The 1st meeting of the Council for Human Rights & Relief
(online via Zoom)
2:00 PM London time on Thursday the 29th of September 2022
Theme: To change is to love and serve
Chair: Professor Furio Honsell, Secretary-General, GCPR
Global Council for Political Renewal (GCPR)
Thank you, Hon. Chair, Prof. Furio Honsell. Thank you everyone.
In just a few months, a diverse range of political leaders from nearly 60 countries have joined the GCPR. I appreciate the harmony you have maintained and the cooperation and commitment most of you have demonstrated. I believe we will achieve a significant milestone by the time we gather for the annual meeting in London next year. This should provide us with a strong foundation for the pursuance of our next goal. Please stay together and continue the journey.
All people are created equal in a perfectly imperfect world. Everything is not black or white. There are some grey areas and ambiguities. These provide us with challenges of this life.
Historically, there have been conflicts of ideas, rights and material interests, leading to the violation of rights in repeated conflicts and wars in cycles, primarily because of the choices of individuals. Often, we fail to reject our negative impulses and embrace those who appeal to our worse. But mankind has also shown that we can choose a better path, a better history.
So, let’s remind each other to be more tolerant, emphatic and compassionate towards each other. Let’s define ourselves by the belief in equality, justice and fairness. Let’s strive to love and serve a little bit more to change ourselves and the world.
Thank you. God bless you all!
The Beloved Community and our Common Agenda
Professor Bonny Ibhawoh
McMaster University, Canada
As a professor of international human rights and United Nations Independent Expert on the Right to Development, I approach the topic of love and service from both the perspective of an academic and a policymaker. I will focus my remarks on two ideas that, I think, capture the essence of the theme that I have been asked to speak about today – love and service.
The two ideas that I wish to draw on are the notions of the “Beloved Community” and “Our Common Agenda.” The idea of the beloved community was popularized by the African American Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King. “Our Common Agenda” is the title of a landmark report by the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres. It is a mindset that recognizes that as a global community, we all have a vested interest in our common humanity and well-being. We are all in this together.
Over the ages, this notion of collective humanity and the common good has been expressed in various ways. The civil rights leader Martin Luther King described this in terms of the beloved community. The notion of the beloved community is founded on an ancient principle, the golden rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This ethic of reciprocity can be found in the most cultural traditions of the world and the tenets of most religions.
Luther King saw the principle of reciprocity centred on love and nonviolence and service as a way to achieve the ideal of the beloved community he envisioned. This same sense of collective humanity is expressed in the African philosophy of Ubuntu which was the galvanizing principle of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Ubuntu exemplifies the African philosophy of a shared collective humanity.
One of the leading proponents of the ubuntu as a humanist political and social philosophy was Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who chaired the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). This is how Tutu described the concept of ubuntu in his book No Truth without Forgiveness: Ubuntu means that my humanity is bound up in your humanity; if I humanize you, I humanize myself. In the same way, if I dehumanize you, I dehumanize myself.
This reciprocal humanity principle differs fundamentally from the humanist principles of Western enlightenment positivist philosophy of possessive individualism. It is not a humanist philosophy contingent on Rene Descartes’s notion of autonomous individualism that states: “I think; therefore I am.” Instead, the ubuntu mindset centres on a core collectivist position that states: “I am because we are, and because we are, I am.”
It is not just our rationality that makes us human. My ability to think or my capacity for individualist independent thought is an integral part of my being, but it is not the entire essence of my humanity. Instead, the collective humanity and well-being of those around me affirm my own humanity.
Recent events relating to COVID-19 illustrate the need for a mindset of empathy, and collective humanity requires us to create what Dr. Martin Luther King described as the beloved community. During the pandemic, we realized that viruses do not respect borders and that a global pandemic requires a collective and concerted global response.
The notion of “Our Common Agenda” conveys a similar sentiment of collective humanity. Our Common Agenda is premised on the fact that the world has common challenges that can only be addressed by an equally interconnected response through reinvigorated multilateralism and international partnership.
We know these areas of action can only be addressed through communities working in partnership that include both state and non-state actors, private enterprises, and civil society organizations. These common global challenges include addressing the climate crisis and protecting our planet, promoting global peace and security, preventing conflicts, promoting international law and justice, improving digital cooperation, ensuring sustainable financing for development and youth engagement, and gender equality.
