REFUGEES AND HUMAN RIGHTS
THE DULL EDGES OF OUR DOGMAS
Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan
Professor Gilbert Murray OM, was of the founder members of the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief and one of its trustees in 1942. In 1950 he made the first Weeks's Good Cause Appeal for the Committee, which raised jus under $18,000.
When he died in 1957, a small capital fund from his family, friends and OXFAM supporters was gathered together to establish a Gilbert Murray Memorial Lecture Fund. The lectures are normally held every alternate year on subjects relating to international affairs, particularly embracing relief and development overseas, and are given by speakers eminent in their fields of study and experience.
The first Gilbert Murray Memorial Lecture was given by Dr. August Lindt, then UN High Commissioner for Refugees in 1959 on the subject of "Refugee Problems" at Rhodes House, Oxford, England. The most recent and the 11th one, entitled "The Dull Edges of our Dogmas" was given by prince Sadruddin who was the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 1965-1977, on February 8, 1983 at the Oxford Union Debating Hall, Oxford.
The following is a condensed version of that Lecture by prince Sadruddin who is special Consultant and Charge de Mission to the UN Secretary-General.
Alluding to the topic-the dull edges of our dogmas with respect to Refugees and Human Rights as the starting point for the Gilbert Murray Memorial Lecture, Prince Sadruddin said that Gilbert Murray, who lived in Australia as a young man, long remained an expert at throwing the boomerang. "As all of us boomerang throwers know well, this resolute instrument has a mind of its own: it always comes back to the point from where it originates and frequently collides with the thrower if he doesn't watch his step. And so it is with our dogmas, which Gilbert Murray said are dulled by experience."
Prince Sadruddin mentioned that "It is to the people and especially the young that we look for a lead in the struggle to create a world based less on power and more on concepts of justice, equality and freedom."
OXFAM, perhaps more than most, has captured the imagination of the public by depicting human needs dramatically, by sending to the field experts in various domains such as agriculture, water supply and so forth. "Meeting Human Need' has been your chief motto. The broad way in which you have interpreted your role deserves admiration. Much of your effort has gone into the lobbying of government, and who better to advise the Overseas Development Administration than people like yourselves who have studied relief and development at first hand?" he said.
Prince Sadruddin dealt with the Lecture under five major categories:
1. THE DISILLUSIONMENT IN THE WAKE OF A CENTURY OF PROGRESS
Referring to the staggering technological advances achieved during the course of the century, Prince Sadruddin mentioned that if a citizen of say, Houston, Texas, born on 8th February, 1883, would today be celebrating his 100th birthday, he would have come in one lifetime, from the days of the covered wagon to the epoch of the Space Shuttle. "We have even developed a nuclear overkill capability which could snuff out his life and millions of others in a matter of minutes".
"Global evolution, if you can call it that, since World War I has certainly tested our ability to adapt for the natural law of the "survival of the fittest" is never mor unjust than in periods of rapid change. While one quarter of humanity has aspirations to interplanetary travel, much of the remaining three-quarters is left languishing in conditions of abject poverty. The dull edges of our dogmas," he said, "are being exposed in the economic and social ills that haunt our planet as well as in the general malaise that has accompanied the realisation that increase in 'standards of living' are not necessarily accompanied by parallel improvements in the 'quality of life'. Even more, however, that have been exposed by our failure to create a more just and equitable world."
2 REFUGEES AND DISRESPECT OF HUMAN RIGHTS AS SYMPTOMS OF WIDENING DISPARITIES
He said the very existence of massive numbers of refugees is a tangible and tragic manifestation human rights, and the fact that refugee problems continue to proliferate is a sad commentary on our times. He attributed increased refugee flows and disrespect of human rights as just tow of the symptoms of the same disease- a disease that has its origins in under, uneven or inappropriate development. "Band aid measures will rarely prove adequate to prevent the symptoms from spreading and becoming more and more contagious. The long term-solution must be a process of prognosis and cure."
3. THE DULL EDGES OF OUR DEVELOPMENT DOGMAS
"Are we not, to a degree, reaping what we have sown, or failed to sow, in the Third World? It is easy for governments to complain about the difficulties encountered in dealing with exodus from the South. Yet people are fleeing conditions which some of the same governments created or allowed to persist, for example the artificial national boundaries which had been carved almost at random during the colonial period or the flight of skilled manpower to industrialized countries," Prince saheb said.
Often, he said pious development dogmas have been nothing more than respectable fronts behind which less laudable motives are concealed-the use of economic pressure, for instance, usually in the form of threatened reductions in aid in order to force the hands of Third World Governments to political or commercial advantage.
