Human rights issues may be despised terms to some prejudiced sections of the society or even to some despicable sovereign states of the world, but human rights epitomises what is good in human conscience, what constitutes inalienable rights of human beings and above all it highlights the sheer value of humanity. Without human rights, human beings would be no better than two-legged human animals, particularly in the modern society where money speaks louder than anything else and might is proclaimed to be the absolute right!
At the end of Second World War (WWII) in response to the unimaginable atrocities perpetrated by the combatants during the war, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the Human Rights Commission (under the chair of the American former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt) was framed and it was adopted at the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. Although it was a non-binding resolution, it acquired over a period of time the force of international customary law which was subsequently adopted in international treaties, national constitution and laws of the Member States (MS). Any Member States (MS) which fails to comply with the spirit, if not the letters, of this UDHR could be regarded as a renegade State, a degenerate and primitive State.
What are the main points of UDHR which makes it so significant in the modern world? In the Preamble of the UDHR declaration in 1948, it states that ‘in recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family’, this declaration is adopted. It consists of 30 Articles dealing with various aspects of human rights. In essence it declares the rights to education, health, nationality, life, liberty and security of a person under the jurisdiction of a sovereign state. But the most important element is the requirement that the dignity of the human being is to be observed. 48 states signed the convention in 1948, no state opposed it and seven states including Saudi Arabia abstained. The reason Saudi Arabia forwarded for abstention was that it does not agree with Article 18 dealing with ‘the right of an individual to change his or her religion or belief’ and with Article 16 dealing with ‘equal rights to men and women in the marriage’ on grounds of religion. The Saudi version of Islam, Wahhabism, opposes such basic human rights!
The Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) overseeing and formalising Islamic response to international human rights had adopted ambiguous and dubious stand until 1990 when it adopted the Cairo Declaration. In that declaration it was stated that human rights in Islam would be adopted as much as they were compatible with the Sharia Law. However, in June 2008, the OIC conducted a formal revision of the OIC charter. The revised OIC charter chose to support Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and International Law. So, Saudi Arabia and other fundamentalist Muslim States are now committed to abide by the UDHR provisions, superseding their religious Sharia Laws.
Despite this welcome change, the whole of oil-rich Middle Eastern Muslim States had been violating the UDHR at the behest of Saudi Arabia and carrying on with their age-old tradition of exploitation of workers, barbarism and inhumanity. Saudi migrant workers coming from poor third world countries are routinely subjected to verbal abuse and physical torture. The following video clip will show how a Bangladeshi worker had been subjected to inhuman physical torture by a barbaric Saudi man.
This type of torture is not unique to Bangladeshi workers only. It had been going on for decades in a number of Middle Eastern countries and citizens of a number of countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Philippine, Thailand, Nepal and so forth had been subjected to barbarity. It is not that the governments supplying the manpower are not aware. They are very much aware, but they turn a blind eye. The reasons are manifold, but two most important ones are that the administrative officials recruiting and supplying workers benefit financially from hand-outs and the government as a whole gets foreign currencies from their remittances. These foreign currencies are rich pickings for the corrupt government officials. What happens to individual workers, how badly they are treated and/or tortured etc. are hardly the concern of those corrupt government officials. In fact, if there are opportunities to supply new workers when the present crop of workers disappears, these officials would feel delighted as there would be fresh opportunities for receiving handouts! This is the criminal underworld of official activities in third world countries.
A recent report in The Guardian newspaper in Britain alleged that a large number of Nepalese workers brought in to work in the construction of 2022 World Cup (football) infrastructure in Qatar had been getting much reduced wages than promised at the time of recruitment and their ID permits had been withheld. Without ID cards they are rendered illegal immigrants and they could be arrested, tortured and deported summarily. The wages they get are far below the minimum wage that can be set for the country. A video report accompanying The Guardian’s article showed men living in labour camps with unsanitary and dilapidated conditions. These workers are the modern day slaves, as defined by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The Qatar government representative expressed surprise at the allegation and promised to look into the matter. This sort of exploitation had been going on not for just one year but for decades and the government representative feigning surprise is nothing but a smack of utter hypocrisy.
This sort of exploitation and abuse is not limited to Qatar only. In Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE and, in fact, in the whole of Middle East these things had been going on for decades. The workers who go there to do manual work are called ‘miskins’, meaning beggars. These Middle Eastern people come to poorer countries with an aura of honesty and religiosity to recruit people and then use them as slaves. The world should wake up and expose their criminality and flagrant violation of human rights which all of their countries have signed up to.
The above mentioned video clip had gone viral over the last few days. The CNN television channel in America had produced a programme on this issue. This inhuman barbarity and modern day slavery had not only shocked the Western World but also many moderate Middle Eastern people. Because of the worldwide outrage, the Saudi Government stated that it is going to look into the matter. But given their past records and viscera antipathy, nobody should hold breath that remedial actions will be taken any time soon.
The poorer countries must also take fair share of the blame – blame of inaction and blame of tacit complicity. The corrupt government officials overlook such abusive practices because any remedial action may disrupt the flow of workers to those countries and thereby reduce their individual and collective benefits. The pain and suffering of workers are of no relevance to these officials! At the same time these government officials help spread Islamic messages within the country, set up madrassas, mosques, Islamic centres, etc. The illiterate, innocent people are given a high dose of religious teaching, mostly concocted, and lessons to be respectful to Arabs and Arabic customs. In the name of religion, they were told to make sure that women wear hijab and abaya, confine women within the surrounds of the house, no education for women beyond class V, no western education to men on science and technology as that may conflict with the 7th century religious teachings(!) etc. — by the block-headed religious zombies and the whole country tilts towards extreme religiosity. These self-serving, profiteering officials and mullahs are irretrievably taking the country into the dark ages of human history! These officials and mullahs should be charged for complicity and the Middle Eastern perpetrators of brutalities should be charged for flagrant violation of human rights.
(When this write-up was sent to some of the British MPs recently, the Chairman of the influential 1922 Committee of MPs has informed the author that the matter has been sent to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the British Government to look into this issue of violation of human rights in the Middle East.)
A. Rahman is a Nuclear Safety Specialist.