Posts Tagged ‘Nobel Peace Prize’

Speculating on the Nobel Peace Prize 2021

February 4, 2021

Speculating about the Nobel Peace Prize is a sport that keeps some media busy most of the year.

Although thousands of people, from members of parliaments worldwide to former winners, are eligible to propose candidates (see list in link), it is the group of Norwegian parliamentarians that has nominated the eventual laureate every year since 2014 (with the exception of 2019), according to Henrik Urdal, Director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo. And for this year Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, the World Health Organization and climate campaigner Greta Thunberg are among those nominated by backed by Norwegian lawmakers.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee, which decides who wins the award, does not comment on nominations, keeping secret for 50 years the names of nominators and unsuccessful nominees. But the nominators themselves can choose to reveal their choice and often do.

On 31 January 2021 Gwladys Fouche and Nora Buli started off the guessing season by reporting that, according to a Reuters survey of Norwegian lawmakers, nominees include Thunberg, Navalny, the WHO and its COVAX programme to secure fair access to COVID-19 vaccines for poor countries.

Other names are Belarusian activists Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Maria Kolesnikova and Veronika Tsepkalo for their “fight for a fair election and inspiration for peaceful resistance”, one nominator, Geir Sigbjoern Toskedal, said. Another, Jette Christensen, also named the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a human rights group, and IUSTITIA, a group of Polish judges defending civil rights. “My nomination this year is … for the fight to preserve democracy as a form of government in Europe,” Christensen said.

Freedom of information is a recurring theme with nominees including the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists; former Charlie Hebdo journalist Zineb el Rhazoui; news website Hong Kong Free Press, the U.S.-based International Fact-Checking Network and Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF). Also mentioned are: the Black Lives Matter movement and Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia gubernatorial candidate who has become a leading voting rights advocate.

Other nominees include former U.S. President Donald Trump (by Jaak Madison, a member of the right-wing populist EKRE party) as well as Kushner and Berkowitz for negotiating deals between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco), .

Also on the list are NATO and again the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) as well as Aminatou Haidar, for her peaceful campaigning towards an independent Western Sahara, the International Space Station and the International Scout Movement.

https://www.nobelprize.org/nomination/peace/

https://www.kcrg.com/2021/02/02/explainer-how-nobel-peace-prize-nominations-come-about/

https://www.euronews.com/2021/02/01/donald-trump-estonian-mep-jaak-madison-nominates-ex-us-president-for-nobel-peace-prize

Chinese sensitivity again on display re human rights awards

August 29, 2020

Kunal Gaurav in Republic World of 29 August 2020 illustrates again how extremely sensitive China remains with regard to human rights awards, unwittingly underlining the strong symbolic value they can have.

China

China has warned Norway against awarding Nobel Peace Prize to pro-democracy activists of Hong Kong, saying it doesn’t want to see the politicisation of the award. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was on a rare visit to Norway as the country prepares to take up the rotational seat of United Nations Security Council, of which China is a permanent member, for 2021-22.

“I would only say one thing: In the past, today, and in future, China will firmly reject any attempt by anyone to use the Nobel Peace Prize to interfere in China’s internal affairs,” Wang told reporters when asked about the possibility.

The decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Dalai Lama, head monk of Tibetan Buddhism, for his willingness to compromise and seek reconciliation despite brutal violations had irked China. Later, the Nobel Foundation awarded the prize to Lui Xiaobo for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China. The decision immediately froze diplomatic relations between Norway and China, which resumed in December 2016.

Hong Kong has been the epicentre of pro-democracy protests and China enforced a controversial security law which has allegedly undermined the autonomy of the region. Several countries have revoked the extradition treaty with the semi-autonomous region, calling the draconian law as a flagrant violation of Sino-British agreement after which the city returned to Chinese rule.

