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NZ suggests New Thinking needed on Human Rights

Monday 10 October, Paris

New Zealand suggests New Thinking needed on Human Rights Issues at UN Paris Meeting

The Chair of the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO National Commission in New Zealand, the Hon Margaret Austin, challenged a line up of 144 Government Ministers and around 1000 delegates from 192 countries at the biennial UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) General Conference in Paris to give fresh thought to human rights.

As Head of the New Zealand delegation to the Conference, Mrs Austin joined the line up of Deputy Prime Ministers, Ministers of Education, Ministers of Culture, Ministers of Sport and Ministers of Foreign Affairs from the 192 UNESCO Member States in presenting country views on priorities for the next two years.

Mrs Austin challenged the Ministers and delegates in the Plenary Assembly to give new meaning to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, one of the most fundamental foundations of the United Nations system. In a world of nations without borders, human rights issues have a new meaning, she said, especially for those who migrate, those who are displaced, for divided families and for those whose freedoms are threatened.

“Even though the world has the means to ensure every living person can enjoy a happy and peaceful life, this will never be achieved in a global environment of hatred and fear, or where there is poverty and injustice, or repression and corruption. Tolerance is not enough. All countries must show understanding and respect, and recognise the worth of their citizens.”

She suggested that all countries should be acknowledging differences and celebrating their cultural diversities. This is not just an issue for the rest of the world, she said. It affects New Zealand as well.

“We are proud of our record in upholding human rights and accepting cultural differences, but there have been some very disturbing incidents recently that have been a wake-up call for us.”

Mrs Austin described how UNESCO in New Zealand is taking practical steps with the Human Rights Commission to promote greater cultural understanding, especially amongst young people. Youth forums have recently been held throughout New Zealand and were attended by over 400 young people. This culminated in a cultural diversity forum in Wellington where 40 representatives from the youth forums presented a Declaration and this was carried forward to the global stage in Paris today. The Declaration includes a call for greater awareness of cultural identity, recognition of the Treaty of Waitangi, an appreciation of diversity and a more inclusive society through education.

At the UNESCO Assembly, Mrs Austin also called for much greater specificity in measuring progress towards the Millennium Development Goal of Education for All. UNESCO is the lead UN agency in ensuring that every child has access to a quality basic education by the year 2015. But with only 10 years ago, there is increasing scepticism that how realistic this is for many nations, and without reliable measures, the world and UNESCO can not know how to concentrate their resources. Mrs Austin told the Assembly that UNESCO must spell out exactly what is to be measured and in what countries and how the results are going to be reported on to provide the motivation for real action.

UNESCO is a United Nations agency working for world peace and international understanding through education, natural and social sciences, culture and communications. This year, UNESCO celebrates its 60th Anniversary. New Zealand has been a member since its formation in 1945.


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Hon Margaret Austin at UNESCO General Conference in Paris

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