Slavery – Slavernij

Just think what this means: “Despairingly credible comparisons of scale and suffering may be drawn with the trans-Atlantic trade in Africans in the Americas in which more than 12 million people were forcibly transported over the ocean in 400 years. It is to our great shame that if today’s statistics are correct, and 700, 000 people are now being trafficked across borders into slavery annually, we will have equaled that total in a mere 20 years.” (Statement by the International Organization of Migration on the occassion of the First annual International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery & Transatlantic Slave Trade, 25 March 2009)

Some more ashonishing facts. Did you know that:
1) It is estimated that more than 250,000 children are currently being exploited as child soldiers in as many as 30 areas of conflict around the world. Many of the kidnapped girls who are made into child soldiers are also forced into sexual slavery.
2) The International Organization for Migration estimates that annually 700,000 women, girls, men and boys are being traficked across borders away from their homes and families and into slavery.
3) An estimated 5.7 million children are victims of forced and bonded labour, also known as debt bondage, and 1.2 million children are victims of child trafficking.
4) Linked to trafficking is the commercial sexual exploitation of children of whom 1 million, mainly girls, are forced into prostitution every year. These girls are sold for sex or used in child pornography in both the developed and the developing world.

Below are some of the comments from the Secretary General of the UN on today’s occassion. You can read his full speech here:
“The question of how to atone for this crime is difficult to answer. We must acknowledge the great lapse in moral judgment that allowed it to happen. We must urge present and future generations to avoid repeating history. We must acknowledge the contributions that enslaved Africans made to civilization. And countries that prospered from the slave trade must examine the origins of present-day social inequality and work to unravel mistrust between communities.

Above all, even as we mourn the atrocities committed against the countless victims, we take heart from the courage of slaves who rose up to overcome the system which oppressed them. These brave individuals, and the abolitionist movements they inspired, should serve as an example to us all as we continue to battle the contemporary forms of slavery that stain our world today.

In our time, forced labour, sexual exploitation and human trafficking afflict millions of people worldwide, including children toiling under unspeakably abusive conditions. Racism and racial discrimination still take a serious and sometimes deadly toll. We are all shamed by these repugnant crimes. And we are all challenged to respond.

How fitting, therefore, that this historic first International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade falls in the year of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article four of the Declaration tells us: ‘No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.’ Let us give life to those words. Let us honour the victims of the slave trade by remembering their struggle. Let us carry it forward until no person is deprived of liberty, dignity and human rights.”

So, of course his statement makes me think of the Baha’is in Iranian prisons, deprived of their liberty, dignity & human rights.

And here are some more thoughts (all found on Ocean):

Mirza Abu’l-Fadl in ‘The Brilliant Proof’ mentions on p. 28:

Among the specific laws clearly laid down in the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh is the law “prohibiting slavery.” No mention of this is made in other religions. As none of the former Heavenly Books has forbidden this traffic all the humanitarian instincts which actuated the Great Powers to abolish and destroy it could not withhold the common people from this abominable practice, which has cost the governments and nations great trouble and expense.

The Baha’i International Community said about slavery in their 1990 statement on the Protection of Minorities:

In dealing with the protection of minorities and human rights, many useful insights may be gained by considering the historical evolution of humankind. Slavery was once generally accepted in many parts of the world. Today, it is widely viewed as an abhorrent practice which cannot be countenanced under any pretext. It is evident that as civilization advances, our standards of justice also evolve. Nevertheless, old patterns of behaviour are not easily forgotten. The world is presently engaged in a struggle to emancipate itself from the practice of discrimination against ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities. Such a dramatic shift in the structure of social relations requires more than a minor adjustment in attitudes; it requires a whole new perspective about humankind.

Adib Taherzadeh in the ‘Revelation of Baha’u’llah volume 3’ (p. 369) says:

One of Bahá’u’lláh’s prohibitions in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas is slave trading. For thousands of years people took slaves. With the  coming of Bahá’u’lláh, however, God released in the world the forces of unity, and proclaimed the equality of human rights. These have now become the spirit of the age and humanity has come a long way during the last hundred years, abandoning the age-long practice of slavery. In forbidding slavery, Bahá’u’lláh in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas simply states that it is not proper for a man to buy another man. For all are the servants of the one true God and are equal in His sight.

In ‘Baha’u’llah and the New Era’, J. E. Esslemont writes:

Abdu’l-Bahá has explained that not only chattel slavery, but also industrial slavery, is contrary to the law of God. When in the USA in 1912, He said to the American people:  “Between 1860 and 1865 you did a wonderful thing; you abolished chattel slavery; but today you must do a much more wonderful thing: you must abolish industrial slavery. … The solution of economic questions will not be brought about by array of capital against labor, and labor against capital, in strife and conflict, but by the voluntary attitude of goodwill on both sides. Then a real and lasting justness of conditions will be secured.”


UN Commission on Sustainable Development – VN Commissie voor Duurzame Ontwikkeling

It’s the Baha’i Fast, but I’m not going to write about that (still have 16 more days to go). I just want to share and highlight some of the comments of the chair of the upcoming 17th session of the UN’s Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-17) in May 2009.

Yes, I’m proud; the chair is a woman (Gerda Verburg) AND she is the Dutch Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. Her parents and grandparents were dairy farmers.

It’s the 1st time EVER that CSD has a female chair. It’ll be interesting to see how the Dutch culture (too direct for our own good sometimes, I know all about that) works together with Iranian culture (vice-chair).

