Date: Thu, 12 Oct 1995 10:21:30 -0700
From: "David Arnott" [email protected]
Dear Empty Screens,
I have just stumbled across the last moments of this party, where what I say may be something you have been discussing for the past 10 days (the first messages I saw are from 10 October). Please let me know if this is the case.
I am a buddhist activist working on Burma. For the past few years my main amplifier has been the UN political and human rights mechanisms in New York and Geneva. I receive human rights information from a multiplicity of sources in Burma, and put it into dossiers (e.g. a recent 1400 page dossier on forced labour in Burma) and analytical briefings for UN officials, diplomats, governments, journalists and so on. I also put out a lot of material on the internet. From time to time I go to the region to do interviews and meet the human rights monitors on the ground.
One or two points:
(1) In the human rights community there is a strong emphasis placed on the INDIVISIBILITY of rights. The Vienna Declaration is a good place to start looking at this dimension, with its echos of dependent origination ("All human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated" – Vienna Declaration Article 5). Rights talk has moved on during the almost 50 years since the rather individualistic Universal Declaration was drafted. The dialectic of universalism and cultural relativism, for instance, is an immensely creative process as well as a North-South battleground. The work of the past 11 years on the rights of indigenous peoples – group rights – is another important development. I would go further and muse about whole-system rights – non-anthropcentric, non-biocentric, of necessity, since non-dual.
(2) The historical emergence of rights as the Gemeinshcaft of organic interdependence, as Needham calls the Ancient Uncarved Block, develops into Gesellschaft, is touched on in Junger’s po paper. If I may quote from Sayadaw U Rewata Dhamma’s address to the Asian Leaders Conference in Seoul in December 1994:
"At the heart of Buddhist ethics is inter-responsibility, or //Bodhicitta// – what His Holiness the Dalai Lama calls Universal Responsibility. In the Theravada we speak of //Samma-sankappa// or Right Thought, which leads to Bodhi, the Awakened Mind. This principle is expressed in everyday terms by the teaching of loving-kindness, non-violence, compassion, and particular responsibilities. For monks and nuns these are set down in the rule or Vinaya; for lay people in the //Sigalovada Sutta// and for rulers in the //Dasarajadhamma//.
"In the early, organic, societies the Buddha was addressing, these specific responsibilities were assumed to be adequate guidelines for human behaviour, with no need to identify the corresponding rights. In modern, fragmented societies, however, where the fulfillment of responsibilities cannot be guaranteed by the immediate community, the corresponding rights are specified and protected by States and International Organisations. In large part these bodies derive their legitimacy from their protection of human rights. A State which does not guarantee the enjoyment of human rights by its people loses its claim to legitimacy.
"The depiction of rights as simply a Western invention fails to understand the relationship of rights to responsibilities and ethical norms. If the ethical systems we find in different times and different parts of the world varied greatly, we might have a problem, but in fact the central values of all societies are very much the same. All ethical systems encourage people to love each other, and discourage killing, violence and so on. The universality and inseparability of human rights may therefore be understood as reflecting the universality and inseparability of inter-responsibility emerging from //Dhamma//."
(3) The martial law administration acting as the de facto government of Burma, the State Law and Order Restoration Council, or SLORC, makes a major point of its Buddhism. Not many issues of the one newspaper, "The New Light of Myanmar" are without a picture of some general or other making offerings to Buddhist monks, or taking on the mantle of the traditional ruler and talking sasana reform. For those who have read Bardwell Smith’s "Religion and the Legitimation of Power", the mechanism is clear.
That’s probably enough for now.
Burma Peace Foundation
777, UN Plaza, 6th Floor,
New York, NY 10017
Tel (+1-212) 338 0048; Fax 692 9748