Ghanim Al-Najjar - "The Human Rights Discourse Is Vastly Improving"

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Nov 05, 2013
by Oscar Tollast
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Ghanim Al-Najjar - "The Human Rights Discourse Is Vastly Improving"

Professor says meeting new activists at MENA session has given him hope Dr Al-Najjar listening in during the workshop's opening session

Following a lengthy day of constructive conversations, Ghanim Al-Najjar, professor of political science at Kuwait University, sat in the Schloss Leopoldskron’s Chinese Room and told Salzburg Global: “Diversity and inclusion are the basis for human society.”

The Arab Human Rights Fund board member returned to Salzburg Global Seminar to help co-organize the session, ‘Getting Transition Right: A Rights-based Approach towards Diversity and Inclusivity’.

Speaking on Sunday evening, he said: “We have funded this meeting as part of our collaboration and as part of an exploration of ideas, and thinking of how to find ways to understand what’s happening and knowing more activists in the field.

“That’s the main purpose of a meeting like this. You brainstorm, and then you get together and then maybe you can develop your projects in the future. I think this is happening.”

The former non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center helped set the context for the discussions on Friday evening.

He said by having an inclusive society, a more prosperous, stable and just society was able to develop.

“The society that can develop itself within a just system [and] an equitable system can be much better than the society that thinks of itself as an exclusive, one single identity."

Until recently, Dr Al-Najjar was the UN independent expert for Human Rights in Somalia, a mandate he held for eight years. He highlighted Somalia as an example of a country homogeneous in matters of religion, ethnic background and language.

He added, however, that existing divisions still “brought them to destruction” for over 20 years.

“Differences are natural in society, and that’s why we have democracy.

“It’s [about] managing differences because democracy goes beyond elections. It also goes to [the] independence of judiciary, equality and pluralism.”

On Saturday, he discussed in front of participants the role for policy in terms of diversity and inclusion.

Dr Al-Najjar said implementing a new piece of law was only a starting point, suggesting a culture of respect for human rights was needed as well.

“You’ll have a nice piece of law, which will talk about human rights and equality in different levels, yet the culture comes in and tries to prevent it from being implemented.

“The role of the media, the role of education, [and] the role of the judiciary is very important in moving policies towards achieving quality inside society.”

A number of participants suggested during the session the concept of having a shared vision for the region to help improve diversity and inclusion. Dr Al-Najjar said this was a hope but not a guarantee.

“The only thing is to have a system that allows everybody to express themselves [and] to be part of the political process.

“They have a share of power [and] they have a share of resources – doesn’t matter how large or how small. Then the vision will prevail according to the majority rule.”

Dr Al-Najjar has served as director of the Center for Strategic and Future Studies, and was editor of the Gulf Studies Series Journal in the United Arab Emirates.

He has led and participated in a number of international fact-finding missions in several countries, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, and Somalia.

When asked why he decided to enter this field of work in the first place, he replied: “A realization that politics in itself is not enough to improve social structure and make it more humane."

He added: “Politics is a changing phenomenon and people keep changing their attitudes according to the balance of power.”

Dr Al-Najjar felt working on human rights using the discipline of social sciences was “the right thing” to do.

Teaching human rights within a political science department, he set about to introduce new courses and have them taught differently.

“I started to link human rights with politics to warn that you have to do human rights without political leanings.

“The improvement of the international human rights regime has been so fast [and] so quick in the last 10 years that I don’t think any other discipline has moved that fast.”

Dr Al-Najjar continued by highlighting the gap between the political and human rights discourses.

“The human rights discourse is vastly improving whilst the political discourse is going backwards. That’s why you see conflict is rising.

“People will talk about democracy as part of the process. It’s past the time that people will say democracy is not good for us.”

Aside from the discussions that have already taken place at Salzburg Global, Dr Al-Najjar highlighted another positive aspect of the session.

“I have had the chance to see new activists, new people in the field, and that gives me hope.

“That is not usual in our type of field. Normally, we see people who we know. I think the majority of people here I’ve seen for the first time.”

He previously attended Salzburg Global Seminar in 1996 as part the session, ‘Reform in American History: Major Movements and Patterns’.

Dr Al-Najjar believes a number of improvements have been made since then, and not only the construction of a new car park.

“For Salzburg Global Seminar to get into this field, to open up and get into a different kind of thinking – regionally – is positive.

“It’s great to have a place like this and it encourages us at the Arab Human Rights Fund to continue a good relationship.

“The administration [and] the leadership of the Salzburg Global Seminar are worth any investment and they are worth the trust.”