According to a Hong Kong daily, the foreign minister said that the Chinese government doesn’t want to see anyone politicise the Nobel Peace Prize. Calling on Norway to cherish the current relationship, Wang said that the bilateral relationship can continue to develop in a sustained and sound manner if both parties can “continue to respect each other and treat each other as equals.”

At a press briefing on August 28, Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide said that the leaders had an extensive discussion ranging from COVID-19 response to international trade and the free-trade agreement. She said that they also had extensive discussions on human rights, an issue of international concern given China’s history and ongoing crackdown in Xinjiang.

https://www.republicworld.com/world-news/china/china-warns-norway-against-awarding-nobel-peace-prize-to-hong-kong-act.html

Shirin Ebadi biopic: Until We Are Free

August 27, 2020

Harris says, “It’s been an honor to work with many remarkable Nobel Peace Laureates, including the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Shirin Ebadi, as part of the PeaceJam Nobel Legacy film series and to lend my voice to Shirin’s story of fighting for women and children to be treated with basic human dignities.”

https://www.benzinga.com/pressreleases/20/08/p17263858/award-winning-producer-and-voiceover-actor-laurel-harris-narrates-shirin-ebadi-until-we-are-free-w

2019 Nobel Prizes for Peace and Literature: encouragement and disappointment

October 11, 2019

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/07/ethiopia-a-progress-report-by-defenddefenders-made-public-on-7-may/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/08/human-rights-defender-daniel-bekele-now-commissioner-of-the-ethiopian-human-rights-commission/].

Amnesty International’s Secretary General Kumi Naidoo said: “This award recognizes the critical work Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has done to initiate human rights reforms in Ethiopia after decades of widespread repression.” Since assuming office in April 2018, it has reformed the security forces, replaced the severely restricting charities and society law, and agreed a peace deal with neighbouring Eritrea to end two decades of hostile relations. He also helped broker an agreement between Sudan’s military leaders and the civilian opposition, bringing an end to months of protests.

However, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s work is far from done. This award should push and motivate him to tackle the outstanding human rights challenges that threaten to reverse the gains made so far. He must urgently ensure that his government addresses the ongoing ethnic tensions that threaten instability and further human rights abuses. He should also ensure that his government revises the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation which continues to be used as a tool of repression, and holds suspected perpetrators of past human rights violations to account. ..“ow more than ever Prime Minister Abiy must fully espouse the principles and values of the Nobel Peace Prize to leave a lasting human rights legacy for his country, the wider region, and the world.”

Interestingly enough on the same day Ethiopian human rights blogger Befeqadu Hailu received the International Writer of Courage award. The Ethiopian human rights blogger who has been jailed four times over his activism has been awarded a literary prize set up in memory of playwright Harold Pinter. The Zone 9 blogging collective, which Hailu founded in 2012 alongside other Ethiopian activists, aims to hold politicians to account and protect the country’s constitution against corruption. He is also the deputy executive editor of Addis Maleda newspaper, a columnist for Deutsche Welle Amharic Service and a part-time programme co-ordinator for the Ethiopian Human Rights Project. Zone 9 bloggers were finalists of the 2016 MEA.

In the meantime the Swedish Nobel Prize Committee for Literature came in for widespread and harsh criticism for its ‘troubling choice’: of Peter Handke. Writers including Salman Rushdie, Hari Kunzru and Slavoj Žižek say the 2019 Nobel laureate ‘combines great insight with shocking ethical blindness’

Austrian author Peter Handk greets the press outside his house in Chaville near Paris, on Thursday.
Austrian author Peter Handke greets the press outside his house in Chaville near Paris, on Thursday after his win. Photograph: François Mori/AP

The Guardian of 10 October writes: “Twenty years before Peter Handke would become a Nobel laureate, he won another title. In 1999, Salman Rushdie named him the runner-up for “International moron of the year” for his “series of impassioned apologias for the genocidal regime of Slobodan Milošević”….The Austrian playwright, whose Slovenian heritage had inspired in him a fervent nationalism during the Balkans war, had publicly suggested that Sarajevo’s Muslims had massacred themselves and blamed the Serbs, and denied the Srebrenica genocide. Seven years after Rushdie’s scorching condemnation, in 2006, he would also attend war criminal Milošević’s funeral….

