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This Press Release may be read online at: http://www.unitedsikhs.org/PressReleases/PRSRLS-24-09-2008-00.htm
Press Release: 24th Sept 2008, Monday 10th Assu (Samvat 540 Nanakshahi )
|Sikhs Faced Mixed Reception at the Annual UN Conference in Paris|
UNESCO security refused entry to kirpan-wearing Sikhs at a UN Conference while French authorities granted permission for Sikhs to wear the kirpan at a UN Human Rights Village
Paris, France - SIKHS faced a mixed reception in Paris earlier this month when they were refused entry to a UN conference at the UNESCO Headquarters because they wore a kirpan, a curved religious blade, one of the Sikh articles of faith. French authorities, on the other hand, upheld their human rights by allowing them to wear their kirpan in the UN Human Rights Village outside the Paris City Hall.
The Human Rights Village event on 30th Aug 2008 was a prelude to the 61st UN NGO/DPI Conference at the UNESCO Headquarters, which took place between 3-5 September 2008, whose theme was “Reaffirming Human Rights for All- The Declaration at 60”. The events marked the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
UNITED SIKHS had secured approval for Sikhs to wear the kirpan at the Human Rights Village exhibition held at the Paris City Hall but were unable to secure such permission for entry into the UNESCO Headquarters in order to attend the UN Conference.
Jerome Perdreau, Head of the Ceremonies Department for the Human Rights Village said via email, “Our security service has been made aware of the demand [to wear the kirpan] of Sikhs present in the village and we will allow them to enter the Paris City Hall, if necessary, with their kirpan. The Parisian Police Authority is also aware of the situation and has not reacted. Consequently, there is no problem.’’
Gurpreet Singh, a member of UNITED SIKHS’ legal team had also approached Mr Jeffery Huffines, Chair of the NGO/DPI Executive Committee, to obtain permission for Sikhs to wear the kirpan in the UNESCO building for the Conference.
"Mr Huffines informed me that he was unable to prevent UN security from prohibiting the wearing of the kirpan at this conference and that there were other NGO groups who were being excluded from the conference too for other reasons," Gurpreet Singh said.
When contacted after the conference, Mr Huffines, who is also the UN Representative of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the US said, “We recognise that there were a handful of NGO representatives who were unable to participate in the conference because of UNESCO building security rules.”
“The Executive Committee will seek to uphold the right of all NGOs associated with the UN Department of Public Information (DPI) to enter UN buildings in the future,” he added.
UNITED SIKHS representatives, Chris Thomson (left) and Gurpreet Singh (right) ready to welcome and inform members of the public at their exhibition.
On the brighter side, at the Human Rights Village, Gurpreet Singh, Chris Thomson and Dharamveer Singh set up an exhibition inside a large tent shared by other NGOs. During the day, members of the public came and learnt about the work of UNITED SIKHS. They were given a free DVD of “Le Combat pour ma Couronne” or “Battle for my Crown”, which was produced as part of UNITED SIKHS’ Right to Turban Campaign which illustrates the problems Sikhs face in Europe with regards to their turban. You may read more about the Right to Turban Campaign here: http://www.unitedsikhs.org/rtt/ . You may also watch the “Le Combat pour ma Couronne” or “Battle for my Crown” DVD here: http://www.unitedsikhs.org/rtt/dvd/rttfilm.rm
“Recognise the Whole Human Race as One”, the command of Guru Gobind Singh Jee and the motto of UNITED SIKHS.
Lea Gnaly, a French law student, who attended UNITED SIKHS’ stand, had the following to say:
“UNITED SIKHS’ exhibition was very interesting because I learnt why Sikhs wear their turbans and that they had fought in the World Wars wearing them, something which I was completely unaware of. What surprised me was how they have been affected by the French law banning religious symbols in schools. Thank you for this exhibition and continue to defend and advocate your cause before the public.”
Members of the public and NGOs were asked by the event organisers to write a message in support of human rights on a large canvas that was erected on the square outside the Hotel de Ville. Chris Thomson and Gurpreet Singh decided to write the motto of UNITED SIKHS which derives from the command of Guru Gobind Singh Jee, the 10th Guru of the Sikhs: “Recognise the whole Human Race as one”. The canvas was later shown at various conference sites across Paris including the UNESCO Headquarters, where the Conference took place.
Later that afternoon, Gurpreet Singh was invited to deliver a speech about UNITED SIKHS’ projects. In addition to informing the public about the various humanitarian and advocacy projects carried out by UNITED SIKHS, he also highlighted the obstacles that Sikhs face in respect of their right to practice their religion freely and the contribution that Sikhs made to the defence of liberty: “More than 83,000 died, more than 110,000 were injured, fighting in the World Wars on the front line, wearing their turbans for the rights and freedom of Europe. Now Sikhs have to fight for their own rights and freedom in Europe. Is that just?”
Members of the local Sikh community came to offer their support and encouragement for the exhibition and helped to bring more people to the stand with calls of “Bole So Nihal”. They also provided the representatives with cool refreshments which were well received and enabled them to endure the hot day.
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