Sat | Jan 19, 2019

Bruno Pouezat | History will judge us on rights and wrongs

Published:Wednesday | December 12, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Seventy years ago, on December 10, representatives of countries from every continent adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a mighty document that has helped change the world.

Drawing on cultural and religious traditions from across the planet, they agreed that some values are common to all humanity - values that, together, add up to justice, equality and human dignity. They determined that human rights are inalienable and that no government or any other actor may legitimately violate the human rights of any individual.

And in a world shattered by war, destruction and genocide, they composed the Universal Declaration as a point-by-point response to the horrors they had just endured. The Declaration embodies one overriding lesson: human rights are "the foundation of peace in the world" - justice, and rights, build peace.

It is by this essential yardstick that history will judge each of us, our leaders, our nations and the United Nations itself. Have we, through our actions and our advocacy, advanced respect for human dignity, equality and rights? Have we ensured the creation of equitable and inclusive societies, based on justice and fair opportunities and services for all? Have we promoted freedom from want and fear? In other words, have we done everything we could to ensure peace within nations, and between them?

As we mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration, we can take stock of what it has helped achieve. In 70 years, millions of people have gained greater freedoms and equality. Millions have been empowered to fight discrimination and gain greater access to justice, to essential services and to equality of opportunity. On women's rights; the rights of ethnic, religious, racial and caste minorities; the rights of persons with disabilities, of workers and employees, of people who are simply different, migrants or LGBTI; the rights of the child; the rights to health, to education, to decent housing and social services - in all these areas, enormous progress has been made.

The contributions of civil society activists, human rights defenders and yes, artists, have been essential to each of these advances.

Here in Jamaica, we can celebrate a number of achievements, including the adoption of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms in 2011. Soon, we hope, a National Human Rights Institution will strengthen the administration and enforcement of all human rights. A Sexual Harassment Bill will benefit women and girls who tend to be the victims of sexual harassment. And the banning of corporal punishment across the education system will protect children from harm.

 

FAILED EFFORTS

 

Yet, in many areas across the world, our efforts have failed - in some cases with tragic impact. Conflicts have crushed the rights of millions of people. Millions, including many from minority groups, have suffered hideously from human-rights violations - the humiliation and violence of discrimination and genocide, exploitation, deprivation. Women and girls still experience widespread harassment and violence, even in their own home.

We need to act, and we know what to do. We know how to build the righteous path the path to security, prosperity and peace for all. It is a task we can achieve with very practical steps.

We can build rule of law institutions, which offer the confidence of impartial justice.

We can build equality across the extraordinary wealth of our human diversity: regardless of sex, race, ethnicity, opinions, belief, caste, class, migrant status, sexual orientation, disability.

We can build trust through governance that is transparent, participative and accountable.

Freedoms of expression, association and belief must prevail, together with strong and independent media, in order that people be fully informed, free to contribute in decision-making without fear.

We must safeguard societies against those who propagate hatred and incite violence.

But it won't happen, and it won't last, without everyone's active engagement. We need to reach the broadest possible audiences to stir their understanding of the vital principles at stake and the disaster their loss could lead to. We need to mobilise energetic activism in every country where people are still free to raise their voices without fear.

After all, by standing up for all human rights, you are standing up for your own rights.

- Bruno Pouezat is the United Nations resident coordinator in Jamaica. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.