Handke is a troubling choice for a Nobel committee that is trying to put the prize on track after recent scandals,” said author Hari Kunzru, who has taught the laureate’s work to his students. “He is a fine writer, who combines great insight with shocking ethical blindness.” Kunzru said he believed that Handke would have won the Nobel earlier, “had he not decided to act as a propagandist for the genocidal Milošević regime. He added: “More than ever we need public intellectuals who are able to make a robust defence of human rights in the face of the indifference and cynicism of our political leaders. Handke is not such a person.

Slavoj Žižek, Slovenian philosopher and longtime critic of Handke, told the Guardian: “In 2014, Handke called for the Nobel to be abolished, saying it was a ‘false canonisation’ of literature. The fact that he got it now proves that he was right. This is Sweden today: an apologist of war crimes gets a Nobel prize while the country fully participated in the character assassination of the true hero of our times, Julian Assange. Our reaction should be: not the literature Nobel prize for Handke but the Nobel peace prize for Assange.”

And in a statement issued on Thursday, novelist Jennifer Egan, president of literature and human rights organisation Pen America, said:  “We are dumbfounded by the selection of a writer who has used his public voice to undercut historical truth and offer public succor to perpetrators of genocide, like former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic,” .. “We reject the decision that a writer who has persistently called into question thoroughly documented war crimes deserves to be celebrated for his ‘linguistic ingenuity.’ At a moment of rising nationalism, autocratic leadership, and widespread disinformation around the world, the literary community deserves better than this. We deeply regret the Nobel Committee on Literature’s choice.”..

——

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/10/nobel-peace-prize-must-spur-prime-minister-abiy-ahmed-towards-further-human-rights-reform/

https://mailchi.mp/a7dbe1560660/hrf-in-the-washington-post-on-todays-nobel-peace-prize?e=f80cec329e

https://home.bt.com/news/showbiz-news/ethiopian-human-rights-blogger-scoops-prize-in-memory-of-harold-pinter-11364401760959

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/oct/10/troubling-choice-authors-criticise-peter-handke-controversial-nobel-win

https://www.vox.com/culture/2019/10/10/20907919/nobel-prize-literature-2019-2018-controversy-peter-handke-olga-tokarczuk

“On Her Shoulders” tells the story of human rights defender Nadia Murad, 2018 Nobel Peace Prize

October 21, 2018

Nadia Murad, a 23-year-old Yazidi, survived genocide and sexual slavery committed by ISIS. Repeating her story to the world, this ordinary girl finds herself thrust onto the international stage as the voice of her people. The film “On Her Shoulders” tells the story of Nadia Murad, 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner, human rights activist, and Yazidi survivor of genocide and human trafficking. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/05/breaking-news-see-which-other-awards-the-2018-nobel-peace-prize-laureates-won-already/]

ON HER SHOULDERS Trailer (2018) Nadia Murad Documentary © 2018 – Oscilloscope

Breaking News: see which other awards the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates won already

October 5, 2018

The Nobel Prize for Peace 2018 winners: Yazidi survivor Nadia Mural (L) and Denis Mukwege
Nobel Peace Prize for anti-rape activists Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege – Image copyright EPA

You do not have it hear it through me as most mainstream media carry the news (here the BBC with elaborate information) that the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize has gone to campaigners against rape in warfare, Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege. After the controversy created around some of the recent laureates, these two are safe bets as both have been recognized widely:

Ms Murad is an Iraqi Yazidi who was tortured and raped by Islamic State militants and later became the face of a campaign to free the Yazidi people. She found recognition from at least two earlier awards:

