Young scholars make their voices heard
ISLAMABAD: My Voice Counts was the theme of this year’s International Human Rights Day, so was demonstrated very well by the young scholars in the field of research and practice in human rights and democratisation. The voices were expressed by the five Pakistani graduates of Masters in Human Rights and Democratisation (MHRD) from the University of Sydney, Australia when they presented their research work in front of an audience comprising scholars, students, civil society representatives and parliamentarians here on Tuesday.
The event “connecting theory with practice” was organised by the MHRD Alumni in collaboration with Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO), Pakistan Coalition for Education (PCE) and Centre for Civic Education (CCE). MHRD is Asia Pacific’s premier regional degree in human rights and democratisation, which is being offered by the University of Sydney, in conjunction with Gadjah Mada University (Indonesia), Kathmandu School of Law (Nepal), Mahidol University (Thailand) and the University of Colombo (Sri Lanka).
Uniquely, this degree offers students the opportunity to study both at the internationally renowned University of Sydney and one of four selected universities in the Asia Pacific with particular expertise in human rights and democratisation in the region.
Similar regional masters programs in human rights and democratisation are being offered in all other regions of the world like Europe, America and Africa. All these initiatives are supported by European Union under European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation’s Global Campus of Regional Masters. MHRD Alumni is an emerging forum of graduates/students of Master of Human Rights and Democratisation (Asia Pacific).
The Pakistani scholars, who belonged to two cohorts of this programme presented their human rights and democratisation research on diverse and unique topics ranging from role of civil society in Pakistan’s transition to democracy to Muslim marriage laws in Sri Lanka.
Speaking on the occasion, Leader of the House in Senate and Secretary General of Pakistan People’s Party Senator Jahangir Badr congratulated the young scholars on taking the step of presenting their work in front of the audience on the day. He said, “Democracies have to ensure human rights of its citizens; otherwise there is no way that they can survive because it is basic premise of the democracies to protect and promote human rights of its citizen.” He added that his party has remained committed to the cause of human rights for which the party has sacrificed a lot.
Niaz Ahmed, who is working with the Democracy Reporting International
(DRI), while presenting his paper on role of civil society in Pakistan’s transition to democracy, said that the civil society in Pakistan has played major role in bringing the recent wave of democratisation in Pakistan. He stated that the civil society could not continue its role after dictator was ousted as for deepening and consolidating the democracy it was important that similar role was continued. He further said that in order to have proper fruits of democracy, the civil society and the political society has to work together. He insisted that the space created by the civil society during lawyers’ movement needs to expand from agitation to constructive role of policy formulation and advocacy.
Parvez Pirzada who works with USAID as education specialist presented his paper on Human Rights Education in Pakistan and said that while the education policies and official documents assert the importance of human rights education in Pakistan but there is hardly any education in Pakistani curriculum. He said that for increasing respect of human rights in society, it is vital to include human rights education in Pakistani schools.
He further added that as per his review of social studies and Islamic studies, there is in fact material that is against human rights. He added that based on his survey with teachers, 90 percent teachers said that human rights education should be incorporated in Pakistani schools whereas 10 percent were against it. He added that a good number of teachers believed that human rights education should be incorporated in existing subjects such Social Studies and Islamic studies.
Nimrah Zubair presented her paper on “Qazi Courts for Muslims Population in Sri Lanka”. She highlighted the positive and negative aspects of an exclusive legal provision for minority Muslim population of Sri Lanka. She suggested professionalization of Qazi courts so that they could cater to the needs of those who want to take advantage of this system.
Hassan Nasir Mirbahar, sharing his research on “Conscientious objection to military service and capabilities approach”, said that around 83 countries have conscription system but a number of them do not recognize a right to conscientious objective. He added that from capabilities approach, states have to respect individual’s conscientious decisions with respect joining or not joining military.
Sharing case study on Turkey, he added that a lot of conscientious objector face harsh treatment by Turkish state and they do not have legal or political recognition; hence the objector become stateless within their own state.
Speaking on the occasion, Zafarullah Khan, Executive Director Center for Civic Education appreciated efforts of MHRD Alumni to organize the event and share academic research with practitioners. He added that such efforts could increase opportunities of the using research in practice as well. He said the practice of presenting research to audience needs to strengthen. He hoped that others will take a lead from this event and more of similar kind will be organized. He said the culture of human rights and democratisation research should be encouraged so that Pakistan has its own capacity of inquiring into the deep-rooted human rights problems. He said human rights education is necessary for creating awareness and its appreciated that this government has agreed to introduce human rights curriculum in schools.
Earlier, sharing about MHRD programme, Arooma Gul said that master’s of human rights and democratisation is offered by University of Sydney in conjunction with four partner universities in Asia Pacific region. She stated that the objective of programme is to build capacities of the advocates of human rights and democracy so that further the cause of human right and democracy.