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Relevance of human rights as strong today as ever

9 December 2005

Relevance of human rights as strong today as ever

This year two themes are being used to mark International Human Rights Day. The first focuses on the absolute ban on torture, inhumane and degrading treatment and the second on the elimination of child poverty.

"Both themes raise significant issues for New Zealand domestically as well as for New Zealand's human rights contribution internationally," said Rosslyn Noonan, Chief Human Rights Commissioner.

Respecting and protecting the human rights of all people is as important today as it was in 1948 when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was signed, Ms Noonan said.

Tomorrow is International Human Rights Day, which marks the anniversary of the signing of the UDHR. This year marks the 57th anniversary of that historic event. The UDHR was the first internationally agreed statement of universal respect for human rights and forms the lynchpin of the international human rights framework.

"The signing of the UDHR was a global acknowledgement that the horrors of World War II must never be repeated," said Ms Noonan.

New Zealand was an important advocate during the Second World War and afterwards, through the development of the United Nations and the peace processes, for a world based on human rights and fundamental freedoms.

"It is clear that the rights set out in the UDHR are still extremely relevant today. Two years ago when the Commission asked New Zealanders about human rights, as part of the first comprehensive survey of human rights in New Zealand, they told us that as in 1948, economic, social and cultural rights are as important to them as civil and political rights," Ms Noonan said.

"We are enormously fortunate that in most areas New Zealand meets and surpasses human rights standards, but even here, in some areas we fall well short and must do better."

"The international 'war on terror' has led to a growing acceptance of torture and related practices. We are very fortunate that torture is not condoned in New Zealand law or practice. And yet recent Court cases have shown that practices verging on inhumane and degrading treatment have occurred within our prisons," Ms Noonan said.

Human Rights in New Zealand Today, a report released by the Human Rights Commission in March, found that people in detention in New Zealand are vulnerable to human rights abuses.

Another theme for the day supported in New Zealand focuses on the campaign to Make Poverty History.

"In this country much has been done to eliminate poverty and there is much to commend, yet still a significant group of our children live in poverty. These are children who do not have secure healthy housing; they go to school without breakfast and with nothing to eat for lunch; and often they drop out of school before they are able to read, write or do basic maths," Ms Noonan said.

"We need to make poverty history here in New Zealand as well as around the world," she said.

"The rights set out in the UDHR provide the best basis for ensuring the dignity, equality and security of every man, woman and child in New Zealand and elsewhere."


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