Learning From the Past, Legislating for the Future: A Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland

Today is Holocaust Memorial day. It marks the liberation of the Auschwitz – Birkenau by the Red Army on the 27th of January 1945. It remembers the the genocide carried out by Nazi regime during World War II, resulting in the deaths of over 11 million people, it decimated the Jewish population of Europeby two-thirds. The Holocaust came at the end of a protracted campaign by the German National Socialist party that sought to dehumanise Jews. Propaganda from the period prior to the “final solution” likened Jews to vermin and disease, calling for their cleansing from society. A similar fate was prescribed for other members of society deemed unacceptable and dangerous, including homosexuals, Romani gypsies, and political dissidents. In all cases the fundamental shared humanity of those persecuted with their persecutors and wider society was forgotten. Holocaust memorial day is also about more than the Holocaust. It serves as a reminder that recognition of our shared humanity and human rights cannot be taken lightly and remains something that must be protected and fought for. While the decades after the Holocaust rang with the cry of “never again”, fundamental human rights continued and continue to be violated; groups and individuals continue to be regarded as less than human. Part of Holocaust Memorial Day is a call to people to pledge that they will “stand up and speak out” in the face of human rights violations.

 Northern Ireland’s recent violent history resulted not only in the degradation of human rights but also significantly impacted on civil, cultural, political and socio-economic rights. Recognition of the “special circumstances” ofNorthern Irelandis written into the Good Friday Agreement with the recommendation that a Bill of Rights be created: “to reflect the principles of mutual respect for the identity and ethos of both communities and parity of esteem” (p.21,GFA).

 The Human Rights Consortium through campaigning for a strong and inclusive Bill of Rights recognises the importance of legislating to protect our rights. A Bill of Rights for Northern Irelandis a step towards recognising the violation of rights in our past and ensuring that never again will it be possible for such violations to go by unchecked by law. It could also recognise and challenge the continued social and economic deprivation rife in our society. Holocaust Memorial Week is not only about remembering the Holocaust, it is about recognition of the violation of human rights worldwide past and present and working to ensure that we do not allow such things to continue to happen here and elsewhere. The Human Rights Consortium welcomes all members of society to work in this campaign toward a Bill of Rights for all of Northern Ireland.

 To find out how a Bill of Rights would affect you and how you can help, visit www.billofrightsni.org