Bachelet praises SA rights pi­o­neers

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - METRO - NONI MOKATI

BE­FORE she re­lin­quished her po­si­tion in gov­ern­ment in March this year, Michelle Bachelet had a myr­iad re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

One of these, which she was ve­he­mently de­ter­mined to see through, was to ensure the dig­nity and rights of fel­low Chilean men, women and chil­dren were up­held.

Now in her new po­si­tion as UN High Com­mis­sioner for Hu­man Rights, she main­tains that her man­date is clear.

“I have to be the voice to the pow­er­less,” she said a day af­ter she joined Pres­i­dent Cyril Ram­phosa at Con­sti­tu­tion Hill in Joburg, where both lead­ers spoke about the im­por­tant role the dec­la­ra­tion of hu­man rights has played post World War II.

It was also at Con­sti­tu­tion Hill where Bachelet said she was ex­posed to the harsh con­di­tions fe­male political pris­on­ers in the coun­try were sub­jected to.

“I’ve been to prison. No prison is nice. But to see the size of the cell that these women were de­tained in made me re­alise the in­hu­mane con­di­tions they were de­tained un­der.

“Yes, we re­mem­ber the dec­la­ra­tion of hu­man rights in the cen­te­nary year of Nel­son Man­dela, but not ev­ery­one knows about the strug­gle these women pris­on­ers en­dured. It speaks of how pow­er­ful women are,” she said.

Al­though seven decades ago the sig­na­to­ries of the uni­ver­sal dec­la­ra­tion func­tioned un­der a dif­fer­ent political and so­cial cli­mate, the laws con­tained in the char­ter still play a sig­nif­i­cant role for to­day’s so­ci­ety. They are laws around which South Africa, un­der the demo­cratic dis­pen­sa­tion, has framed its Con­sti­tu­tion, re­sult­ing in it be­com­ing one of the most pro­gres­sive Con­sti­tu­tions in the world.

To com­mem­o­rate the an­niver­sary, the UN has over the past 30 days pub­lished a se­ries of 30 short ar­ti­cles on each of the 30 Ar­ti­cles con­tained in the Uni­ver­sal Dec­la­ra­tion, which in­clude the right to pri­vacy, work, equal­ity be­fore the law, free­dom from slav­ery, and dis­crim­i­na­tion.

How­ever, the rights in the dec­la­ra­tion have not gone with­out scru­tiny or crit­i­cism. At times they have been re­jected by some sec­tors of so­ci­ety over cul­tural and re­li­gious be­liefs.

The for­mer pres­i­dent of Chile, a qual­i­fied pe­di­a­tri­cian, said she wit­nessed a plethora of hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions against chil­dren, and has held di­a­logues on a num­ber of is­sues, such as child mar­riages and the uni­ver­sal rights of women, of­ten si­lenced un­der pa­tri­ar­chal in­stances.

She em­pha­sises that no cul­ture or re­li­gion can trump the rights of any in­di­vid­ual.

“For a child not to gain ac­cess to qual­ity health care be­cause their par­ents have cer­tain be­liefs is con­cern­ing. Be­liefs should not en­dan­ger any­one.

“At some point cul­ture has to evolve. When you nat­u­ralise some­thing that is not nat­u­ral, such as beat­ing a woman or abus­ing a child, that can­not be right. We have to speak up…

“The state should al­ways give op­tions to peo­ple and cre­ate an aware­ness around their rights,” she said.

To achieve this, Bachelet be­lieves it is es­sen­tial that na­tional and lo­cal gov­ern­ments have good and con­crete data which they can use to dis­sem­i­nate fac­tual in­for­ma­tion to the masses.

MICHELLE BACHELET

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