Dr Mukwege is a Congolese gynaecologist who, along with his colleagues, has treated tens of thousands of victims. He received wide recognition with 8 international human rights awards:

  • 2008   United Nations Prizes in the Field of Human Rights
  • 2009   Olof Palme Prize
  • 2010   Wallenberg Medal (University of Michigan)
  • 2011   King Baudouin International Development Prize
  • 2013   Civil Courage Prize
  • 2013   Human Rights First Award
  • 2013   Right Livelihood Award
  • 2014   Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/04/12/profile-denis-mukwege-democratic-republic-of-congo-courageous-doctor-rape-women/

Ms Murad, 25, dedicated the award to her mother, who was killed by the Islamic State (IS) militants who overran their home in 2014. Ms Murad described her escape in a BBC interview in 2016, detailing how the women who were held captive were treated by IS.

Dr Mukwege was operating at his hospital when he heard he had won the prize. He dedicated his award to all women affected by sexual violence. He lives under the permanent protection of UN peacekeepers at his hospital and has also previously called for a tougher line on rape as a weapon of war.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-45759221

 

see also: https://dansmithsblog.com/2018/10/08/the-nobel-peace-prize-and-sexual-violence-in-war/

Further plea to Nobel foundation to recognize the HRDs of the world

October 5, 2018

On Thursday, 4 October 2018 Michel Forst and Susi Bascon wrote for the Thompson Reuters Foundation a piece entitled: “Growing global authoritarianism means we all need to become human rights defenders”. It is a further appeal to for the 2018 Nobel Peace prize to go to the Human Rights Defenders of the world {see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/09/18/campaign-to-give-the-nobel-peace-prize-2018-to-the-global-community-of-human-rights-defenders/]:

It would be foolish to think that defending human rights is just an issue for people in faraway countries

Every night Juana Ramirez Santiago would deliver her husband’s dinner to the hardware store he worked as a watchman. One evening in late September she called him to tell him she was on her way. She never arrived. Neighbours heard four gun shots then found her lying dead on the street. Juana – who helped found a group to challenge violence against women – was just one of hundreds of human rights defenders brutally assassinated so far this year. 2018 is on course to set a grisly record. 

Tomorrow, the Nobel committee will announce the winner of the 2018 Peace Prize. This year the prize should be awarded not to a person or an organisation but – for the first time ever – to a community: a collective award for human rights defenders like Juana Ramirez all around the world.

Each day, these brave people stand up and speak out for nothing more than the rights which everyone should be entitled. And as a result, each day, many are silenced – thrown in jail, attacked or even murdered.

Yet how many of us have heard their names? They are hidden heroes. Too often they have to stand alone, courageous individuals and small grassroots communities forced to face down crooked legal systems, corrupt multinationals and oppressive governments. That’s why the role of UN special rapporteur for human rights defenders was developed. It’s why organisations like Peace Brigades International – who provide crucial life-saving support to defenders on the ground – exist. 

The prize would shine a global spotlight on their struggle in a year when we mark the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders which outlined how defending human rights is a right in and of itself, not a crime. 

The award could not come at a more urgent time. Not just because they deserve recognition, but because in the words of the late Kofi Anna, “We need to be vigilant in the protection of human rights defenders, for when the defenders’ rights are violated, all our rights are injured.”

Defenders are an example to us all. They show us that our rights are not only granted by law but upheld and protected by communities and individuals. They demonstrate that we all need to be human rights defenders. Particularly now that there’s a growing backlash against human rights. 

It would be foolish to think that this is just an issue for people in faraway countries. Threats to hard won rights are advancing across the West, even in the United States. Just look at women’s rights. Access to abortion is being tightened in states like Iowa, Louisiana and Mississippi.

On LGBT rights it’s still legal to fire someone for being gay in most places in the United States. There are real fears about a rollback of rights from the Supreme Court.  

