Lord Carlile, Baroness Stern, Richard Bourne, Maja Daruwala, members of the house of Commons and members of the House of Lords, distinguished colleagues and friends:
Thank you for being here.
At the outset I would like to also thank those who supported our week of events across London and in this pre-CHOGM phase and made them possible.
I am sandwiched between the founder and the builder of CHRI as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of CHRI International. Last month, in Delhi, on a more modest scale, with music, film, food and a stirring lecture from a Justice of the Indian Supreme Court, we embraced our 25th year in India.
The the chairman of our International Advisory Commission, Prof Yash Ghai, could not be here today on grounds of ill-health and sends his regrets and good wishes.
Baroness Stern, thank you for making this possible and enabling us to plot – it’s a well kept secret – to surprise and honour Maja Daruwala, for her steadfast, courageous and stellar contribution to the upholding of human rights across the world. Now you, know why I was so keen for you to come here! Without Maja, the CHRI journey would not have taken place. So, ladies and gentlemen, may I request you to put your hands together for Maja.
The past must push us to greater efforts to do better and more as well as differently in a world that has such enormously complex, new and yet enduring challenges – from hate crimes and stereotyping, migration and refugee flows, cyber stalking and the brutalization of children and human trafficking.
While CHRI’s core competencies of Access to Information and Access ton Justice remain at the heart of our work, the vision for the future seeks to address new issues and concerns by bringing in new areas.
The first is in an area about which I am deeply concerned, as a journalist and writer, about media rights and advocacy which is threatened everywhere. I am glad to formally announce the launch of the South Asia Media Defenders Network aimed at protecting the rights of rural journalists who are most vulnerable to threats and violence from local mafia, political offence and abuse. We hope to expand it across the Commonwealth in times to come.
The second is a programme aimed at protecting diversity and strengthening plurality, starting with anti-discrimination on grounds of skin colour and appearance. This includes training, outreach, building capacity for stakeholders, law makers and law upholders as well as the larger public – going beyond legal literacy through a multi-layered approach that addresses both official ignorance and public belligerence and apathy.
The third is a growing emphasis on the oppportuntiies through the UN Human Rights Council and the Universal Periodic Review at Geneva to build the capacity of small states including island states by bringing civil society perspectives to bear through specially designed modules for diplomats and enabling them to navigate the Byantine alleys of the UN system. In addition, we shall prioritize SDG 8.7 on modern or contemporary forms of slavery and human trafficking and bonded labour as well as SDG 16 which informs the heart of CHRI’s work. It is critical for stakeholders to engage with CSOs and vice versa. We need not always be adversarial. We hope to partner the Commonwealth Sectt in this endeavor.
Undergirding this approach, must be more media approach and writing, a strategy of greater visualization using social media, short, smart messaging esp aimed at the young. This past week CHRI has conducted five events in the pre-CHOGM phase including on pre-trial detention and small states as well as the first ever festival of Commonwealth Films on human rights in partnership with the Commonwealth Foundation and Commonwealth Writers.
There is an old Irish saying: Under the shelter of each other, people survive. However, we also stand on the cusp of despair and failure – but with robust collaboration we can continue making cohesive efforts for change.
The danger of loss contains the depth of great promise. For many of us, there is no choice, the horror inflicted on a child in Kathua and the legacy of Asma Jehangir tell us there is no choice, no standing on the sidelines, no fence sitting.
For we are all involved.