Know Your Human Rights

Posted on 03 February 2017

2017 Janaury 21 Women’s March

You have rights. You have rights. I was flabbergasted the other day at the homelessness rally when someone said, “We should have a right to a place we can call home.” This is true for both the homeless and refugees. Not only should we have that right, in fact by international agreement we do have that right. It is found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This is a serious problem. If people are made unaware of their rights, then they become unaware when their government is abridging those rights and should be called into account. Governments that wish to pass laws and take actions that are outside of their United Nations agreements are often negligent in their duty to inform the public of their rights. The United Nations is not simply picking on Australia and trying to make us feel bad about ourselves when they criticise our human rights violations. Those rights are there for your protection. By protecting everyone’s rights around the world we all live safer more peaceful lives. You cannot hoard safety by mistreating others. Ultimately our fates are tied!

The Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights form the hub of international law. Members of the United Nations are expected to abide by these documents as well as the Genocide Convention and the Refugee Convention. Australia had a significant role in creating the Universal Declaration. We were a founding member of the UN. We were also one of the eight nations involved in drafting the declaration. Dr Herbert Vere Evatt of Australia’s UN delegation was President of the UN General Assembly the year the Universal Declaration was adopted. We should see this document as our own. We should take great pride in abiding by its articles. Instead we are ignoring and hiding the wisdom of our elders.

Some of you may be thinking what good is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights when it is unenforceable? If you are, you are probably thinking in terms of the International Court of Justice which settles disputes submitted to it by states and provides advisory opinions on legal questions, which may seem narrow and toothless. However, the UN has sent in protection forces such as in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, when they entered the country to ensure safety of peoples regardless of religion and the disbursement of humanitarian aid. The UN has also called for boycotts of countries with gross violations of human rights. Boycotts can be very effective in putting pressure on a leader and a state.

What you also need to understand is that we agreed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. We later signed the multilateral treaty known as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1972 and ratified it in 1980. Both of these documents represent a commitment on Australia’s part. A couple of legal cases in this country have been won by making reference to the Universal Declaration. So those documents have an effect on our own courts and how their judgements are determined. Also, abiding by our treaties makes us trustworthy in the eyes of other nations. It influences how willing those nations are to cooperate with us. That affects our trade agreements, our military agreements, our agreements to protect the Earth’s biosphere. You cannot cherry-pick which rights you are going to give your own people and others, and still expect the rest of the world to have any respect for you as a nation. Valuing our national integrity is critical to good international relations. It gives us what is known as “soft power”, something the US is swiftly losing.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not written in legalese. It was carefully drafted so that anyone could understand it. The little booklet that I carry around of the Universal Declaration is only fourteen pages long. I also have a copy of We Are All Born Free, a children’s book which easily explains all the rights listed in the Univeral Declaration (and has a foreword by David Tennant!). You can also get posters that condense the thirty articles of the declaration onto a single page. When I first read the declaration, I didn’t find it dry at all, I found it inspirational! Under current world circumstances it behooves us all to learn our rights and to call our governments to account.

I have been trying to get people interested in workshops not only to understand the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but to engage with them. I want to see books, plays, songs, television, comics, films, and more telling stories that illustrate the importance of these rights. Change cannot be made in the world until we all change our values and our priorities. Human rights should be a top priority. Stories help to mould people’s values. If you want to be a part of such a workshop tell me. If you have written a play short or long that deals with human rights, let me know and I will look into producing it. This is now a large part of my mission on this planet. In the coming weeks I will be putting up meditations (not the “om” sort) on each of the rights listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Keep your eyes peeled!

Peace and kindness,


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