When even leaders of even the oldest democracies brand the media as an enemy of the people or say that “it’s embarrassing for the country to allow protesters” it’s time to recognise that the struggle of distant human rights defenders is a struggle everyone must face. That is, if we want to continue living in healthy, free and democratic societies.

Make no mistake, the tide has shifted – freedom and democracy are on the defensive. Authoritarianism is on the rise worldwide. That’s why we need to stand shoulder to shoulder with defenders across the globe.  And that’s why they should win the Nobel Prize. Worldwide, a narrative is spreading that human rights defenders are criminals.

The Nobel Prize is the loudest stage we have to challenge the growing discourse that discourse that dismisses and delegitimises non-violent activists as terrorists, anti-patriots, or threats to security and development.

It would send a clear message: to human rights defenders both home and abroad – you are not alone. To those who would harm them – the eyes of the world are watching and your actions will have consequences. And to the rest of us? The rights we don’t defend are the rights we can so easily lose. 

Michel Forst is the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights defenders and Susi Bascon is the director of the Peace Brigades UK

———-

http://news.trust.org//item/20181004153903-7wymp/

Campaign to give the Nobel Peace Prize 2018 to the global community of Human Rights Defenders

September 18, 2018

Over 200 organisations from all over the world have signed on to an open letter endorsing the idea of giving the Nobel Peace Prize 2018 to the global community of Human Rights Defenders.


12 September 2018

Dear Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee,

9 December 2018 will mark the 20th anniversary of the UN’s Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (HRDs). It is an ideal and opportune moment to recognise and celebrate the efforts of these extraordinary individuals who despite threats of violence and unlawful imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, torture and assassination, continue to peacefully challenge injustice and call for the implementation and strengthening of the rule of law. Since 1998, over 3000 human rights defenders have been killed for defending the fundamental values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the UN.

In recognising the increasingly hostile environments globally, in which human rights defenders must work, the late Former Secretary-General to the United Nations, Kofi Annan, recently said:

“To stand up for human rights requires courage, perseverance, vigilance and a strong foundation of knowledge and evidence. We need to be vigilant in the protection of human rights defenders, for when the defenders’ rights are violated, all our rights are injured.”

In the same vein and emphasising the critical role that human rights defenders play in promoting and fostering stable democracies and sustainable peace, Permanent Representative of Norway to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Ambassador Steffen Kongstad said: “Threats and attacks against human rights defenders may hamper the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights, undermining social cohesion, and ultimately stability and development.”

Despite this recognition and respect at the highest levels of the international community, human rights defenders are killed every day. HRDs who suffer disproportionately are those activists working at grassroots and community levels, in isolated regions and from marginalised populations, who lack networks and resources to command international attention. Human rights defenders can be community leaders, lawyers, journalists, environmental activists, victims of abuse, trade unionists and teachers.

It is for these urgent reasons that Peace Brigades International with the support of the UK All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group has nominated the global community of HRDs for the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize. It is the highest humanitarian achievement through which to recognise HRDs and celebrate their commitment to advocating for and building societies that are peaceful, safe, inclusive, tolerant, just and sustainable for all. The nomination is currently supported by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of HRDs and some governments, diplomats and parliamentarians around the world.

We believe that awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the global community of HRDs will mark a milestone in legitimising the crucial work they undertake to protect humanity and bring the trends of persecution they suffer to the public eye.

Furthermore, this collective award would mark a world first. By nominating a community rather than individuals or organisations, we emphasise that the trends making the defence of human rights ever more risky and ever more admirable, are global. We seek to highlight that the community itself is integral to the defence of human rights and it is the idea of community that motivates people to take enormous risks defending the rights of others and advancing peace.


