By Jamshed Baruah
GENEVA (IDN) – The Social Forum of the UN Human Rights Council serves since 2008 as a unique space for open and interactive dialogue between civil society actors, representatives of Member States, and intergovernmental organizations, on a theme chosen by the Council each year. The 2018 Social Forum, with Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative Ambassador A.L.A. Azeez as the Chairperson-Rapporteur, distinguished itself in more than one way.
It focussed on “the possibilities of using sport and the Olympic ideal to promote human rights for all and to strengthen universal respect for them”. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet emphasized at the opening the importance of sports as a tool for social and human empowerment.
The theme was accentuated by the screening of a documentary produced by Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation on how sports and sports-persons help create an impact on society in the journey to peace and reconciliation.
The three-day Forum concluded on October 3 with a musical rendition by the UN Music Team titled a World Premiere ‘Racing for Peace’ – written by Ambassador Azeez – symbolising Sri Lankans’ desire and commitment for lasting peace and advancement of human rights. Coinciding with the event, a Sri Lanka Gastronomy Day was organised at UN Cafeteria on October 3.
As Ambassador Azeez pointed out, the theme of 2018 Social Forum is of significance to the State and people of Sri Lanka. “Sport, in Sri Lanka, is an important part of the country’s culture. Sri Lankans generally have a passion for sport, whether it is for our national sports, or for the immensely popular sports such as cricket.”
Sri Lankans, Ambassador Azeez said, were particularly proud when the Sri Lankan Cricket Team won the World Twenty20 in 2014. “We are also proud that Sri Lanka’s National Team won the Asian Championship in Netball this year. Behind our celebration of victory remains the strength of diversity reflected in our teams, which has brought glory to the country.”
The Social Forum can play a valuable and dynamic role for change by engaging a broad range of stakeholders in open discussion, he added. This includes Permanent Missions of States, other governmental representatives, athletes, sports governing bodies, trade unions, NGOs, academics, and indigenous groups, among others. Participants come from various corners of the world, from Colombia to Mongolia, from Finland to South Africa, from Kenya to Canada, from the Philippines to Brazil.
Ambassador Azeez as the Chairperson-Rapporteur stated that at a time when every recognized norm and value on which the United Nations, international order, and multilateralism stand, was being put to test in today’s globalized and yet volatile world, the importance of Social Forum, stands enhanced as a bridge-builder and as an enabler of an exchange of diverse perspectives aimed to strengthen and elaborate such norms and values.
With that in view, over the three days, participants addressed the key components of the overall theme. Following an overview of how sport and the Olympic ideal can promote human rights, they considered sports, human solidarity and universal values for all humanity. They also discussed gender equality in sport, and had an exchange of perspectives on inclusivity and non-discrimination.
The right to work was discussed, as was the role of sports in relation to sustainable cities and the right to an adequate standard of living. Presentations, interactive dialogues and side events added colour to the whole programme of the Forum.
Yet another theme of discussion was collective action for sharing the benefits of sports. The deliberations further addressed sports for sustainable development and sustained peace, and sport in relation to youth, children and future generations. ‘The way forward’ was discussed in terms of social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.
And, this against the backdrop that sports, like diplomacy, has the potential to bring together all actors or participants, beyond the immediate theatre of competition. They both encourage camaraderie and solidarity to achieve shared objectives. The ‘win-win’ in sport, as in diplomacy, is to remain engaged, to build and maintain momentum, and to reach the finish line of pursuit, noted Ambassador Azeez.
The UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in their essence, represent the common aspirations of humanity – aspirations to a life of dignity, equality and freedom, and aspirations to a world of peace and prosperity, he added. These call upon all disciplines, including sport and diplomacy, “to work together towards effectively and meaningfully realising these aspirations.”
Persons or groups professing hate or extremism not only make “the other” their target, but also the very institutions that help build peace, reconciliation and progress. This extends to ridiculing diplomacy or attempting to debase the role of diplomats and diplomatic institutions, and often sport and sportspersons.
An effective response to such hatred and extremism consists in sport and diplomacy working together, with other disciplines, to educate and advance human rights, mutual understanding and tolerance, declared Ambassador Azeez. [IDN-InDepthNews – 05 October 2018]
Photo (front l to r): High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative Ambassador A.L.A. Azeez serving as Chairperson-Rapporteur, Human Rights Council President Vojislav Šuc, Permanent Representative of Slovenia. Credit: Sri Lanka Permanent Mission to UN in Geneva.
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.
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