Bachelet praises SA rights pioneers
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.