For some of my earlier post on the Declaration: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/20th-anniversary-un-declaration-on-hrds/

The release of the open letter is accompanied by a public petition: Human Rights Defenders for the Nobel Peace Prize, which can be signed here.

https://peacebrigades.org.uk/open-civil-society-letter-support-nobel-peace-prize-human-rights-defenders

In memoriam Kofi Annan – laureate of 10 human rights awards

August 20, 2018

Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan died on Saturday 18 August 2018 at the age of 80. “Kofi Annan was a global statesman and a deeply committed internationalist who fought throughout his life for a fairer and more peaceful world. During his distinguished career and leadership of the United Nations, he was an ardent champion of peace, sustainable development, human rights and the rule of law,” the Kofi Annan Foundation and Annan family said in a statement. His wife Nane and their children Ama, Kojo and Nina were by his side during his last days.

Born on April 8, 1938, in Ghana, Annan took his first job with the U.N. in 1962,and became its seventh secretary-general serving between 1997 and 2006.

It has been pointed out by many media that he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (jointly with the United Nations) in 2001 but few mention the other 9 human rights awards that he received before, such as

2001   Liberty Medal

2003   Indira Gandhi Prize

2003   Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought

2004   Franklin Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award

2006   Olof Palme Prize

2007   MacArthur Award for International Justice

2007   Bruno Kreisky Award

2007   North South Prize

2008   Freedom Award (refugees).

For more on these awards, see: http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest

The current U.N. secretary-general, António Guterres, called Annan “a guiding force for good. … In many ways, Kofi Annan was the United Nations. He rose through the ranks to lead the organization into the new millennium with matchless dignity and determination,” he said in a statement.

Kailash Satyarthi, the man who defends children

January 23, 2018

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” 
Nelson Mandela, Former President of South Africa

 

 conducted the interview (excerpts): 

P.K:   Namaste Kailash ji! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with India Currents. As a mother, as an Indian American, it is a matter of great pride to be able to do this interview with you today! Looks like you are back after a lot of travel?

K.S:   Yes. Once the Nobel Prize committee gives you a medal of peace, they take away your ‘peace’ for the rest of your life! (laughs) I am quite used to travel, having been involved in multiple causes, working across 140 countries. As the founder of two largest societal coalitions, Global Campaign for Education & Global Marketing against child labor, my life does involve a considerable amount travel.

……

P.K:   And now with the Nobel Peace Prize, you have a bigger voice, a further reach, a larger umbrella naturally. I looked up your biography online as research for this interview. Born in Madhya Pradesh as Kailash Sharma, subsequent change in last name to Satyarthi , the recipient of several awards etc etc… but I’d like to know about the ‘Man’ within these details.

K.S:   I don’t think of myself as a man – I still consider myself a child! (laughs) For me, childhood does not mean just the age factor. Childhood means so much more… transparency, thirst for learning, curiosity… all these are related to childhood. I feel strongly that there is a child inside each of us. But we keep suppressing him/her all the time and try to be more mature. And maturity brings artificiality, diplomacy, sometimes falsehood. A child does not care to do things only to make others happy. A child is very straight forward. This quality is something to be preserved. And it is my inspiration & learning.

P.K:   I’m looking at the list of awards you have received over the years, starting from 1993 – Elected Ashoka Fellow Award, the Robert. F. Kennedy Human Rights Award – to name a couple. Obviously the Nobel Peace Prize is a distinct honor. It is a matter of pride for India, for Indians abroad and for activists all over the world. Can you speak about how this award is helping to carry your voice?

K.S:   Yes, it has definitely helped me spread my message further. But I do not consider this award solely in my honor. The Nobel Peace Prize has been a major recognition for those most deprived, neglected and marginalized lot of humanity – the children who are enslaved & trafficked. I always say that I represent the ‘voice of silence’. They are my children who are hidden under the cloak of invisibility. So now that people have started to recognize my children – it is the greatest award for me!

…..

P.K:   What made you pick up the mantle as the person who speaks for children? Tell us something about the journey so far.

