Kusal Perera's Message Marking 75th Anniversary of International Human Rights Day

Dec 01, 2023
By Kusal Perera

This year the International Human Rights Day comes amidst a human carnage being carried out in Palestinian lands occupied by the Israeli forces, endorsed, and supported by Western powers, who are also decision makers in global politics. They want the world to accept Israel’s unconditional right to defend itself against Hamas organisation despite civilians including children being carpet bombed in thousands. For such carnage they opted against any resolution for a ceasefire in Gaza.

As a campaigner for HR and democracy in the only nation State in South Asia that had gone through an unwanted protracted 25 year long war New Delhi is also directly responsible for training and funding armed Tamil youth groups including the LTTE, I remain very much concerned in how the Modi government responds to genocidal onslaughts of Israel against Palestinian people. How the mainstream Indian media that was not so concerned about the North-East Indian rampages a few months ago, now have embedded journalists with the Israeli armed forces, giving large cover to Israeli mass murders as “war against Islamist terrorists”.  I remain concerned in how mass murder including children in Gaza by Israeli forces is interpreted as war against Islamist terrorism and linked to havoc created in Mumbai in 2008 called the 26/11 terror attack. 

From Colombo I watch with critical concern the position adopted by the Modi government in abstaining on the UN Resolution for an Israeli ceasefire on Gaza that in effect is an “aye” by India for continued massacre of children and Palestinian civilians. Concerned too the media is on an anti “Islam terrorism” campaign that could strengthen violent Hindutva presence. Majoritarian racism do have spillovers across geographical boundaries in this region. 

New Delhi justifying this Israeli massacre is also about Modi government’s new alliance with Israel on military hardware trade. Corrupt as they are, governments use the newly conceptualised theme on “National Security” for weapons and ammunition trade and governments in South Asia are no different. Post 9/11, with President Bush promoting war against “global terrorism” focused on armed Islamist terror groups, the concept of “national security” is being promoted with all governments continuously strengthening their military strength.  

National security has no clear definition and is not about “People”. During the past two decades, it has been about exploiting hi-tech for intelligence gathering and modernising security forces. In short “national security” is about curbing democracy. About restricting Fundamental Rights. About strengthening the State as a modern oppressive agency with military presence and with heavy cost on tax payers. It is accepted with much certainty, security and military intelligence agencies in neighbouring countries exchange information, even without governments’ knowledge and consent. That says how militarisation of society takes place with regional collaborations to strengthen security forces and create space for “Deep State” encroachment on the political establishment.

Militarisation of societies with “national security” venerated and projected as a major national necessity is yet not given serious attention even within civil society campaigns for human rights and democracy. Thus, there is no questioning as to why military budgets keep increasing when democratising of the State and social life could reduce conflicts within and across borders. There is no questioning, why the Indian defence budget has ballooned from USD 5.4 billion in 1980 to USD 10.4 in 1990 and USD 72.9 billion in 2020. No questioning why the Pakistani defence expenses despite its “mili-bus economy” with sketchy accounts was still raised by 15.5 percent for the year 2023-24 over the previous year. In Sri Lanka, defence expenses totalling USD 280 million that took care of the war in 2009 has been increased to USD 1.5 billion in 2023 with no conflicts, no insurgency and with no external threats in sight.  

This is so in all SAARC member countries, and this should be publicly questioned. Questioning of defence budgets, I believe should be within a People’s Campaign for regional democracy that would lay down conditions to divert a decent percentage of defence budgets for environmental safety. Demand that money should be channelled into a SAARC Fund for Carbon (CO2) Control in the region. Environment served lavishly with rhetoric, while devastations and pollution continues unabated is a major issue that needs pragmatic and urgent answers, while  regional democracy in its functional form would prove national security irrelevant and militarisation unnecessary in answering social unrest, armed or not. It is regional democracy that would prove national security and militarisation is directly linked to global arms and weapons trade controlled and dominated by permanent members of the UN Security Council.  

This International Human Rights Day for South Asia should therefore be about de-militarising of society and opposing arms and weapons trade in this region for democracy and environmental safety.