Thursday, February 28, 2013

Remember the Days...

Published in the Fiji Times's "OFF THE WALL WITH PADRE JAMES"  on Wednesday 5th December, 2012

I don’t think that you have to be very old to use the phrase, “remember back when...” or as my generation like to say (in an attempt to reclaim some “hipness”) “remember back in the day...” Often, if we begin sentences with such phrases, we are going to recall the past with some fondness, some nostalgia as we remember a personal triumph, a life lesson learnt, a shared humorous event, a long lost fashion or product that is either no longer available or no longer affordable. We are eleven days into the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, that began on November 25th, with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and will end on December 10th, which is International Human Rights Day in between. We will be made aware of a number of significant days that will be raised by the campaigners for the Elimination of Gender Violence, such as International Women's Human Rights Defenders Day which was on the 29th of last month and tomorrow’s (December 6th) anniversary of the Montreal Massacre in which a gunman killed 14 female students and injured another 10 women and 4 men in what he claimed was an attack on feminists. World AIDS Day was commemorated on December 1st, while the 3rd of December was International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Today (December 5th) is International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development. These days are not only commemorated by various United Nations agencies in Fiji but also by interest groups concerned with these issues. Two important days, also in the United Nations calendar may have slipped by unnoticed in the past week. Last Thursday (29th November) was the day on which The 193-nation U.N. General Assembly on Thursday overwhelmingly approved the de facto recognition of a sovereign Palestinian state after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on the world body to issue its long overdue "birth certificate”. The vote meant the Palestinian Authority's observer status at the United Nations was upgraded from “entity” to "non-member state". What is interesting about this date is that 65 years earlier, on the same day 1947, the United Nations Assembly adopted the resolution on the partition of Palestine and since 1977 the UN has observed 29th November as the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. he Palestinian people, who now number more than eight million, live primarily in the Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967, including East Jerusalem; in Israel; in neighbouring Arab States; and in refugee camps in the region. The International Day of Solidarity has traditionally provided an opportunity for the international community to focus its attention on the fact that the question of Palestine remained unresolved and that the Palestinian people are yet to attain their inalienable rights as defined by the General Assembly, namely, the right to self-determination without external interference, the right to national independence and sovereignty, and the right to return to their homes and property from which they had been displaced. Last Thursday’s UN vote is significant because becoming a Non-member observer state at UN General Assembly means Palestine is now free to submit a petition to join as a full member at their discretion. To Palestinians, this vote constitutes an important endorsement of the legitimacy of their claim to statehood, in addition to potentially strengthening their leverage in talks with Israel. In terms of applicable advantages, it will contribute to Palestinian admission to the International Criminal Court where Palestine will be able to ask the body to investigate acts committed by Israel as potential war crimes. As previously in April this year, the ICC blocked a request to investigate the 2008-2009 Gaza war on its discretion giving the reason that it’s up to other bodies to determine whether the Palestinians is a state. Now as it beholds status of non-member observer state, ICC can look up to Palestinians investigation reports. On Sunday December 2nd many Christians observed the first Sunday in the Advent Season, which marks the beginning of the annual Christian calendar with a four week preparation or anticipation of the commemoration of the birth of Jesus. Interestingly, December 2nd was also the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. It marks the UN General Assembly’s adoption of the United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others in 1949. The focus of this day is on eradicating contemporary forms of slavery, such as trafficking in persons, sexual exploitation, the worst forms of child labour, forced marriage, and the forced recruitment of children for use in armed conflict. Today, 21 million women, men and children are trapped in slavery all over the world. Fiji has had its own historical connection with slavery. Ratu Seru Cakobau captured the people of Lovoni and sold them into slavery in 1871 (F/T 4/8/12). Earlier, in the 1860s slaves were “blackbirded” from Solomon Islands and New Hebrides (Vanuatu) and brought to work on cotton plantations, descendants of whom still struggle for recognition today. Even the Girmit, or Indenture System that brought labourers from India on a token salary and under cruel and inhumane conditions can be considered in this light. And yet there are legacies of the fight against slavery. John Wesley and the early Methodist movement in England along with the Society of Friends (Quakers) actively campaigned against the African slave trade in the late 18th Century. Mahatma Gandhi sent the Rev. C.F. Andrews to Fiji to investigate and raise the profile of the oppression under the Indenture system. The memory of the Scottish missionary C. F. Andrews 
is kept alive by one of the schools that still bears the name “Deenbhandu”, the title given to Andrews which means “friend of the humble” and by which he is still remembered in India, where he is honoured as a freedom fighter. By reflecting on the significance of these and other such days, we not only recall the issues behind commemorative days, we remember the many people whose lives have been affected by these issues, often in terrible ways. We also remember those who have stood in solidarity with these oppressed people, who have spoken and acted on their behalf. These days challenge us to think of others, even when we feel that no one thinks of us. These days are not just days created by an institution, they are a way for us to retain a collective memory and history as humankind in order to ensure that we keep dreaming, praying, marching and working for a better community, a better country and a better world to live in. “Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity” ENDS

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