K.S:   When I started my work in 1981, there was never a question that I do anything other than what I chose to do for children s’ rights. It was a non-issue for me. The conventional wisdom was to collect money or help with charity. And it stopped there. I realized something more should be done. The denial of freedom and human dignity was so deeply rooted. It was non-negotiable. So this inspired me to give up my career. At that time no one was talking about child slavery and child trafficking. As a country, India did not have any laws to address these issues. Even on the international scene there was no legislation that provided me with a path to undertake. The U.N convention on the Rights of Children was adopted by the General assembly in 1989. So in 1981 I started fighting a lonely battle! I had the beginnings of a vision but had no idea about how to make it a reality. I faced total ignorance about these issues and when we brought in strong activism, ignorance turned into denial. People did not want to believe that this problem existed among them. We even faced opposition in the form of local mafia being set against us. So it was a long journey as you can imagine!

P.K:  How does your family, your wife Sumedha, your children – handle the dangers associated with your work? Obviously the values your have imparted have made a big effect on them.

K.S:  Sumedha was part of the whole movement right from the beginning. We did not have much money or materialistic wealth to give our children. There were dangers of course. When we finally got a telephone, it came with death threats made against me and my family! Slowly they gained courage and understood what my wife and I stood for. They helped with the children in the Ashram during their free time. That is how they grew up. My son Bhuvan is a lawyer and he handles most of the legal work for our cause. The cases he has handled have made a huge impact in the legal and judicial discourse in India.

…..

P.K:   Bharath Yatra was a massive social ‘wave’ which happened recently. Could we hear your thoughts on that movement?

K.S:   Bharath Yatra has been an unprecedented success! About a million people took to the streets to condemn and speak out against child sexual abuse. This has never happened before in India. They also demanded strong policy measures to be enforced. This was a turning point. Bharath Yatra’s preparation process began about a year ago before we launched it. The idea behind the Yatra was to take up the initiative and see how people’s response to something this large scale would be.

The most encouraging response came from the youth. Thousands of young girls and boys in schools and colleges across India marched with us. Some even came up to me to say “you are telling MY story”! Many appeared on the stage before hundreds of people and said they were breaking their silence to speak out about their own experiences. This was the most satisfying part of the Yatra for me personally. I consider this the beginning of my ‘war’ on rape.

……

The first incident was the rescue of a group of people which had children, men and women, in 1981. I had started a magazine titled Sangharsh Jaari Rahega – The Struggle Shall Go On – dedicated to educating the public about the problem of child slavery and the struggles of marginalized people. One day a man, Wasal Khan, knocked on my door in Delhi. He was a desperate father whose 15 year old daughter, Sabo, was about to be sold to a brothel. He told me how he, along with his wife and a few others from his village were ‘”taken to work with the promise of good salary and a good life,” to a place about 400 km. from his village in Punjab. The hours were long and the conditions were deplorable. So they ended up in slavery, no money, no freedom, working on brick kilns for close to 17 years. In these conditions, children were born, people lived and died. It was shocking that in the year, 1981, in the largest democracy in the world, people were being subjected to this sort of slavery!

I felt very strongly that I should not limit myself to simply writing about his case. I managed to raise a little money by mortgaging my wife’s wedding jewelry, gathered a group of people and went to the site. The poor man was caught by the owner of the kiln and I was thrown out of the compound along with my people.

I returned empty handed but not with an empty heart. With the help of a friend who was a lawyer we took the matter to the courts. And we managed to secure the release of all those men, women and children – including 15 year old Sabo. 36 people were freed that day! This was the first documented incident where children were freed from slavery through a private/voluntary initiative. And this gave me a clear path that I started charting. Within a few weeks after this incident, people started bringing other cases to my notice. And I never looked back.

The most recent one was only few months ago. This was the rescue of children locked inside bathrooms and held on roof tops in a factory in Delhi. The conditions were unimaginable. The children ranged in ages from 7 – 10 or 11 years. They were working – making toys. When I sat with them and asked about their working and living conditions, they claimed they were very happy, and I could see that they were simply repeating what they had been told to say. They were threatened that the police would come and arrest them if they said anything else.

