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Relevance of Mahatma Gandhi to peace, sustainable development highlighted at UN

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United Nations: Mahatma Gandhi’s undying inspiration for today’s twin priorities of international peace and sustainable development was hailed Friday as the UN observed Gandhi Jayanthi as International Day of Non-Violence.

Issuing a call to “renew our commitment to non-violence and lives of dignity for all,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “Today, at a time of escalating conflicts, rising extremism, massive displacement and rapidly growing humanitarian need, Mahatma Gandhi’s dedication to non-violence remains an example for us all.”

“The new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development can also point the way towards reducing violence, promoting harmony between people and planet, and making the world safer for all,” Ban said.

Ban recalled his visit to the Sabarmati Ashram and said that Gandhi’s saying he saw there, “If blood is to be shed, let it be our own,” impressed him.

“Gandhi was calling on people to refuse to kill – instead, to be willing to die to save others.”

Ban unveiled a portrait of Gandhi presented to the UN by India. The painter of the portrait, Raghubir Dayal Parikh, was present at the ceremony. The celebrations featured a program combining a video of Gandhi’s saying and key moments in his life with a live voice presentations and a performance of a cello piece specially composed by Michael Fitzpatrick.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had been scheduled to deliver the presidential address. But Ban said that she “had to return home owing to a family emergency.” He added, “Our thoughts are with her.”

With the just concluded world sustainable development having adopted an ambitious agenda to end poverty and protect the environment, Indian Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar spoke of Gandhi’s relevance the mission calling him “the original sustainable development guru.”

“Appropriately India chose to announce its INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or commitment on lowering greenhouse gas emissions) on Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday,” he said in his presidential address. “This was to underline our moral commitment to sustainable development.”

Jaishankar said Mahatma Gandhi’s three guiding principles – -‘ahimsa‘(non-violence), ‘satyagraha‘ (force born of truth) and ‘sarvodaya‘ (uplift of all) — – continue to provide the world with approaches to address a range of complex challenges, many of which may not have even existed during his lifetime.

“In our times, we have seen the growth of religious bigotry and intolerance,” he said. “In many cases, this has directly fueled support and sponsorship of terrorism.”

“Unfortunately, the world has often looked away when terrorists have attacked innocents, assuming that it is not their problem,” he added. “As a believer in the indivisibility of the world and the importance of moral courage, Gandhiji would ask us all to stand up and be counted.”

General Assembly President Mogen Lykketoft quoted Gandhi’s works, “Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.”

Lykketoft said, “These words resonate with the very principles of the UN Charter; with the UN’s promotion of peaceful settlements to disputes, and the primacy of reaching solutions through diplomacy and other peaceful means.”

During the current General Assembly session there are opportunities for bringing Gandhi’s vision closer to reality, he said. The new sustainable development goals adopted a week ago and the momentum building around climate change show that the universality that Gandhi preached was happening, he added.

“Let us work together for the betterment of our planet and our people” inspired by Gandhi, he said.

Bangladesh Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, a self-described Gandhian, said that even though his father was a Muslim League leader, for him as a youth Gandhi had his own appeal because “he cared for everybody.”

He recalled that as a 14-year-old, he wept as he went around Sylhet conveying the news of Gandhi’s assassination and the condolence meeting for him.

Gandhi led the khilafat movement across India protesting the dismantling of the caliphate in Turkey, Muhith said. But when it turned violent and police were attacked, he called it off because it went against his principle of non-violence.

In today’s world, Gandhi may not have liked the proliferation of technology and the lifestyles, but he would have been impressed by the concern for peace, he said.

South Africa’s Permanent Representative Kinglsley Mamabolo said that Gandhi’s influence was felt in his nation’s constitution that emphasised unversality of its people. India and South Africa are working together for world peace, he said. “We continue to be connected across the ocean.”

Belarus Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Mikhnevich said that Gandhi’s message resonated around the world in the quest for peace. He noted that his president, Alexander Lukashenko, had in his address this week to the General Assembly had cited Gandhi’s saying, “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind,” as warning to nations and as a call for peaceful resolution of disputes.

“Let us build our relationships on the basis of peace,” Mikhnevich said.

Kazakhstan’s Permanent Representative Kairat Abdrakhmanov said, “We need to start a global non-violence movement.” Non-violence is a “pillar of the future of humanity,” he added.

Japan’s permanent Representative Motohide Yoshikawa said the life and message of Gandhi should be spread among the younger people. His teachings should be spread beyond India and South Africa, he added.

