In 1948, in the raw years after World War II and before the Cold War, something miraculous happened. World leaders determined that there would be a declaration of human rights for all. The UN Declaration of Human Rights was written as a world’s community tried to come to terms with their own actions. As they recovered from the burns of phosphorus in Dresden, the genocide in Nagasaki and the unspeakable inhumanity of Auschwitz. It realised the interdependence of rights. So the cultural rights of minorities were recognised, with the rights to employment and decent housing and the right to live free from torture.
In the years to come world leaders did not live up to their promise. The Western Block privileged civil and political rights and the Eastern Block privileged social and economic rights. And of course millions were not privileged by any rights at all as proxy wars ensued. But the principle is important. What Eleanor Roosevelt and the other leaders recognised in 1948 was that a person lives a life which does not divide rights up. They are interdependent. Human rights are designed for minorities. They are for the lonely victim of strip searching, the one follower of Islam living in my street, for any demographic and all demographics. It is their genius and their promise.
The debate on rights here should be reminiscent of all that. Rights do not belong to one section of people. Rights belong to all sections of all people. Playing rights off against each other is both dangerous and self-defeating. Human rights are not hands of poker to be played with or played off.
Everyone has a right to excellence in health care. Everyone. It should be beyond the reach of political argument or discord that those who are sick and vulnerable receive the best care possible. The Bengoa Report gives a possible pathway to that.
That language rights are played off against health care in the 21st century is incomprehensible. That bereaved victims of the conflict, whose experience means they are more likely to be in need of critical care, are asked to make a choice regarding their rights is simply cruel.
There needs to be an end to the pretence that some rights can get privileged – as a local modern version of what happened in the Cold War. Fulfilment of everybody’s rights needs to be planned and actioned.
The British Government need to legislate for the Irish Language Act. They promised they would if the Assembly didn’t do it in the St Andrews Agreement. And they need to stop pretending that local political discord prevents them funding legacy inquests. It was a mistake in the Stormont House Agreement to place that responsibility with Stormont. The British Government is the ECHR signatory, it holds the legal obligations, it needs to fund them. It needs to stop hiding behind Unionism from their obligations.
And the other legacy mechanisms, that promise to deliver to thousands more victims, from every section of our community needs to have the accountable infrastructure in place to deliver to victims.
Just as our future as a community is interlinked so are our rights. And once we realise that we can be confident that we will all be protected and valued. As a wise woman in 1948 once told us.