When I asked the youngest child if he got a chance to play with the toys he helped make, he said no – he was not allowed to. If they made a mistake like that, they were beaten up. Apparently the last time he had played was in his village, with sticks and stones, which were his toys! He also said he missed playing with those stones! What was ironic was that in this day and age, when we claim to have made so many advancements in technology, these children were living in such deplorable conditions right in Delhi.

We conducted a second raid on the same day and also managed to free a bunch of children from a neighboring factory where they were sewing jeans. And they were brought to our ashram – Mukti Ashram – also in Delhi. The next morning we noticed these children were trying to shade their faces and eyes in the sunlight. That is when we discovered that for 3 years that they were kept inside a basement of the factory! They were forced to live, work, eat and sleep in that basement. And they had not seen daylight for 3 whole years! Imagine that!

……

P.K:   You also have the Bal Mitra Gram concept. Can you speak about that concept?

K.S:   Sure. It has been my dream to make the whole world child-friendly, which is easier said than done! Very often the village communities are where child marriages and trafficking etc take place. So the whole idea behind Bal Mitra Gram was to transform the community at the village level – to make them child-friendly.

The first condition is – all children are free from the fears of abuse and exploitation of any sort.

The second condition is – all children irrespective of gender, caste or community are enrolled in schools.

The third condition is – all village children have a chance to form a governing body – called Bal Panchayat. This helps shape them as responsible individuals and to solve their problems through positive governing methods. 

The fourth condition – that the Village Panchayat – the elected assembly of village elders – agrees to not just recognize the Bal Panchayat, but also work hand-in-hand with them, by inviting youth leaders to official Panchayat meetings and vice versa.

When these four important conditions are met, the whole village becomes child-friendly.

P.K:   That sounds idyllic! Have you implemented these four conditions? Are there villages that are truly child-friendly?

K.S:   We have about 560 villages where we have managed this to date! In many cases the youth leaders are the very children who have been freed from child labor. We have about 400 girls who have been elected as Heads of the Bal Panchayats! This is a matter of pride for us! It is my belief that if politicians, leaders, NGOs, corporate bodies, all come together and resolve to protect one generation, then there is no need to worry about the generations of the future.

P.K:   Now Kailashji, when you undertake the kind of work you have done, there is always equal parts reward and criticism that you will face. It has been said that your work is a case of altruism gone wrong, that the children are being freed against their will – because the money they are bringing in makes a huge difference to their families. That is is acceptable for the children to learn the trade the families engage in. How do you respond to things like this?

K.S:   There are micro and macro level issues –  At the micro level, we try to explain to the families of these children how their lives would change when their children can better themselves, with education, with vocational training. We also try to connect them with Government schemes that are already in place. We have volunteers and former child labor victims who take social messages to the villages through street theater staged using local dialects and languages to create awareness. So these are two ways in which we can sensitize the village population to see things differently.

We have a very strong argument that there is a direct relationship between adult unemployment and child labor. Globally 216 million children are engaged in economic activities. Out of this, there are about 152 million children engaged as full-time child laborers. If you draw a comparison with the existing number of youth/adult unemployed globally, the number is 210 million. It is a proven fact that 71% of children are working in the agricultural sector globally. And there is a direct correlation to the number of jobless, unemployed adults! This vicious circle must be broken.

In today’s digital economy, we cannot think of social justice, equality, growth or ways to get rid of poverty in personal or social life without an education. These 216 million children are being denied their chance at escape, by denying them education. So I have been advocating a triangular paradigm to show that – child labor, poverty and illiteracy – form a three way relationship. This is a cause and consequence relationship.

The criticism is part of my work. But the numbers speak for themselves.

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https://indiacurrents.com/kailash-satyarthi-representing-the-sound-of-silence/