From Latin America, Brazil’s Permanent Representative Antonio de Aguiar Patriota said that Gandhi was a guide to the world. And Nicaragua’s Permanent Representative Maria Rubiales de Chamorro said that Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, a Catholic priest who was her nation’s foreign minister and a president of the General Assembly was a disciple of Gandhi.

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Concerns Rise Over China’s Stand at United Nations Human Rights Council

China has passed human rights reviews twice before this one, while more than 120 countries Beijing's human rights record during the most recent process.

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The 22nd session of the U.N. Human Rights Council meets in Geneva on Feb. 25, 2013. RFA

Rights activists are increasingly worried that Beijing’s influence operations are having a negative impact on the work of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which concludes its 40th session on Friday.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) China director Sophie Richardson warned in an article this week that China is seeking to undermine the mission of the U.N. Human Rights Council from within.

She also cited HRW research in 2017 which reported threats and harassment of U.N. staff involved in human rights evaluation by Chinese officials.

“As we head towards the final phase of [China’s U.N. human rights review], ask yourself: What other government threatens #humanrights treaty body experts?” Richardson tweeted on Thursday.

“As an [Human Rights Council] member #China is expected to uphold highest standards,” she wrote in another tweet, referencing a report in The New York Times. “Instead it tells people that merely attending an event is a ‘hostile act.'”

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During the recent round, the Chinese government said it accepted most of the 346 human rights recommendations put forward by the council. VOA

According to HRW’s 2017 article based on a 97-page report: “Chinese officials have at times harassed and intimidated U.N. staff, experts on treaty bodies, and independent experts focusing on specific human rights issues.”

The 2014 death in detention of activist Cao Shunli, who was detained on her way to a U.N. human rights event in Geneva, also sent a “chilling” message to Chinese activists who may want to participate in the U.N. human rights process, the article said.

HRW isn’t the only human rights organization worried about Chinese influence at the U.N.

Renee Xia, who heads the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network, reported from a side-event of the Human Rights Council conference in Geneva this week that it was “standing room only.”

“Strong show of interest despite #China urging countries not to attend,” Xia tweeted.

“The strong attendance was more remarkable esp. after #China officials went to many countries’ diplomats at the U.N., Geneva, to threaten them with “serious consequences” if they attended the side events,” she wrote in another tweet.

“#Bullying at the UN must stop!” she wrote.

‘So many restrictions’

Wang Dan, a former leader of the 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement on Tiananmen Square, is also in Geneva this week.

“To tell you the truth, my feelings during my two days here are that China has huge influence at the U.N.,” Wang told RFA.

“For example, at one side-event, it wasn’t just the Chinese delegation who spoke against [criticisms of Beijing’s rights record], but other countries came to speak in support of China’s position,” he said.

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“Many of the countries participating in the Human Rights Council are actually the ones that are carrying out the most violations of human rights, Pixabay

Wang said tight controls over public speech also make it less likely that the ruling Chinese Communist Party will have to face criticism of human rights violations coming from within its own borders.

“There are a lot of people online in China, but they are under so many restrictions,” he said. “You can’t mention the Tiananmen Massacre. You can’t mention [late Nobel peace laureate and political prisoner] Liu Xiaobo. You can’t say this, you can’t say that.”

“I don’t think that’s how you define freedom … but then the Chinese point to the U.N. charter, which says that all member states must be respected,” he said.

‘Autocratic rule the default’

Veteran New York-based rights activist Liu Qing said the work of the council had become “unrecognizable” to him.

“Many of the countries participating in the Human Rights Council are actually the ones that are carrying out the most violations of human rights,” Liu told RFA.

“The only purpose of these countries in insinuating themselves into the Human Rights Council is to curb the positive role of the Human Rights Council and make autocratic rule the default setting on the international stage,” he said.

Amnesty International blogger Shao Jiang wrote in December 2018 that Beijing is reinterpreting universal human rights as merely the right to survival, freedom to access food, and regards other definitions of human rights as secondary to trade and economic development.

“The Chinese government has appointed government officials as independent experts into the UN’s Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, and the U.N. treaty bodies,” Shao said.

China has passed human rights reviews twice before this one, while more than 120 countries Beijing’s human rights record during the most recent process.

During the recent round, the Chinese government said it accepted most of the 346 human rights recommendations put forward by the council.

Also Read: Myanmar Government Calls Ethnic Armed Groups To Attend Collective Peace Discussions For The First Time

The United Nations now reports annually on government reprisals against human rights defenders participating in U.N. human rights efforts, Richardson wrote in an article in The Hill last December.

“China has topped the list of offenders in every report issued,” she said. (RFA)