The economic realities in developing counties, such as high population, growth, inflation, unemployment and the fight of skilled manpower have brought large sectors of the population in some of the poorest countries to the threshold of disaster, Prince Sadruddin said.
"The poor in the Third World countries lack what may be considered the most basic of human rights: the right to employment, to adequate shelter, to freedom from hunger and disease. In their case, it is almost academic to talk about more refined rights enshrined in the U.N. Universal Declaration." he said.
Hence migration has become the most poignant and effective voice of the underprivileged part of the struggle to strive in a world of inequalities, and he urged governments to begin to place development, inside and outside the U.N., in its correct perspective as an issue every bit as important for survival as the global balance of power, arms control or the economic stability of industrialized nations.
4. A NEW APPROACH ADDRESSING ROOT CAUSES
Prince Sadruddin stated that a new approach to development was needed one that will attach the root causes of human suffering, not in a passive or academic manner but in such a way that they gradually be removed. "The international community acts more readily to alleviate human suffering when it is already caused than to eliminate the causes leading to it.
He considered the role of Non-Governmental Organizations private groups and even individuals to be particulary important an area which aptly illustrates that a little can go a long way in terms of Third World help.
Since more than half of humanity depends on land for survival and about a quarter subsists in conditions of utter misery below what has been termed 'any rational definition of human decency' malnutrition, disease, lack of shelter and clothing, illiteracy as well as worsening ecological conditions create a vicious circle of poverty which must be broken if large-sale exodus is to be stemmed.
The challenge lies in stemming the desertion of the land by rendering the life of rural communities more productive and more fulfilling, Prince Sadruddin said. "To achieve this, we need to persuade all concerned to abandon the 'top down' approach, which has placed undue emphasis on prestige projects and institutional arrangement, in favour of a 'bottom up' approach, such as OXFAM so valiantly promotes-but it cannot do alone."
The developed world needs to redress the balance by seeing that people are assisted in their rural development, rather than after they have cut their ties with their traditional way of life-for we know only too well that their is little hope of return. If soft drinks, blue jeans and other commercial products can be found in the remotest corners of the globe, why not better hand tools, non-toxic fertilizers, fuel-saving cookstoves, efficient and humane harnesses and so forth?"
He spoke of his own Bellerive Foundation which has focused much of its modest contributions" on promoting, through the 'bottom up' approach, the more rational use of the three major sources of primary energy currently available to the rural poor, namely human muscle power, draught animal power and firewood.
"There appears to be little justification in waiting for wonder technologies that may never leave the drawing board when there are communities that lack even the simple hand tools most of you here tonight will have in your garden sheds," he said.
5. RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE U.N COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
Turning briefly to the recommendations contained in his Study on Human Rights and Massive Exoduses discussed first in the U.N. commission on Human Rights and more recently by the General Assembly Prince Sadruddin said that developing countries' economic needs should be reappraised in relation to possible causes of exodus. "The onus falls on developing countries to re-examine their priorities. We must hope that they will increasingly place rural development high on the list-however much importance they may attach to new universities and secondary schools, industrial plant or communications systems."
Prince Sadruddin's report recommends the appointment of a Special Representative for Humanitarian Questions whereby he or she wold bring potential or actual mass exodus situations to the attention of those dealing with root cause and endeavour to stimulate remedial measures. He added that they would do an important monitoring function of ensuring that the situation was kept constantly under review by the competent bodies and would liaise with humanitarian agencies and regional organizations, thus helping to fill the serious co-ordination lacuna that currently exists.
In his closing remarks, Prince Sadruddin said that agencies like OXFAM have the potential to form a formidable constituency capable of first inspiring and then stimulating progress through a process of consciousness raising. He believed that the NGOs should also monitor progress on two levels: through the media to kindle the pressure of public opinion, and by leaning on governments to ensure that by and multi-lateral development and technical assistance are linked in a meaningful way to root cause.
"It is to the people-and especially the young-that we look for a lead in the struggle to create a world based less on power and more on concepts of justice, equality and freedom," he said.
Throughout history, the force behind some of the most significant and lasting reforms may be seen to have emanated from small groups of dedicated individuals, producing imaginative solutions to problems which seem to elude the technocrats, he continued.
Gilbert Murray suggested that experience would reveal the dull edges of our dogmas. "Certainly, it is not by formulating pious hopes and debating amendments in carefully drafted declarations that human rights are best defended. It is though action, translating hopes into reality with tenacity and perseverance that the cause of human beings is best served".
He said many will say-"but what can we do individually?
"Perhaps I may best conclude by repeating Robert Kennedy's answer to that question given in Cape Town, South Africa in 1966:
'It if from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.'"
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