Freedom from Fear and Want

Dear friends of Social Watch,
The Social Watch Report 2008 was launched in the European Parliament in Brussels last January 7. The meeting, which focused on human rights as the key to find a way out of the present global financial and economic crisis, was attended by members of the European Parliament, officers of the European Commission and journalists. The meeting was convened by the Vice-President of the European Parliament, Luisa Morgantini, yet she could only salute briefly the participants and had to leave to attend an urgent meeting on the situation in the Gaza Strip. “I hope you understand,” she said in her greeting. And everybody nodded.

I argued in Brussels that human rights should be the basis for a socially responsible “stimulus package” that rescues the poor and not just the bankers. And they should also be the pillars around which peace is to be achieved in the Middle East. Nowhere in the Charter of the United Nations or in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an exception to be found that excludes the Palestinians in Gaza from enjoying all human rights and the “freedom from fear and want” that those documents ensure for us all.

On January 8, in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, journalist Lasantha Wickramathunga was shot dead in the street by unknown assailants. In an editorial he had just published in the Sunday Leader, he had criticized his government for attempting a military solution to the conflict that divides the country, instead of seeking a political settlement: “To (try to solve the conflict) by violating the rights of Tamil citizens, bombing and shooting them mercilessly, is not only wrong but shames the Sinhalese (…) What is more, a military occupation will require the Tamil people of those regions to live eternally as second-class citizens, deprived of all self respect. Do not imagine that you can placate them by showering "development" and "reconstruction" on them in the post-war era. The wounds of war will scar them forever, and you will also have an even more bitter and hateful Diaspora to contend with. A problem amenable to a political solution will thus become a festering wound that will yield strife for all eternity. If I seem angry and frustrated, it is only because most of my countrymen - and all of the government - cannot see this writing so plainly on the wall.”

Wickramathunga 's last words are as valid for Gaza as they are for Sri Lanka.

In these days a new President is taking office in the White House that has clearly said that torture is not admissible in any case and has promised to stop that practice by the forces of which he is now Commander in Chief. War crimes are also not admissible, whatever the circumstances or the excuses, and the bombing of civilian populations, schools, hospitals, places of worship and UN facilities are war crimes in any book. If the writing in the wall is still hard to read, we should reaffirm our commitment and write in even bigger letters what the cover of the last Social Watch report clearly says: “Rights is the Answer”.

Roberto Bissio
Coordinator of the Social Watch secretariat