The critical questions for us as a global community are: How do we bridge the growing Inequality within and between states? How do we address the economic and social disruptions that have come in the wake Covid 19 Pandemic? How do we address the climate crisis and prevent looming ecological disasters?
The vision of Our Common Agenda was outlined in the UN Secretary-General António Guterres’s landmark Report in 2021 to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the UN. The document envisions holistic answers to these questions. At the core of these answers is a road map to a sustainable future for people, the planet, prosperity, and peace, united by partnership, international cooperation, and solidarity.
At a time when multilateralism is under assault, and parochial and exclusionary nationalism pervades the international order, Our Common Agenda represents a vision of the future of global cooperation and reinvigorating inclusive, networked, and effective multilateralism.
But the Common Agenda is not just a vision – it is also an agenda of action designed to accelerate the implementation of existing agreements, including the Sustainable Development Goals. As the Secretary General’s Report states, "now is the time to re-embrace global solidarity and find new ways to work together for the common good.” Our Common Agenda emphasizes the need to build a more networked, inclusive, and effective multilateral system founded on human rights principles and inclusive participation in development.
If our goal is to love and serve, we can do so by fostering the beloved community as Martin Luther king enjoined us. We can also promote our Common Agenda as UN secretary General Antonio Guterres advocates. These two concepts provide a framework for creating a more just, inclusive, and sustainable world where all humanity can thrive.
Professor (of Practice) Joseph Margulies
Cornell University, USA
Good morning, afternoon, or evening to everyone. My name is Joe Margulies, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to chat with you. I have been a civil rights lawyer for decades, and I have been asked to give a practitioner’s perspective.
I am often asked what unites the disparate strands of my work. I thought about that question when Nurul asked me to give these remarks today. I will tell you that my challenge as a practitioner has always been to communicate the humanity of my clients.
I represent those who have been thoroughly vilified and demonized. The great disappointment of my professional career is my inability to penetrate that conception, my inability to overcome that perception and to communicate to those who may be inclined to listen that my client in Guantanamo, my client on death row, my client in Iraq, my clients all over the world are, in all the ways that matter, no different from you and me. Long ago, I distilled my personal philosophy into eight words, and I bring it to everything I do. There is no them, there is only us. I believe that.
When I was asked to share a few remarks with you, I thought, “How can I share anything meaningful in eight or nine minutes that you have not already thought of?” The impulse to divide—that is, the determination to see the world through us and them and to conceive those with whom you disagree as fundamentally other, with whom you can have no shared interest or shared conversation, with whom you cannot deliberate on shared ground towards achieving consensus and a solution to pressing problems—is the most serious challenge we face today globally.
So, I asked myself how I can distill this difficulty into a simple message that is nonetheless actionable. And I came up with this single piece of advice: I would encourage you to stop being surprised. Let me share what I mean by that. Because we are so deeply divided, we have convinced ourselves that those who occupy a position foreign to us cannot share common ground. I see this in reaction to my clients. People feel that someone who is on death row cannot possibly be a person of sensitivity, intelligence, dignity and deserving of respect.
When someone in Guantanamo, for example, writes something beautiful or creates something lovely, people are surprised because they cannot conceive of that person as fundamentally the same as them. If we are honest with ourselves, we do that too. We marvel at the wisdom or decency or beauty expressed by those with whom we disagree so profoundly. In a divided world, when someone on the right or someone on the left expresses a sentiment very much in line with yours, there is a sense of astonishment because we expect that person to be deeply different from us, even on the level of the most basic human impulses. That is the challenge.
I implore you to no longer be surprised. Do not expect that the person with whom you disagree politically is someone with whom you cannot find a common ground, who does not share the same fundamental concerns about our future – a future made precarious and uncertain as a result of climate change, as a result of global migration, as a result of gross inequality in income and opportunity, as a result of the rise of totalitarianism.
These are things upon which we can find a common agreement if we accept those who are on the opposite side of the table are not the other. They are not foreign to us. They are not foreign to our ideals. Do not be surprised at the commonality that unites us, for it is much stronger and much wider than the conditions that divide us. When you are surprised or expect to be surprised you do not search for a common ground. You simply take it as given that the person can never be you.
I leave you with one thought from a practitioner’s perspective: Do not expect that the person with whom you disagree cannot be your ally. Do not expect always to be surprised.
Thank you very much.
