Wednesday, 10 December 2008, is a very memorable day. Sixty years ago the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). It stated clearly in Article 1 that "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights" and declared for the first time a set of fundamental human rights for everyone. Since then the whole body of the international human rights law has been developed on this basis. Many international human rights treaties and conventions have been adopted and ratified by governments, including Ireland, to protect civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of all individuals. The government must ensure that people living in Ireland enjoy the rights provided by these conventions.
Does it mean that we enjoy all these rights to a full extent? Not necessarily and not all of us. Vulnerable groups such as children, women, refugees, prisoners, Travellers, or immigrants are particularly at risk to be denied their rights. In this regard the role of the judiciary, human rights commission, ombudsman and civil society organisations is to identify and to address human rights violations, challenge governments, advocate for change or to work with the deprived groups directly.
In Ireland, numerous grass-roots organisations actively engage with vulnerable groups to identify their needs and the difficulties encountered, and making every effort to improve their position. One such challenge is the integration of people who have recently come to Ireland from all over the world. In Mayo, where the diverse multicultural community has developed over the last ten years, the role of organisations working in this field is immense.
Mayo Intercultural Action (MIA) is the only organisation in Mayo solely dedicated to working for the integration of immigrants and asylum seekers in local communities. The outstanding contributions of MIA to bring about change in the lives of immigrants are not possible to enumerate in this article. The support for MIA, of former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, is indeed a confirmation of their high standard of work and a source of inspiration within the organisation for further action.
Currently the organisation’s future is under question, as its secured funding expires in May 2009. This poses an uncertain future for MIA and its work in promoting integration of the immigrant community into the local community.
Even after sixty years of the development of the concept of human rights, there is a lack of awareness among people about their rights. Indeed, governments are not eager to inform or teach people about their rights and freedoms. Only informed and active individuals are able to claim their rights and challenge governments if their rights are under threat.
I would encourage everyone to take the time to read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is also available at http://www.unhchr.ch/udhr/ in many languages. It is important to know our rights and also to remember – human rights are a matter of governments’ obligation, not charity.
Natalia Pestova is an active volunteer with MIA and holds an LLM (Master of Laws, International Human Rights) from NUI Galway.