Social Justice: Setting a Tone!
“Preventing Conflict and Sustaining Peace through Decent Work” is the theme of the 2017 World Social Justice Day, which will be observed on February 20th
As a justification of the theme the UN lists the following objectives: (i)to highlight the importance of employment-centred strategies and programs and their contribution to international efforts to prevent conflicts, sustain peace, build resilient societies and promote social justice;(ii) to explore the intersectionality of employment, peace and social justice across the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development; (iii) to expand knowledge sharing and collaboration with the UN system and other key stakeholders on effective strategies for peace, social justice and development.
Both the theme and the objectives are certainly laudable! Wars and conflicts have held centre stage across the globe in the last few years. It has cost the world enormously in every sense of the word. With over 65 million people as refugees or internally displaced and with numbers growing – the need and importance to prevent conflict and to ensure sustainable peace should necessarily be topmost on the World Agenda. Providing ‘decent work’ (as the UN puts it) is a key social justice factor that could lead to a more sustainable global peace.
The moot point to be considered is whether those who control the destinies of nations today can honestly demonstrate the political will towards the realisation of the theme. In a concept note for the day, the UN says, “peaceful and inclusive societies, as well as decent work and equitable growth, are key priorities of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The 2030 Agenda states that sustainable development cannot be realised without peace and security and encourages member States to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies that provide equal access to justice and that are based on respect for human rights.”
An ideal certainly not negotiable or debatable, but several of the world leaders do not seem to be on the same page! Political leadership in many countries today seem to do exactly the opposite. The US President is keen on building walls and keeping out even legitimate refugees and immigrants. The Palestinians are forced to live in a hostile environment since Israel just does not pay heed to world opinion. No one seems to be serious about preventing and ending wars and conflicts. Why would they? Many of them are conveniently tied up to the profiteering military- industrial establishment. The only way to stop wars, as everyone knows, is to halt the production of arms and ammunition; to make disarmament and denuclearisation a reality. Tragically, the spending on military warfare has been escalating in most countries (for example, India’s ‘defence’ budget!); besides, spending in the social sector like on health, education and the creation of employment (or as the UN says ‘decent work’) is drastically decreased.
Every effort must be made to ensure ‘decent work’ – for those who need it. This would entail ensuring that the rights of the workers are respected with a just wage, reasonable working hours, social security and other benefits. One should also make sure that the refugees and other displaced are not exploited. Unfortunately today social discrimination and exclusion; xenophobia and jingoism seem to be on the rise as never before. India is in the midst of an election season. The divide-and –rule campaign, by sections of the political class is a blatant human rights violation. The primary objective of winning an election is no longer about serving the people- but rather of how one can selfishly accumulate more power and wealth.
As said earlier, the numbers of refugees and IDPs continue to grow: from Syria to South Sudan; the world witnesses the suffering of the Rohingyas of Myanmar and the Yezidis of Iraq who face genocide. Be it the child soldiers of Colombia or those who labour in the sweatshops of China, there is today, millions of children who are deprived of their childhood. Human trafficking pays rich dividends to the unscrupulous and other vested interests. In the midst of such a grim and complex reality, can one actually talk of preventing conflict and sustaining peace and much more, providing decent work particularly to the refugee, to the migrant and to the displaced?
It is ten years since World Social Justice Day was launched in 2007 and it comes as a very powerful reminder to all that, “social justice is an underlying principle for peaceful and prosperous coexistence within and among nations. We uphold the principles of social justice when we promote gender equality or the rights of indigenous peoples and migrants. We advance social justice when we remove barriers that people face because of gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, culture or disability.”
What is certainly heartening, is that the concept notes this year provides a framework emphasizing that, “for communities and individuals, participation in the reconstruction can provide job creation and initial income, skills and entrepreneurship development that are essential means for recovery and development, confidence building and promotion of equality and social justice. Employment is key in reaching out to young people to help build more resilient societies as well as vital in reintegrating crisis affected societies and specific groups such as former combatants, refugees, IDPs, returnees, and provide opportunities for the most vulnerable in fragile, conflict and disaster settings”.
In doing so a tone is set: that the world leaders need to get their act together as soon as possible; to prevent conflict and in no way exacerbate it; to promote peace and ensure that it sustains and above all, to realise that providing necessary decent work to all, especially for the youth will go a long way in establishing a more just and equitable world. The right notes, the right tone- hopefully, it will ultimately become music for those who matter!
The Author: Fr Cedric Prakash sj is a human rights activist. He is currently based in Lebanon, engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy and communications.