Bridget Masango MP
National Assembly, South Africa
President, Global Council, GCPR
Prof. Honsell, Secretary General of GCPR, chairpersons and members of the Council, I greet you this afternoon. Thank you for the opportunity to reflect on today’s theme for our meeting – to change is to love and serve.
The theme places before us a mirror to see our collective image in it, and consider whether or not we love what the mirror is showing us.
Two choices are stark: either we smash the mirror to pretend that what it shows does not exist or we reconsider our ways of relating, as human beings, to mend our ways and be human again.
The challenge that these choices present is the raising of a greater and fundamental question: Can rights be truly respected, honoured or observed in the absence of true humanity?
The compelling case, I suspect, this moment calls on us to confront conditions in which humanity is denied true manifestation in order to make sense of rights that are due to us all in our everyday lives, be in wakefulness or in sleep. Advancing that case not only in words but deeds is no less than obligation to change as a definition of true love. If to change is to love, resistance to change brings with it the unpleasant hallmarks of hate.
Human Rights history has a profound coincidence for South Africa. Upon declaration of the first universal human rights being signed in 1948, in May of the same year, South Africa held general elections that would formalize the apartheid system and plunge the country into a legalized human rights crisis.
While beneficiaries of this legalised violation consented, it took conscientious objectors, individuals and organizations in South Africa, spreading to the continent of Africa and abroad, to push back.
Morally driven individuals felt a need to bring about change. Something tugged their heartstrings for South Africa’s distressed majority population. This act of individual love amplified in civil society organisations, governments and the international community would set in motion solidarity actions united in deeds to bring about change – the ultimate expression of love for humanity.
In this determined walk to freedom, the struggling majority experienced a meeting point between words and deeds in solidarity with the freedom loving nations of the world.
I thought I would also briefly reflect on what these acts of compassion and desire to ensure human rights were not only on paper but also a reality for those who were on the receiving end of what would be many decades of subjugation. South Africa’s history of apartheid is well documented but I thought I would provide a fitting reflection for our subject today.
Over generations, violations of human rights have taken many forms, worst of which have been torture, imprisonment without trial, murder and displacement of entire communities to strange settlements for narrow, inexplicable and inhumane reasons.
One person’s refusal to watch another’s human rights being violated and feeling a need to galvanise support to provide relief, cemented belief that there was still a place called hope for the struggling majority. That, to me, is a gift deserving pride of place in history.
As I believe we have an inherent urge to be each other’s brother’s and sister’s keeper, it deepens my belief that any incidents of ruthless crimes against our fellow human beings witnessed, will not go unchallenged.
Over centuries, men and women have spoken up for the voiceless, risking their life and limb for others, mostly strangers that they had not even met. This speaks to some internal restlessness that cannot watch atrocities being visited on the mostly vulnerable, poor, hungry and economically excluded.
Huge credit has to go to the pioneers of human rights organisations for their hindsight, insight, foresight and a deep sense of hope that nations around the world could be galvanized around a subject as profound and as lifesaving as the development of universal human rights declaration and creating mechanism to monitor the implementation of human rights to protect those who would otherwise fall prey to the violators of human rights.
Greater credit should go to that voice from within us all, that for some, would mean sleepless nights and restless days, but find expression in the power of love to do all possible, in our various capacities, to help our world to be human again.
I believe that it took individuals not resting as they watched basic human rights being violated – to say to themselves “something has to be done”!
The desire to change what is wrong is not less than the love for our common humanity. To this end, there is more that unites us than that which divides us.
Having been born and lived here in South Africa all my life, I can attest to the strength brought to bear by all believers in our common humanity.
The undermining of our common humanity has not been without drastic attempts to divide people of South Africa along as many diverse aspects as race, colour, religion, tribe, economic standing, social standing, political affiliation – and the list goes on.
We are all human and that is what unites us and is strong a chain of love binding us together to conquer, as one, any attack as was clearly demonstrated in 1994.
Are there no human rights violations in South Africa now? Is there no attempt to divide us for narrow political gains or power grabbing – Yes. But individuals have taken a stand and joined together to say we will never allow opportunistic attempts to divide this country again, and many of us ensure that we listen to that internal voice that asks, what will you do to bring about change to demonstrate your love for your fellow human being? That for me is the driving force for my participation in the public spaces I have had an opportunity to participate in.
I would like to join Professor Honsell and my fellow speakers in thanking Dr Mozumder for this profound vision and for his extraordinary efforts in organizing these meetings of the Council.
May God bless you all.