September 17 to 23, 2001
Responding to the religious conflict and intolerance that bring about gross human rights violations, the WSCF Asia-Pacific region initiated the Human Rights and Solidarity Workshop 2001 under the theme “Human Rights and Religion”. This workshop was organized in Dhaka, Bangladesh on September 17-23, 2001. The participants came from seven member SCMs from South Asia and South East Asia. A total of thirteen participants were present in the activity. Three of the delegates were from Bangladesh; others from India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
The keynote address was given by Rev R.W Timm CSC, a Catholic priest originally from the United States, who has been living in Bangladesh since 1952. Father Timm mentioned that one of the main phenomena he has observed in the past several years was the rise of fundamentalism, accompanied by gross violations of human rights in several countries in Asia. He emphasized, quoting Dr. Chandra Muzzafer, “the first and most important task confronting individuals and groups committed to dialogue between religious civilisations in the midst of religious conflicts is to analyse these conflicts to show that religion may not be the sole or even the most significant factor in certain conflict. Our next task is to address the other causes behind a conflict—be they political, economic or social—and propose appropriate remedies.... Only after we have come to grips with the real issues behind a conflict should we draw out the universal values and ideals in each and every religion and try to initiate inter-religious communication on the basis of these values and ideals”.
Father Timm was heartened by the fact that “the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is strongly anti fundamentalist, and that civil society has arisen against religious fundamentalists”. He was also positive about opportunities he had in providing some training for imams of mosques at Dhaka University Law School. He concluded, the predominant way of advocating for human rights and supporting the victims of injustice and oppression is solidarity, which he defined as oneness with the oppressed and with each other in the support group.
The participants were divided into 2 groups for their exposure trips. One group travelled 350 km North to Dinajpur to meet the Tribal Groups from Daudpur and Satnipara Villages. They spent two nights there sharing the issues the Tribal people facing such as poverty, education and land rights. The other group stayed in Dhaka and did exposure trips to organisations working with oppressed people in Dhaka. They visited an NGO named Ain O Salish Kendro (ASK), which has raised human rights awareness in the Bangladesh society, is a Law and Mediation Centre in Dhaka. This group also went to the Acid Survivors Foundation in Dhaka (ASF), an NGO aims to prevent further acid attacks, and ensure survivors to have better access to medical care, criminal justice system and rehabilitation. They lastly visited the Salvation Army Knitting Factory in Dhaka. This Factory provides training for the poor, separated and divorced women, including sex workers.
Each participant was asked to share and report their respective country situation relating to religious fundamentalism and human rights violation. They came up with the following similarities of the causes of conflict:
Participants strongly recommended each SCM to strengthen the peace education among the communities. They also requested the regional office to organize more programs in order to promote inter-faith dialogue on pluralism, tolerance, dialogue, justice and peace.