23 July 2010
Workshop finds links between Buddhist principles and human rights concepts
Lord Buddha had the concept of natural rights, rights be longing to a person by nature, because he was a human be ing. He treasured right to life and denounced destruction of it, the Chief Justice of the Su preme Court, Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye, said.
He was speaking at the Inception Workshop on Hu man Rights and Buddhism in Semtokha yesterday. The workshop was aimed at estab lishing a clear understanding of the concept of human rights from a Buddhist perspective.
Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye said that Bhutan’s political and religious traditions called on rulers to rule justly and compassionately, delineating limits on their powers over the lives, property and activities of their citizens were integral to the way of life.
“All these principles are ingrained in our spiri tual heritage and the laws of Zhabdrung, Mipham Wangpo, Desi Sherub Wangchuk and Thrimzhung Chhenmo,” he said, explaining how Buddhist principles had defined laws not only in the Bhutanese context but universally.
Lyonpo said that article 7, section 4 of the constitution, which corresponds to article 18 of the universal declara tion of human rights, pro vides for freedom of thought, conscience and religion as the basic right of all. He said that, from the Buddhist perspec tive, it was enunciated when the Buddha said, “On my path, all are considered equal.”
The Chief Justice also cited Buddhist principles as being related to constitutional rights such as the right to life, liberty and security of a per son. He said that, under article 7, section 1 of the constitution that emphasizes the right to life, “Deprival of the right of life is “Sok Choepa” in the Buddhist principle.”
On Article 7, section 2 of the constitution, Lyonpo said freedom of speech, opinion and expression can check and deter “the tyranny of opinion that silences others’ voices.” “It has been done well in Bhutan through unrestrained appeal to His Majesty,” he said.
Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye also said that Buddhist principles are not only applicable in the Bhutanese context, but universally. He said that in ju dicial history, personal rights like the right to vote, freedom of speech, thought and con science, and personal liberty occupied a higher status in the hierarchy of values than property rights.
“Hence, Lord Buddha said that ‘every living being deserves to enjoy a sense of security and well being. We should protect life and bring happiness to others,’ he said. This Buddhist principle relates to article three of the universal declaration of hu man rights, which states that “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of a person.”
The Chief Justice said Bhutan had embarked upon inculcating Buddhist concepts in defining the law of the land. Article 7, section 17 and 18 of the constitution enshrines that no one shall be subjected to torture or cruel punish ment including capital pun ishment. Bhutan is a Buddhist country, the society of which is founded on the values of tolerance and compassion, he said. Therefore, capital punishment was abolished in 1994 by a royal decree.
Freedom of speech was highlighted in a modern con text. The Chief Justice pointed out how democracy without the freedom of speech, opin ion and expression has been ineffective through the ‘groan ing aguish of the people’.
“Censorship and suppres sion of publication discour ages all true scholarships and learning which reflects article 19 of Human Rights,” said Ly onpo, adding that Lord Bud dha had enunciated the same concept in Praj Parimitra in the form of Mra-sam, Joe-sam and du-jae-sum.
According to the director of Institute of Language and Cul ture Studies (ILCS), Lungten Gyaetsho, human rights have become important in the modern world, especially with Bhutan adopting GNH as the development philoso phy. “The whole machinery functions around the welfare of human beings and human rights,” he said.
The workshop on human rights and Buddhism was organised by the Institute of Language and Culture Studies (ILCS) with support from UNDP and the Netherlands Embassy in New Delhi.
The ILCS and Royal Uni versity of Bhutan took up the project in the hope of provid ing a wider perspective on human life and its significance, and to enrich and broaden the scope of conventional concept of human rights.
By Namgay Tshering