Human Rights – the Essence of Democracy

“The Edmund Rice Centre (ERC) welcomes the Report from the National Human Rights Consultation Committee,” said Dr. John Sweeney, who co-ordinates the Centre's research.

"That the overwhelming majority made strong calls for a clearer legal statement of every human's rights in this country is also an encouraging signal that people are concerned to protect the well-being and dignity of others."

"Agreeing on common moral principles that stand independently of all groups is the only defence ordinary people have against 'Might makes right'. Moral principles are too important to be left to the whim or personal judgment of a small number of people." Dr Sweeney said.

"The huge response by over 40,000 Australians right across the nation is an encouraging sign of a desire and commitment to participate in democratic processes. That the overwhelming majority made strong calls for a clearer legal statement of every human's rights in this country is also an encouraging signal that people are concerned to protect the well-being and dignity of others."

The Edmund Rice Centre works with a wide variety of people who confront diverse issues relating to their human rights:

  • the first Australians, still struggling to find a way to live with dignity in this land that they have occupied for many thousands of years;
  • recent arrivals, fleeing torture, war or persecution, as in the most recent example of young Kenyan women, fleeing female genital mutilation; and
  • those who face the loss of their homes in the Pacific because of the carbon-polluting lifestyle of wealthy nations.

"Within this large spectrum of people and issues, there are also people concerned about how they will be treated at work, at Centrelink, in a hospital, even at the hands of the police. We need some good clear rules about respect for people, no matter who they are, rules that we can all agree to and ones which can set the tone for making and observing law." said Dr. Sweeney.

"Human Rights have the best claim to a universally agreed set of moral principles. We desperately need to enshrine them in all our institutions if we are going to continue to want to be a country of the 'fair go'", he added.

“We particularly welcome the Committee's dialogue approach outlined in the report's recommendations,” said, Dr. Sweeney, "The Edmund Rice Centre believes that as a society we, particularly those in responsible and powerful positions, must pay attention to the views of all – especially the least powerful. It is vitally important for our health as a society."

The Centre is contributing to the ongoing debate about a Human Rights Act and recently published a discussion paper, Human Rights Acts – Common Misconceptions (http://www.erc.org.au/index.php?module=documents&JAS_DocumentManager_op=downloadFile&JAS_File_id=251)

"The objection that a Human Rights Act would be undemocratic by simply giving more power to judges is mistaken, in our view," Dr Sweeney said. "Power is not only held by one group of people or another, whether they be politicians or judges. Agreeing on common moral principles that stand independently of all groups is the only defence ordinary people have against 'Might makes right'. Moral principles are too important to be left to the whim or personal judgment of a small number of people."

 

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