“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
- Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
- Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.
- No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”
These are some of the resolutions under the universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations general assembly under the international bill of human rights over half a century ago; but sadly, even today, these have remained utopian dreams of a few great men. For even though the “Member states have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms”, this is far from achieved.
These resolutions are unabashedly flouted under different pretexts.
The release of 26 fishermen held as prisoners for crossing over territorial waters as a show of goodwill by Pakistan last month, brings to the fore one such example.
We may wonder at the wisdom of capturing and detaining innocent fishermen who have strayed in open oceans. It is not difficult to understand that these hapless souls, unable to manage life on land, ventured into the oceans to try their luck. How would a fisherman know where his country’s territory ends and the next one’s started, in an open, vast, blue ocean?
Capturing innocent fishermen as political bargaining chips seems to be the ulterior political machinations of crouching neighbours. It is reported that there are currently 450 Indian fishermen in Pakistani prisons and 150 of their Pakistani counterparts here; all accused of the same crime ‘crossing territorial waters’. If the border patrol can see them crossing, obviously they are in a position to warn them to return to their own limits. But instead, capturing them and detaining them seems more useful, to be used as gift packages when required during “shows of goodwill”, in line with the pirouetting of soldiers at the Wagah border. The poor fishermen have become involuntary ambassadors, carrying on their shoulders the burden of the peace process between the two neighbours.
The regularity of these events triggers suspicion in the mind if this is a variation of a tribal ritual where enemy tribesmen who strayed alone are ambushed and captured to be traded for something in return.
Both countries being member states of the United Nations, this blatant disregard for one of the most fundamental ideals of this organisation is neither condemned nor, for that matter, even noticed. Smiles all around and pompous handshakes at having successfully wangled a concession from the other are made obvious. Citizens of both countries go home with the satisfaction that something has been achieved. The peace process is on.
And while everybody pats each other’s back on the great progress, the plight of these fishermen, caught in the middle of ego wars of the two nations is sidelined. The fear and uncertainty of them going home to their families safe and the loss to them and their families due to detention of the breadwinner is trivialised before the greater good of the two countries — grist to the mill of political manoeuvrings. Whatever the reason, it boils down to a gross violation of “fundamental human rights, dignity and worth of the human person” endowed on each one of us and endorsed by the UN.
The writer works for Postnoon.