You can read Gerda’s call for action here:

I’m just highligting some points I found interesting (the numbers will make sense if you read the rest of this blog):

Within just one year, the world has been shaken by an unprecedented spike in the costs of basic foods, by hunger riots and by social tensions that have demonstrated that food insecurity is an irrefutable reality. Estimates suggest that the total number of malnourished people worldwide could rise to 967 million in 2008, up from 923 million in 2007. In addition, a large number of developing countries ares struggling to address the macroeconomic impacts of high domestic food prices and inflationary pressure, as well as increased import expenditure.

It is a new reality to which global warming and declining natural resources are now adding an unprecedented sense of urgency. Ever rising trends in energy consumption are a major concern. Reports show that we are using far more of our natural resources than our planet can regenerate. As a global society (1) we cannot accept increasing levels of poverty and hunger. So, we are faced with one of the toughest challenges in this new millennium.

Agriculture continues to be, in the 21st century, a fundamental sector for sustainable development (3) and poverty reduction. With over 920 million people being food insecure and at the same time having agriculture as the main source of income for most of the world’s poor and as the motor for economic development in many rural areas, attention to agriculture and rural development issues in developing countries in terms of policy commitment and investments is crucial.

One thing is clear: we have neglected agriculture too much for many years….

We all have to face these dilemmas, including the dilemma of competing claims for food and fuel. And let us not forget the competing claims on water.

It is time to act!
Let’s take the words of the UN statue serious: “Swords into ploughshares” words into action. CSD 17 has to deliver concrete measures and actions.

Long-term lack of investments in agriculture, rural infrastructure and rural development has eroded productivity gains.
* Productivity improvement: more private and public investments in agriculture, particularly in scientific, technological and institutional innovations; sharing of knowledge, technology transfer and capacity building (4 & 3) were mentioned as key elements. Lack of sustainable land management has aggravated land degradation, reducing soil fertility. Climate change has exacerbated water stress and desertification;
* Enabling environment: creating an environment for private investments and stimulating entrepreneurship are crucial. Wide-ranging constraints to rural development were identified from deficient rural development policies and lack of participation in decisionmaking of key stakeholders (2), to limited education (4)and underdeveloped financial markets. Land tenure has been biased against women (5) and extension services have fallen behind.
* Sustainable value chain development: Attention was also drawn to population growth and increased consumption patterns, i.e. of dairy and meat products, which have contributed to increases in commodity prices. Some pointed out that increased demand for biofuel has become an increasingly significant user of agricultural commodities and may have pushed up their prices. Developing a sustainable value chain (production, processing, marketing, trade and consumption) could be part of the solution.
* Market access: Equally important is the impact of subsidy on food production, the need for improved access for agricultural exports from developing countries and supporting the development of local and regional markets. Also the development of markets that are accessible to small farmers as well.
* Food security and safety net mechanisms: Lack of access to affordable private health insurance of public health care. In addition to the existing group of chronically poor people, a larger section of the population is now at risk of sliding below the poverty threshold. Food security policies and food aid needs are critical.

The goals of poverty eradication, food security and sustainable natural resource management need to be seen as inter-linked and should be addressed in a coherent and integrated manner (1-5). The CSD is uniquely placed to tackle these challenges, focussing on the linkages among the thematic issues and on their relations with the cross-cutting issues.

The CSD also provides a unique platform with unmatched institutional strengths in the intergovernmental processes. Its long-standing engagement with the Major Groups will enable it to hear the diverse voices of civil society groups; and its mandate in promoting partnership will facilitate consensus building and adopt policy decisions underpinned by a shared commitment to progress in implementation on the ground.

CSD-17 should be a forward-looking and action-oriented session. I will take the lead in mobilizing broad-based ministerial participation, invite Ministers of relevant portfolios to attend CSD-17, provide guidance on policy options and actions and take bold, action-oriented initiatives during CSD-17.

CSD-17 affords us the opportunity to make a difference. We have a historic obligation to our peoples. Let us be bold and ambitious. With leadership, a shared vision and a shared commitment to action, we can work together to make sure this food crisis will be the last one.

Read those bits in bold and seen the numbers 1 to 5 in brackets?

Now read the focus points BIC delegates used during the 16th CSD session in May 2008:

  1. Only upon a foundation of genuine unity, harmony and understanding among the diverse peoples of the world can a sustainable global society be established.
  2. The task of sustainable development is not merely a technical one but an ethical and moral one.
  3. Development policy must reflect the fact that agriculture constitutes the fundamental basis of economic and community life.
  4. Education should be designed to build the capabilities of rural inhabitants to contribute to rural development.
  5. The full emancipation and involvement of women is a prerequisite for sustainable rural development.

You see?! We are talking the same language and aiming for the same outcome.

Abdu’l-Baha in Foundations of World Unity (p. 37) says:

“The fundamental basis of the community is agriculture, tillage of the soil. All must be producers.”

He describes agriculture as “a noble science” whose practice is an “act of worship”, and He encourages both women and men to engage in “agricultural sciences”. He indicates that should an individual “become proficient in this field, he will become a means of providing for the comfort of untold numbers of people”

And in the Compilation of Compilations vol. I (p. 81) Bahá’u’lláh states:

“Special regard must be paid to agriculture.”

He characterizes it as an activity which is “conducive to the advancement of mankind and to the reconstruction of the world”.

Watch out for more CSD-related entries before my next trip to the UN in May.