|Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
17 - 23 September 1998
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
A call for tolerance
Mrs Mubarak was addressing the 51st annual conference organised by the UN Secretariat in cooperation with the Executive Committee for Non-Governmental Organisations, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In the presence of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Mrs Mubarak said "the picture is not as rosy as those who laid down the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 50 years ago would have hoped."
Declaring that "we are not here to apportion blame," Mrs Mubarak said "there can be no disputing that it is the poor and the weak in the world today, particularly women and children, who bear the brunt of such violations."
While regional and non-governmental organisations can play a tangible role in safeguarding human rights, Mrs Mubarak said "the primary burden for promoting and protecting such rights falls upon the governments of all nations, without exception."
Mrs Mubarak affirmed that the protection of human rights cannot be achieved without securing democracy, justice and development. "For without democracy there can be no freedom; without justice there is no redress; and without development people have neither rights nor the ability to fulfill their obligations," she said.
A society that cannot deal with poverty, "that cannot deal with the poor, the sick or the illiterate, will remain incapable of assimilating even the most basic concepts of human rights," Mrs Mubarak added. "In the absence of development, there can be no democracy... If development is a precondition for establishing human rights, it follows that such development cannot be pursued at the expense of human rights. This in turn means that in pursuing industrial development and economic prosperity, we cannot afford to neglect that the necessary guarantees are in place to ensure the basic rights of the individual."
Affirming that the issue of human rights is inextricably connected with peace, Mrs Mubarak said: "The exercise of even the most fundamental rights will prove difficult, if not impossible, in a society threatened by foreign aggression, civil war or the collapse of security that is the result of organised crime and terrorism."
There is also a "profound connection" between human rights and education. "Education and consciousness-raising are the most important instruments in disseminating and establishing a culture of human rights," Mrs Mubarak said. "It is such education that will enable future generations to grow up and mature with a full awareness of their rights and duties, of their role within their families and within society, conscious of the dividing line between individual liberty and communal obligations."
Half a century after the Declaration of Human Rights was issued, Mrs Mubarak went on to say that "the complexity of the issues surrounding such rights and the difficult questions raised make it more urgent than ever that we develop a new and integrated formula, a formula to which we can all subscribe, a formula capable of meeting the challenges posed by today's changing world... And this can only happen through objective dialogue between nations willing both to give credence to one another and to respect the infinite varieties of culture and heritage."
Explaining "those aspects of the Egyptian experience that may usefully serve as a guide to other nations," Mrs Mubarak said: "In Egypt, we firmly believe that all the efforts exerted towards realising development, along with reaffirming democracy and providing justice and stability, are part and parcel not only of the drive to secure human rights, but also an effective means for safeguarding the liberties of each and every individual."
Mrs Mubarak said the Egyptian state "shoulders the greatest responsibility in ensuring the provision of basic social services. Whatever the sacrifices required by the process of economic restructuring, they must not be allowed to impact negatively on the most needy members of society. It has, therefore, been our aim, during economic restructuring, to protect social cohesion by increasing expenditure on health care, education, utilities and housing."
And investment in education is an investment in the future of human rights, she said. Another important component of Egypt's programme has involved developing the judiciary, the police and penal reform institutions, Mrs Mubarak added.
The Egyptian constitution and laws "grant women full rights and guarantees, enabling them to rise to the highest positions in society and to play an effective role in the development process," Mrs Mubarak asserted. "Nevertheless, Egyptian women, like women everywhere, face a discrepancy between the law and its application. To eradicate the obstacles that stand in the way of the full exercise of women's rights and the effective performance of their political, economic and social obligations, we established the National Committee for Women."
And, reflecting the belief in the inalienable right to a happy and safe childhood, Egypt has declared the period between 1989 and 1999 as the decade for the protection and development of the Egyptian child, Mrs Mubarak said.
"Our actions have always been governed by the desire to extend popular participation at all levels," Mrs Mubarak explained. "In this respect, we have been keen to establish a social contract between government, the private sector, community associations and individuals, so as to facilitate the take-off stage to comprehensive and integrated development."
Before concluding her address, Mrs Mubarak stressed that "what the international community most needs today is greater tolerance, tolerance in its simplest sense -- that is, acceptance of the other in the deeply held conviction that the universe was not created for any particular group or nationality, but for all groups and nationalities."