Business in the name of human rights :Janaka athukorala

Where should the oppressed seek justice when the champions of human rights violate their basic rights? The focus of this article is the behavior of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF).

As an urban refugee, I’ve been observing the saddening treatment of refugees in this country for the last many years. The Nepalis are a loving people, but the institutions earning hundreds of millions of dollars in the name of championing human rights are spending this money for their own luxury.

Even an average staffer of Nepal’s UNHCR, the biggest champion of the rights of the refugees, drives a SUV but they don’t offer a seat for a refugee applicant when they visit their office. The UNHCR employees get hundreds of thousands of dollars in salaries and allowances and as much money is spent on fruitless events, but for the refugees to those the agency owes its existence there is no relief in sight.

When the LWF started gathering data about refugees a few months ago, I and some friends, who are human rights activists and journalists, decided to visit them and find out why the UNHCR has handed over their work to this organization. Weather the UNHCR was shutting down in Nepal or there was some other issue?

When we reached the LWF office on March 7 at around midday, a woman at the main entrance started yelling at us. “Go and sit there. It’s lunch time,” she signaled towards a tree. Some staffers were gossiping and some were preparing for their lunch.

“Where should we sit, madam? There is no room under the tree. How long will it take for the lunch? We’ll come later,” we gathered some courage to ask her.

The woman signaled towards a room. When we entered, we found two chairs and two tables in a crumbling condition. The UNHCR sticker was present on the Tables. When we sat on them, they sank inside. We came back to the woman and told her the chairs couldn’t bear our weight.

I think the woman had been made to sit at the entrance only to mistreat the applicants and make them realize that they were worse than animals.

When she once again signaled us to sit under the tree, I became a little irritated. “Can you be little polite, please? We’re human beings, not animals,” I told her. I was talking in English and she was replying in Nepali. We thought it was better to wait outside than be insulted more.

We came back to the woman at 1:30pm. I thought the lunch break had ended now. This time I didn’t want to talk to the woman, so I asked one of my friends to talk to her. She once again told us to wait. We walked back to the tree, where a woman was taking her lunch. We saw some Land Cruisers and other vehicles, lidden with dust and bearing UNHCR logo, parked inside.

At 1:40 we went back to the woman. “Can you please tell us when the lunch time ends? We’ll come later if it takes long,” I asked her. She picked up her phone and talked to someone. Then a middle-aged woman appeared and asked us to go to the room with sinking chairs.

She told us that her name was Ganga. We also introduced ourselves. Then she asked us to sit down. We couldn’t figure where to sit as the chairs were not in usable condition. “Should we sit on the ground,” I asked. It came as a surprise when I found her answer in the affirmative. “Yes.”

It hurt me to the bones. The organization formed to defend human rights was violating the basic values of courtesy.

“Can’t we sit at your office,” my friend asked her. But she had no idea of what to say. I interfered. “Why are you treating us like this? Are we beggars? If you can’t treat refugees like humans then why don’t you stop this business in the name of human rights? You’ve all the money for the cars and luxuries, but you don’t bother to arrange some chairs for the visitors?”

I stopped realizing that there was no purpose in taking an argument with the woman. “We’re going. But I’m not the type of person who will sit silent on this,” I added and we went out.

All the way back, I kept thinking aren’t we, the refugees, human beings. Don’t we deserve some respect, a little courtesy? What is the meaning of refugees for the LWF and the UNHCR? These questions still bother me.

I consider Nepal as my second home. Its people are so generous, kind and hospitable that I don’t find myself out of place in this country. But I don’t exist as a human being for UNHCR and other champions of human rights.


The writer is the Assistant Editor of a monthly magazine and an online news website.