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Howard’s End: Human Rights Day Revisited

Howard’s End: Human Rights Day Revisited

By Maree Howard

Today is Human Rights Day but it's not as well known as it should be, that this little country was responsible for adding these words to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "All members of the organisation undertake to preserve, protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms." Maree Howard writes.

It was on 10 December 1948 that New Zealand joined a war-ravaged world at the newly formed United Nations and led the charge to preserve, protect and promote universal human rights and fundamental freedoms for the future.

The global family of humanity has often failed in those lofty ideals of 1948, but we must never forget that it was little, insignificant New Zealand, who took a main role in the spread of human rights ideas and institutions at the international level.

The turning point ensuring development of international human rights was the Atlantic Charter of August 14 1941. This Charter referred to rights of people to choose their form of Government (self Government) and freedom of speech and thought - things we take so much for granted today.

Ultimately, the United Nations was founded with the specific purpose of its Charter being promotion and encouragement of respect for human rights.

Of course, the idea of human rights against oppression has been around for centuries and really took root way back in 1215 with the signing of the Magna Carta.

I wonder how many Scoop readers know that Chapter 29 of Magna Carta is still part of the law of this country and must be recognised and taken notice of by Government, judges, public servants and everyone else acting under authority of the Crown.

It is a magnificent human rights document which, although sometimes forgotten about today, contains law which says in part " We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either justice or right."

That is as relevant today, particularly with the way some New Zealanders are being treated by Crown organisations, as it was when it was written in 1215. Chapters one, sixty and sixty-three refers to all people so it is was not, as is often thought, directed at just a select group of English Barons. It meant all people.

In fact, in 1688 the English politicians wrote the Bill of Rights from which our New Zealand Parliament still claims its sovereignty: "For the vindicating and asserting our ancient rights and liberties, declare....."

Those ancient rights and liberties were from Magna Carta.

Much later it was Elanor Rooseveldt who described the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a Magna Carta for all humanity.

On this special day it is worth repeating the Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

* Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world;

* Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freeedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people;

* Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law;

* Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations;

* Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom;

* Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms;

* Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the grea test importance for the full realisation of this pledge;

Now, therefore, The General Assembly proclaims This Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of the Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under the jurisdiction;..................

If the rights in the Magna Carta, the Treaty of Waitangi and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are to be paid anything but lip service, then in this country there are many important human rights issues which still need to be addressed and we must do better - not least, the way some of our Government organisations are treating (and failing) our fellow human beings.

Do values matter? - you bet they do.

Perhaps it's only for today, but whatever your culture, your faith, your heritage, no matter who you are, let's all think about how we can make New Zealand a better place for each other - and have a happy Human Rights Day!

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