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Ethical approach to human rights regarding Chch rebuild

Ethical, bottom-up approach to human rights needs to replace the top-down, neoliberal approach which threatens the Christchurch rebuild

Anthony Ravlich
Human Rights Council (New Zealand)

February 24, 2012

I consider an ethical, ‘bottom-up’ approach to human rights and development, emphasizing small/medium business development, would enable Christchurch to make the most of its opportunities.

I believe this approach will eventually replace neoliberalism.

Neo liberalism involves considerable ‘top-down’, bureaucratic control whereas the ethical approach emphasizes ‘bottom-up’ development. It is, after all, really the dream of the residents to build a new city much more so than the central controllers in government and the city council.

I am very concerned bureaucratic red-tape will suffocate individual freedoms and consequently people’s ability to help themselves and so considerably slow the rebuilding.

For example, the slow rebuild is holding up businesses employing staff who are ‘awaiting signs that rebuilding is under way so they can hit the "hire" button’ (‘Hiring stalls as rebuild slow’, Tamlyn Stewart, February 14, 2012).

Also, see a concerning article from a resident describing considerable frustrations with the Earthquake Commission (as well as the insurance companies) which has apparently grown from 27 staff to more than 1200 (Banging heads against EQC wall, Amanda Cropp, The Press).

Also, the central controllers in government and the city council just fail to recognize the importance of independent minds when in a collectivist, extremely conformist, society of which they are a part.

For example, such an independent mind, structural engineer, John Scarry, has been telling government for years that New Zealand buildings are not up to scratch.

After a report which showed the Canterbury Television building, whose collapse led to the deaths of 115 people, was not up to code, he felt vindicated and, on national television, told Housing Minister, Maurice Williamson, to resign (Engineer calls for Williamson’s resignation, ONE news, February 10, 2012).

Of course, members of neo liberal elites who subjugate themselves to the collective (following a human rights agenda whose omissions overlook the rights of many) are not prepared to listen to independent minds, even at enormous cost to the country, for fear it will encourage other ‘bottom-up’ challenges to ‘top-down’ neo liberalism.

The ethical approach, which is universal, means one is in touch with the ‘human family’ while the neo liberal elites have become, in my view, very detached from the ‘human family’.

Put simply, if the Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not deliver on, at the very least, the core minimum of these rights (the ethical approach) then it serves no purpose apart from being used as a political tool to further elite interests which I consider is the case under neo liberalism.

New Zealanders have not been told that more than half the human rights (including many civil and political rights) have been left out of New Zealand’s human rights law to a large degree to ensure compatibility with neo liberalism.

How can you talk about a free market when, for example, choices and opportunities e.g. for small businesses development, are severely limited by discrimination (due to the omissions) – when the individual right to pursue one’s economic and social development (liberty) is left out so bureaucratic red-tape cannot be challenged in court?

My fear is that the people of Christchurch will be so ground down they will either give up or leave which of course is what has happened to many in New Zealand prior to the earthquakes and is still happening.

My work, the social statistics and my experience at the bottom of the social scale show significant numbers of people, in my view, are being killed by neo liberal neglect (see, our website, and although much less visible than authoritarian direct violence as one human rights writer pointed out ‘the end result is the same’ i.e. death.

While I see the ethical approach, and including the omitted human rights, as inevitable if freedom is to survive many people can suffer enormously while neo liberal elites continue to ‘play for time’.

Further Information

My human rights activities began in Christchurch in 1991 (I lived there for a year). I received national media coverage for my protest against the severe benefit cuts of that year. I also visited Christchurch after each of the major earthquakes because I was so concerned that the rebuilding would be seriously affected by bureaucratic red tape and because of what I saw as a ‘conflict of interests’. At the national level there seems to be a policy of no progress but progress was definitely needed in Christchurch. Further information on the ethical approach to human rights, development and globalization can be found in my book, ‘Freedom from our social prisons: the rise of economic, social and cultural rights’ (Lexington Books, 2008), which was recommended on the United Nations website for about two years, and recently reviewed by the editor of New Zealand Indian Newslink. More information can be found on Auckland Indymedia, Guerilla Media or our website, .


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