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Citizens and the law

Universal rights and New Zealanders

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Universal rights and New Zealanders

Basic rules
Universal declaration
Equal rights
Sustainable development
Evolving understanding


“There is no single model of democracy, or of human rights, or of cultural expression for all the world. But for all the world, there must be democracy, human rights and free cultural expression… The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, far from insisting on uniformity, is the basic condition for global diversity. That is its great power. That is its lasting value. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrines and illuminates global pluralism and diversity. It is the standard for an emerging era in which communication and collaboration between States and peoples will determine their success and survival.”
Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General

The international law of human rights establishes principles, standards and goals for the relationship between a state, individuals and communities.

Basic rules

All societies, religions and cultures have dwelt on the issue of what rights and responsibilities an individual has within his or her community, what he or she can do to others, and what power a government may legitimately exercise over individuals and groups.

Universal declaration

Adopted in the aftermath of the Second World War, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights marked the first occasion that a world organisation (the United Nations) articulated and agreed a common set of rights – civil, political, economic, social and cultural – to which people everywhere are entitled. Its adoption was a landmark event signalling that human rights are a matter of legitimate international concern.

Equal rights

The Declaration constitutes “a common standard of achievement for all people and all nations” based on “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” as “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”. Many societies have gone further and included these principles and rights in their national constitutional arrangements.
The Declaration regards all rights – civil, political, economic, social and cultural – as indivisible as well as universal; that is, they are deemed to be of equal importance being interdependent and interrelated, and therefore requiring the same level of protection.

Sustainable development

Today, there is also a growing acknowledgement of the relationship between governance, human development and human rights.

Recently, in a publication called Development and Human Rights: The Role of the World Bank, the World Bank wrote: “By placing the dignity of every human being – especially the poorest – at the very foundation of its approach to development, the Bank helps people in every part of the world build lives of purpose and hope.”
A recent UN Development Programme (UNDP) annual Human Development Report is devoted entirely to the relationship between human rights and development. In his Foreword, Mark Malloch Brown, the head of UNDP, writes: “[A] broad vision of human rights must be entrenched to achieve sustainable human development. When adhered to in practice as well as principle, [human rights and sustainable human development] make up a self-reinforcing virtuous circle.”
Today, there is increasing recognition of the close relationship between governance, human development and human rights.

Evolving understanding

As with other historic documents, our understanding of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights evolves with the passage of time. The Declaration is animated by a sense of the dignity and well-being of all individuals and communities.

Find out more!

This article is taken from the report on the Re-Evaluation of the Human Rights Protections in New Zealand, commissioned by then Justice Minister Margaret Wilson from former Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade senior legal adviser Bill Mansfield and others.










Kofi  Annan, people and the olive branches symbolising the UN

The Universal Declaration of Human rights influences New Zealand - and New Zealand influenced the Declaration


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