the Durban Review Conference. The Durban Review idea is contested by certain states such as the USA and Israel because of what they say was an anti-semitic bent to the earlier 2001 Durban Conference. On the other hand many have pointed out that without such a Review Conference many of the 'positive' aspects of the 2001 Durban Conference will be lost (Rights of victims in many countries and among many groups). The two 'Preparatory Committees - « Prep Coms » - for the Durban Review Conference (2009) will be held in Geneva in 2008 - the first one 21 April - 2 May, the second one in November 2008.
Interfaith International is involved in a project sponsored by the 'Partnership Committee ' for a 'Decade of Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace' . To implement this project, a High-level Consultation will be held at the Château de Bossey near Geneva from 8-11 January 2008. The purpose is to promote a UN General Assembly resolution in 2008 to establish such a 'Decade'. Along with the 'Decade' hopefully a 'Forum' would exist between governments and NGOs to promote common action among the religions. Our President H.E. Sayyed Mohammed Musawi has been invited as a representative of Shi'ism. He has agreed to participate. Interfaith International, based in Geneva, is helping the Partnership Committee with the difficult task of convincing Ambassadors of various states to attend the Consultation and support the initiative. The host for the Consultation is the World Council of Churches. Representatives of all major World Religions have been invited as well as important interreligious NGOs such as the World Conference on Religion and Peace, The United Religious Initiative, and the World Parliament of Religions.
It can be seen from the above that Interfaith International has considerable amount of challenges ahead. At the moment, because of generous support from many participants attending Human Rights Council sessions and other activities, our financial boat is 'afloat' with no debts.The President and Secretary General are, as known, volunteers and no office rent or secretarial assistance is required, which keeps costs down. Moreover many members and participants share the enormous task of organising the briefings ( six of them at the 6th session) and oral interventions at the Human Rights Council sessions. Speakers must be chosen, their costs sometimes paid for, rooms must be reserved at the United Nations headquarters, interpreters (mostly French-English) must be found and reimbursed, sandwiches must be ordered, etc. Mr. Berhane Tewolde-Medhin (Eritrea) has served in capacity of assistant secretary-general and Mr. Biro Diawara (Guinea) as colleague and co-organiser of the briefings.
The President of the Jammu and Kashmir Council on Human Rights ( JKCHR - holds special consultative status with UN ECOSOC), Dr. Nasir Gilani, wishes to cooperate with Interfaith International on the situation in Kashmir. He is president of the International Kashmir Alliance ( IKA ) which promotes the idea of an independant Kashmir with both India and Pakistan withdrawing from the ancient Kashmiri area.
The six (2-hour noon-time) 'briefings' at the Human Rights Council (organised by or co-sponsored by Interfaith International) at the 6th session included : 'Women's Rights - presentation of the book « Development has a Woman's Face » on 20 years of work at U.N. bodies written by Dr. Krishna Ahoojapatel, President of the (CONGO-related) NGO Committee on the Status of Women ; a briefing on human rights of Tibetans, human rights activists and and Falun Gong in China ; a briefing on the rights of Sikh minorities in India and the West ; a briefing on Towards a Confederation of Peoples in South Asia (with representatives of Pakistan Christian and Muslim, Sikhs, Pandits of Kashmir, Tamil, Assamese etc.; a briefing on European Union and United Nations on the Question of Kashmir : The Emma Nicholson Report (with representatives of political parties and independent experts commenting the Report (2007) ; a briefing on Proposal of Autonomy presented by the Moroccan government to the Sarahouis (Interfaith also co-sponsored a briefing for the 'Polisario' and accredited Polisario delegates at the session). Other 'briefings which were planned but did not materialise because of technical difficulties : a briefing on the present situation in Kosovo, and an inter-religious panel (the speaker from Najaf was prevented from coming because of various problems inside Iraq- this item will be taken up again later).
Of all the NGOs registered for the 6th session of the Human Rights Counci, Interfaith International had the largest delegation (over 60 persons, including the 18 Sikhs and supporters who attended only one day). The next major session (8th) of the Human Rights Council will take place March 3-28 2008 . The 7th session ( December 10-14 2007 ) is only 5 working days and will wrap-up the 6th session business held over). At the December 2007 session 'briefings' will be held by Interfaith International on the 'Rule of Law in Iraq ) and on the situation in the Hor n of Africa.
Activities of members
Dr. Sahib Jwad Al-Hakim has written an article (in Arabic) on the life of Dr. Ali Ali Al-Adhadh , our Board member, who was assassinated in Bagdad last November 2006. The article includes photos and can be downloaded from the internet. Dr. Al-Hakim's extensive books on Torture Victims in Iraq and on Women Victims of the Iraqi (Saddam) Regime are also available.
Charles Graves became vice-president of the « Coalition to Investigate Persecution of Falun Gong in China « (C.I.P.F.G.) and he spoke at press conferences in London and Athens, Greece. He read the statement of the C.I.P.F.G. in Athens at Syntagma Square in August 2007 when a torch was lit to go all around the world (parallel to the ' »Olympic torch ») to highlight human rights violations of the Falun Gong practitioners inside the Peoples' Republic of China. Dr. Graves also particpated as « master of ceremony » in a similar ceremony at Geneva and at Lausanne (Olympic headquarters).
In September 2007 Charles Graves attended an all-day consultation on the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka held at the World Council of Churches, Geneva. He also attended a meeting sponsored by Japanese groups who promote the retention of famous Article 9 in the Japanese Constitution (the article which forbids Japan to support a military force except for defense).
Dr. Graves will attend the next annual Conference of the World Sindhi Congress in Kenton, London on 3 November 2007.
Interfaith International Members Dr. Awatar Singh Sekhon (editor, International Journal of Sikh Studies , Edmonton, Canada) and Mr. Visuvalingham Kirupaharan (Tamil Centre for Human Rights, Paris) have been active in their special fields. Mr. Mehran Baluch spoke (at a briefing organised by an NGO) during the 6th session of the Human Rights Council concerning the oppression of Baluch people by Pakistan military and the general human rights situation in the Baluchistan part of southern Pakistan.
Mr. Sardar Shaukat Ali Kashmiri , chairman of the United Kashmir People's National Party and secretary-general of the International Kashmir Alliance (IKA) has written a touching and politically informative book on his return to Kashmir in 2005 called « Down Memory Lane . Memoirs of a Trip to Kashmir »
(Please send corrections and comments on this Report to Dr. Charles Graves)