It's heartbreaking to see unarmed saffron robed monks kicked, clubbed, beaten, tortured, imprisoned and killed in Tibet simply because they want religious freedom and dignity. They sacrifice themselves for their beliefs. Only months ago, hundreds of Burmese Buddhist monks marched in defiance of the military dictatorship in Burma to demand religious freedom, human rights and dignity for all. They were shot, beaten, hunted and killed too. Is there a separation of church and state? Yes for sure, especially when the state is the oppressor of the rights of the people and becomes a despot and tyrant. That's when we all have to take a good look at ourselves and our beliefs and ask what do we believe and live for? Do we have values and convictions to share with others, are we convinced of our own inalienable rights to be free to think, speak and chose our own way of life, our own religion and practice it, to have it respected? Is it not natural to resent and resist being conquered, occupied and dictated to by a more powerful nation? That's what Buddhists, Muslims, Christians and people of all faiths want and have a right to. It's time for us to put those beliefs and convictions into action and take a stand and speak for the oppressed and the god-given rights of all. The journey or relay of the Olympic flame is a very political gesture, it was first started by the oppressive, human rights violating Nazi regime to try and symbolize their hold on power and justify their self- proclaimed superiority over others. Is that how both sides see it as a symbol of power and dominance in the world? While the monks fall under the jackboots and rifle butts of the occupation troops in Tibet and Burma, in the Philippines, pastors, community leaders, union organizers, church and political activists, leaders of the indigenous people, even a bishop have all been gunned down and murdered week after week in the past few years. Besides four convictions for the killers of journalists, no assassin is on trial. This has driven the Philippines to the bottom of the pit of nations with blood stained hands. There has been an international outcry and strong warnings from the United Nations and the European Parliaments to bring the killers to justice - but to no avail, they are toothless tigers. This week the United Nations Human Rights Council will review the Philippine government's compliance with their international obligations to protect the human rights of Filipinos. A few years ago, I was representing children's rights groups at The Human Rights Committee (now the Human Rights Council). I showed the council members a quick slide show on my laptop over lunch. The pictures of hungry emaciated sickly children behind bars in sub-human conditions shocked some members. It made the point and spoiled their lunch. They were extremely annoyed and unusually aggressive during the afternoon session when they questioned the Philippine government representatives on individual cases of torture and arbitrary detention and killings. Since then the situation in the Philippines only got worse. Today, even the UN Human Rights Council can only embarrass and shame a few tough skinned officials behind closed doors and record it in thick folders no one reads. The media hardly ever report the litany of horrific abuses. There are no sanctions for the violators no matter how many innocent people get tortured and assassinated. So the hearings have no effect whatsoever on government policy and their practice of eliminating all opposition and silencing dissent to stay in power so they can continue plundering the national treasury as long as they can. This week they will be challenged and quizzed on the hundreds of disappearances and summary executions and it will change nothing. The UN is a toothless organization with no power to change anything or stop the pain of those being tortured and abused. Only people of conviction have to do it and the more united we are, the more effective we will be. May the flame of oppressive pomp and power be extinguished and the light of justice and truth shine out. Fr Shay is a Columban priest working in the Philippines. He has been shortlisted for the Nobel Peace Prize three times. For more information see: www.preda.org
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