Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Q&A with Mr. Muneer Malik on Gwangju Prize

How does it feel to be awarded the 2008 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights?

Deeply humbled. It is a great honour to have been awarded the prize although deep down inside I believe that it belongs to the lawyers of Pakistan.

What does the award mean to you? What do you think of the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights? What is its significance in promoting peace, democracy and human rights?

Personally, for me it will be one of my most cherished achievements. The Gwangju Prize links the historic events of May 18th 1980 to democratic movements around the world- it serves at least two purposes- first, it reminds other democratic movements of the sacrifices of the citizens of Gwangju and second, it encourages other movements to emulate them. Peace, democracy and human rights are indivisible concepts and the benefits are shared by the entire humanity. The Prize demonstrates that the people of Gwangju deeply care about democratic movements around the world.

Why do you think you were chosen?

I believe that it was not me who was chosen but the lawyers of Pakistan for a struggle that has no parallel in the 60 year history of Pakistan.

What are your works, programs and activities? Tell us what you have done in the past and are doing now.

I am presently in the process of writing a book on the lawyers’ movement. I am practicing law and still actively engaged in the movement for restoration of the judges who were deposed in November 2007 in consequence of the proclamation of Emergency. Since the last 25 years that I have been actively involved in one form or the other in the human rights movement in Pakistan.

What of your least known works would you want others to know about you?

I am engaged in doing charitable work and am managing a charitable trust set up by the Malik Family. This trust provides scholarships to needy students in Pakistan.

How will the Gwangju Prize advance and promote your work?

I intend to use the Prize to set up a foundation to “Save the Constitution and promote Democracy”. It will make my work more credible.

As winner of the Gwangju Prize do you have ideas or plans for which the Gwangju Prize could be promoted? What role could you play to promote it?

I would like to work with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan- of which I am a founder member- to make human rights activists more aware about the Prize and the 18th May movement so that activists are encouraged to work harder in their field with a view to being nominated for if not winning the Prize.

If given a chance to lead past winners of Gwangju Prize what activities or issues should be addressed? Or do you think there’s a need for the past winners to band together for common cause or causes?

I believe in collective leadership. I would welcome the opportunity to interact with previous Prize winners and to explore the common causes that we would effectively work together on. Ideally I would like previous Prize winners to issue joint statements on various issues and events as a means of mobilizing international public opinion.

What do you think of the current democracy, peace and human rights situation in Asia? What should be done to keep and sustain a more democratic, peaceful and human rights respectful Asia?

The situation is Asia is far from desirable. We see an increasing tendency towards authoritarian rule, abuse of human rights, lack of access to justice, increasing poverty and inequality. These are issues that we need to mobilize public opinion on.

What would you like to say to the May 18 Memorial Foundation and the citizens of Gwangju for giving you this award? Any final words?

The lawyers of Pakistan salute the indomitable will and commitment of the citizens of Gwangju to the principles of democracy, peace and human rights. The courage of the May 18th martyrs shall inspire men and women who yearn to be free for generations to come. I thank the citizens of Gwangju and the Memorial Foundation for empathizing with the Pakistan Lawyers’ Movement, the main aim of which is to build a society based on true justice for all under the principle of equality.

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Irom Sharmila Video

Irom Sharmila is a young woman of Manipur who has been on a fast-to-death for nearly 7 years now. She has been demanding the removal of a brutal law from her land. Manipur is a north-east Indian state (bordering Myanmar), riven for decades by insurgency and armed separatist movements. The Government of India has attempted to control the situation militarily, granting drastic powers to the security forces. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act enforced in the region lets people be arrested, shot and even killed - on suspicion alone. But Sharmila is willing to stake everything -- even her life -- to restore justice and dignity to her people.