Port-of-Spain: Trinidad and Tobago will join the 193-member UN General Assembly (UNGA) in marking International Yoga Day on Sunday, June 21, at a gala function in the Daaga Auditorium, University of West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine.
Indian High Commissioner Gauri Shankar Gupta told in a press conference at the Trinidad Hilton on Monday that the high commission, the UN offices and the government of Trinidad and Tobago will be organizing a week-long awareness programme commencing on June 15 to commemorate the First International Day of Yoga.
Several local yoga groups are also involved, he said. Some 15 yoga centres here are all participating in this exercise comprising people of different ethnic groups.
“Prominent personalities, including government ministers, are expected to grace the occasion and share their views with the participants. The yoga masters will talk about the benefits of yoga and will demonstrate a number of easy poses,” Gupta said.
The high commissioner said that this celebration is in keeping with a unanimous decision by the UNGA to establish June 21 annually as “International Day of Yoga”.
He said that the declaration follows a call for the adoption of June 21 as International Yoga Day by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his address to the UNGA on September 27 last year.
“Yoga is essentially a spiritual discipline based on Oneness of the universe. It is a profound science that enables us to understand individual and individual consciousness and the art of healthy living. This extremely subtle science is based on harmony between mind, body and soul and man and nature, thus designed to promote unity of thought and action and preservation of Mother Nature leading to harmonious existence, contentment and happiness,” Gupta added.
Modi had told the UNGA that June 21 was the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and has special significance in many parts of the world. This initiative found support from many global leaders and more than 175 countries, including the US, Canada and, Trinidad and Tobago co-sponsored the resolution as it had the highest number of co-sponsors ever for any UNGA resolution of such nature, Gupta noted.
“Yoga remains an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition for over 6000 years. It embodies unity of mind and body, thought and action, a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help us deal with climate change,” Gupta added. (IANS)
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.'”
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.
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.