Some years ago I received a begging letter from one of my old Alma Maters, Sydney University. As a sop I sent a small donation so I could write a letter strongly condemning this newly advertised degree which was seeking my financial support. This degree was to be directed towards the teaching of those who help to spread to other countries the ideals of “Democratisation and Human Rights”. Whilst I think there can never be too much focus on the principles of human rights, I disagreed with the automatic assumption that the two aspects to this course always go hand in hand. Unfortunately that university must have decided that it was cheaper to employ people who cannot read, as my reply consisted of a letter praising me for supporting their ideals.

How conceited have we become to think only our particular form of what could, at best, be very loosely described as “democracy” can be equated with protection of human rights?

But the conceit gets worse. Bit by bit, day by day, it gets worse.

I do not believe in killing, probably the biggest inroad into the rights of any human. Rarely should we go to war, and I assert that considered killing, based purely on ideology, automatically makes that killing less able to be excused or understood than is a killing based on a reaction when normal human emotions get out of hand. Sometimes the basis for the ideology can be a religious one. Sometimes it is based on very different ideological principles, as, for example, is the death penalty. It is appalling that Boris Nemtsov has been killed in Russia. But it is in no way made more appalling because he was a supporter of democracy. To take revenge, or think this could be a worse example of the crime of murder because it is anti-democratic rather than anti an alternative ideology, is a very limited view.

And what is a democratic ideology anyway? We do not all agree what that means. Fixed into our insular, island culture seems to be a particularly strange ideal of democracy, adopting perhaps the worst aspects from democracies around us. It results in the idea that a vote based on a two party political system, decided by an election which forces everybody to either vote or commit an illegality, is the essence of a good democratic government. Endlessly, for years, we have heard complaints that votes for a third or another small party, or any in fact any exercise of power from a minority in the house of review, are some sorts of anomalies which disrupt a “democratic process”. These can be, in fact, the epitome of a democratic process. For example while Ms Jackie Lambie and her ideas are probably as different from me and my ideas as is possible in any two women, I am proud of the fact that she is bold enough and outspoken enough to represent real democracy. That is to speak as she feels, to vote as she believes and not to feel constrained by party dictates.

Once we have parties virtually gagging the representatives that we have elected, not only true democracy but the very foundation of human rights, that is the right to speak and to hear, has gone out of the window. Even our cabinet ministers seem unable to communicate with us as they wish. Surely we are not stupid enough to think they would always be of exactly the same mind as one another? In a true democracy we, the people, should be able to hear all their arguments and differences and appreciate how they came to some compromise or consensus. But no, in our wonderful democracy, not a word must be “leaked”, especially to those who cast votes.

So we have lost what many countries believe is a right not to vote. We have lost the right, if we do vote, to have our representative speak for us in parliament and vote there as they (or even perhaps their electorates) would wish them to. Meanwhile this wonderful democracy is also ignoring conventions that we have signed with the UN to ensure human rights to others, first by not enacting some of them in parliament and, in fact, by breaching others in a way that is authorised by parliament.

And worse, even though our democracy has already eroded some of our rights, instead of working on this in an inclusive, accepting way in our own country, we seem, in the last decade or so to have become more divided and following less often the basic democratic principle of government, that is considering the minorities as well. Meanwhile we have also been mindlessly supporting carefully chosen groups in countries overseas and even waging wars on the justification that an artificial installation of a “democracy”, as we see it, supported by our troops, will automatically give democratic “freedom”, and therefore human rights, to others.

May I be so bold as to suggest that this comes perilously close to the Arabic word “jihad” or “struggle” to enforce our ideology of “democracy” upon others. And I am sure many agree that such compulsions do little for human rights.


About Anne Powles

I am retired from paid employment. During my working life I have been variously and sometimes contemporaneously, wife, mother of four, lawyer, teacher and psychologist. I have also been a serial education junkie. As are we all, I have been an observer of the world around me. Here I have recorded some of my memories, observations and theorisings.
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