Courtesy of 518 International Solidarity Blog: May 18 known as 518, is one of Gwangju’s most significant dates. The annual commemoration is a tradition that has been observed by the families of the victims which the government only instituted in 1995. It is also an important date for Gwangju citizens and the Korean public in bestowing honor and recognition to group or individuals by awarding the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights.
For 2008 this award is given to Mr. Muneer Malik for his role in protecting the independence of Pakistan’s judiciary, defending its constitution and promoting human rights. Mr. Malik was the former President of the Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association. He led the struggle in fighting against the attempt made by President Musharraf to oust the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, in order to protect human rights and the independence of the judiciary.
So on May 18, 2008, Mr. Malik was awarded the 2008 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights. The ceremony was graced by Mr. Kwangjang Yoon, Chairman of The May 18 Memorial Foundation; Mr. Youngmin Noh, a member of the Korean Parliament who read the citation of Mr. Malik; Mr. Kyunghwan An, Chairperson of the National human Rights Commission of Korea; and representative of Mr. Gwangtae Park, Mayor of Gwangju who read his congratulatory message. It was witnessed by the participants of the 2008 Gwangju International Peace Forum and the citizens of Gwangju. .
Winner, 2008 Gwanngju Prize for Human Rights
Good evening ladies and gentlemen:
I am deeply humbled that The 518 Memorial Foundation has chosen me to receive the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights Award 2008. On a personal level I do not consider myself worthy of the prize. It is in fact the community of lawyers of Pakistan, who dared to challenge the status quo that is collectively deserving of this honour. What is an even greater honour for the lawyers of Pakistan is that you have remembered their movement in the same breath that you commemorate the great Gwangju Uprising of May Eighteen, 1980 popularly known throughout the world as the Gwangju Democratization Movement.
The democratic Republic of Korea that we see today was born from the boundless courage demonstrated by the citizens of Gwangju, the students and members of civil society who dared to challenge the authoritarian order of the day at the supreme sacrifice of their lives. Although on the morning of 27th May 1980 army troops occupied the downtown area of Gwangju they failed to extinguish the fire that had been lit at the gates of Chonnam National University. This flame continued to burn ever so brightly giving birth to a new and modern Republic of Korea, democratic in orientation, obedient to rule of law and watched over by an independent judiciary. Permit me to ask all of us to rise and observe a one minute’s silence to pay tribute to the martyrs of democratic movement. This is not to say that your republic is utopia or nirvana; you still have human rights issues, concerns persists over laws relating to migrant workers, restrictions of the freedom of assembly and the continued news of the national security council. But with the rule of law firmly established you can look forward to a brighter future.
The concepts of human rights and peace are intertwined and indivisible. What happens in one part of the world is in this global age relevant to what happens in the rest of the world. For over 60 years Pakistan was struggling to overcome the mind set inherited from its colonial past and to break the shackles of military and authoritarian rule. In this respect the lawyers’ movement of Pakistan draws many parallels with the Gwangju Democratization Movement.
On 9th March 2007 a General in uniform also wearing the hat of president of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan launched a frontal assault on the judiciary by suspending and detaining the Chief Justice of Pakistan. The Chief Justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry was summoned by General Musharraf and in the presence of 5 Generals and the Prime Minister asked to submit his resignation or to face trumped up charges of misconduct. In reality he was being taken to task for asserting judicial independence from the executive in a number of decisions that he had rendered, including but not limited to the privatization of state assets to favorites at throw-away prices and asking the state to account for forced disappearances. The Chief Justice held firm and preferred to defend the charges. Almost immediately, the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan of which I had been then President vowed to resist this frontal assault on the third organ of the State, the legislature having already been rendered in to a rubber stamp.
All of a sudden, as if struck by a bolt of lightning, the Chief Justice’s defiant “No” changed the dynamics of the power game. Since 9th March, the Black Coats of Pakistan waged a relentless struggle to change mindsets. We had to teach the common man what justice really meant, who was the oppressor and who could deliver them from oppression. We preached that the realization of their fundamental rights was inextricably intertwined with the existence of an independent judiciary in which every judge across the land is pro-people with the courage to say that enough is enough – that all men and women, no matter howsoever high or howsoever low, are equal in the eyes of the law; that it is no longer acceptable that the weaker sections of society should remain in bondage as if they were subjects of some colonial power; that the people were sovereign masters of their destiny and captains of their fate and that the rulers were there to serve them and not to lord over them.. Our fight was to change mindsets within the judiciary so that they may liberate themselves from the reviled and thoroughly discredited doctrines of the past that were used time and again to justify the militarization of the institutions of the state. We had to change the mindsets of our politicians – that political power emanates from the people and not from foreign capitols; that they turn anti-people when they welcome military takeovers or share the crumbs of power with usurpers; that democracy and tolerance are inseparable twins and that they must strive to strengthen institutions and not men. We wanted our armed forces to know that we honour the soldier who has laid down his life for the defence of the country but that we are bounden to resist when the watchman forcibly takes over the master’s house and that their guns should be pointed outwards to defend the frontiers of our lands rather than facing inwards at the people they have sworn to protect.
And indeed what an incredible movement it has been. Putting personal interest aside, the overwhelming majority of lawyers galvanized the masses and paved the way for the political leadership to assert the supremacy of civilian institutions. We did not rest with the restoration of the Chief Justice to his rightful position but went to root out the cause of the injustice that pervades our society. It is our position that this injustice rests on the foundations of arbitrary and dictatorial rule and in order to establish a just society we must uproot the old foundations.
On 3rd November 2007 acting in his capacity as Chief of Army Staff, General Musharraf proclaimed state of emergency, troops stormed into the Supreme Court and arrested 12 out of 17 judges of the Supreme Court and the majority of the judges of the High Courts and packed the superior courts with plaint judges. During the movement innumerous sacrifices were rendered. In the carnage at Karachi on May 12, 2007, almost 50 lives were lost in the bomb blast at Islamabad outside the premises of the Islamabad Bar Association 16 peoples were blown to death. Hundreds of activists were physically beaten and tortured. Almost 2000 lawyers were arrested. I had the privileged of being detained in solitary at the notorious Attock Prison where I almost lost my life.
On 18th February 2008 the nation went to the polls. Although the election was not completely fair and transparent nor were all the players provided with a level playing field, the results showed that the people had massively rejected General Musharraf and, the party that his intelligence agencies had formed and backed since the last 5 years. The results were indeed a referendum on Pervez Musharraf himself. The democratic forces had finally prevailed but the legal fraternity is short of its goals- the reinstatement of the sacked judges and the establishment of a society based on justice and equality before law.
We feel vindicated that our struggle has borne some fruit and we expect that the democratic forces shall forever close the door to military intervention in the body politic by strengthening all the institutions of the state to perform the functions assigned to them under the Constitution, We feel that we have woken up the slumbering giant – the people of Pakistan- to take charge of its own destiny. Our movement does not end with the reinstatement of the deposed judges. It continues and is in fact a never ending journey during the course of which we shall continue to strive for an independent judiciary, for maintaining the supremacy of the Rule of Law, the Constitution and the establishment of civilian supremacy in running the affairs of the Pakistan. And we shall continue to draw inspiration from the Gwangju Democratization Movement of May 1980. Thank you.