The Universal Declaration on Human Rights Sixty Years On: Diana Pickard Questions Whether New Zealanders Are Fluent in the Universal Language of Human Rights

By Pickard, Diana | New Zealand International Review, March-April 2009 | Go to article overview

The Universal Declaration on Human Rights Sixty Years On: Diana Pickard Questions Whether New Zealanders Are Fluent in the Universal Language of Human Rights


Pickard, Diana, New Zealand International Review


On l0 December 2008 everyone in Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand wished the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 'Happy Birthday'. For the past 60 years many human hopes have been carried on the back of this United Nations declaration, which was developed in 1948 in the aftermath of the Second World War. New Zealand played a positive role in its creation.

The declaration has many offspring--international human rights treaties on children, civil and political rights, economic, social and cultural rights, the rights of refugees, of women, of those with disabilities. The list goes on. Last year New Zealand made its first submission to the United Nations under a new universal periodic reporting system, commenting on how we match up to these universal standards. And for the first time, nongovernmental organisations, including Amnesty, were able to make their own submissions direct to Geneva.

The challenge is for New Zealanders to consider, after six decades of living with the declaration, the robustness and resilience of our human rights culture at home. Are human rights too thinly protected? We have no entrenched Bill of Rights or Constitution. A government may override human rights in order to be tough on those in our society they decide are less worthy. Do each of us--the member of Parliament developing policy, the panel beater developing repetitive stress injury, the teacher developing minds and the school student developing friends--sufficiently understand the part human rights play in our daily lives, and in the lives of others? In short, if human rights were a language, how well are we speaking it?

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For some human rights, we are fluent and articulate, around election time you could almost say verbose. We enjoy, for example, the freedom to express our views, and to vote for the political party of our choice. At any time we are able to choose where to live and who we live with. Our rights are protected when we are in hospital, or in court.

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