Human rights are universal. In other words, they apply to everyone, everywhere.
Until recently, some societies, even some which embrace the principles of democracy, have not paid much attention to human rights.
The need to respect human rights, within peaceful and relatively small and close-knit societies, especially those generally well served with the essentials of life, such as food, education, employment and health services, may not be immediately obvious.
However, the need to develop human rights came out of the atrocities of two World Wars. Those wars came about through governments adopting policies which sought to discriminate against people because of race, religion or beliefs, and even, because of disability. Our own island was occupied as a direct result of a government ideology which did not respect human rights.
In the Guernsey context, human rights are needed because they offer individual islanders the vital possibility to challenge the actions and the policies and laws, established by our government. For the first time, human rights enable such challenges to be ultimately heard by an international court.
Human rights Conventions also lead to domestic legislation which allows citizens to also challenge non-government organisations, and even other citizens, who infringe or abuse rights and freedoms.
Much discrimination, especially that associated with disability, is systemic.
Conventions, such as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, help to remove systemic discrimination and help prevent individual incidences of discrimination.
Human Rights Conventions help ensure that our society will be organised in a way (physically, procedurally and attitudinally) that the need for formal challenges through courts and tribunals should be kept to a minimum.
All societies must have mechanisms that enable such challenges. The States of Guernsey would be failing in its fundamental duty, that of keeping islanders from harm, if these mechanisms are not in place in Guernsey.
To quote Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the architects of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”