Irene Khan addresses NGO gathering in Dhaka
By Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International
Seminar on “Campaign for human Dignity”
Saturday, 5 January 2007
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Thank all participants for giving valuable time. I know some of you have come from a distance.
Amnesty International (AI) is keen to hear from all participants. This is a listening session since you are the ones on the front line of the struggle for equality and dignity today, your experience will enrich the work AI can do.
In my introductory remarks, I will explain AI’s journey towards human rights and dignity for all.
Firstly, about AI itself. Many of you familiar with the name of AI. We are a membership based organization. We have 2.2 million members around the world and many more who support us, campaign for us and finance us – AI does not receive any money from any government for our activities.
We believe human rights abuses anywhere are the concern of people everywhere. This is why we believe in international solidarity – this is why director of AI Denmark is here. Many others concerned about situation in Bangladesh, just as I hope in Bangladesh you are concerned about the human rights situation elsewhere.
AI believes ordinary people can do extraordinary things. It is because of this that we see civil society playing a very important role.
AI started as an organization that was created to free Prisoners of Conscience, but this has evolved.
Now we are running a major campaign, launched in 2003 to Stop Violence Against Women – 1 in 3 women victims of serious sexual violence.
Issue of equality and dignity for all has become a fundamental part of AI’s work. As we developed our work on women’s rights we became involved in other human rights. Human rights mean all rights: civil and political and economic, social and cultural.
We are also working on evictions, maternal mortality, people being forced of their land because of big business projects, for example in Nandigram, India. Meanwhile we continue to work on traditional areas: right now AI has a delegation in Pakistan looking into issues of rule of law and independence of judges and lawyers.
In Bangladesh, AI has a long history of work. We have done work on human rights defenders, journalists, press freedom, torture and ill-treatment by police, RAB and others. These are issues for which AI is well known. We have also done work on Chittagong Hill Tracks.
The mission I am leading is an important one at this point of the history of Bangladesh. We will push for reform that will have a lasting reform for human rights. As AI’s Secretary General and a Bangladeshi, I feel there is a window of opportunity that can turn the trend this country has suffered from. In this country there has been a culture of impunity. The term impunity means that there is no accountability for human rights violations committed by the state. This culture of impunity goes back to 1971, we feel it is an institutional problem. There need to be a strong independent judiciary, police reform, action to address torture and ill-treatment, RAB and the military need to be held accountable for human rights violations, an effective National Human Rights Commission, freedom of information legislation so that people know what is happening and can take informed decisions. We believe there should be freedom of the media and protection for human rights defenders and social activists. These are some of the areas we will be discussing.
This morning, our prime objective is to look at social and economic issues that underlie these problems. Everyday people face issues of gender violence, of land, ordinary people face violence at the hands of the authorities, they face problems in trying to organize themselves, the right to work freely.
AI is organizing and hoping to launch a campaign for human dignity next year.
We want to hear your experience of how you see socio-economic problems being tackled in Bangladesh. What has been the impact of recent political changes? How do you see the role of foreign donors, are they helpful or not so? What lessons have you learned from your work that you feel the world can learn from the experience of Bangladesh? What can AI offer you?
Finally in terms of cooperation and collaboration how do you think we can interact with you?
With regards to our campaign on human dignity, it will focus on:
- Accountability of governments, big businesses and others – how do we hold them to account.
- Access – of the poor to justice, services, rights. Discrimination will be important issue to address.
- Participation – how do you engage people.