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Bill of Rights Forum

15 October, 2007

Sinn Fein Human Rights and Equality Spokesperson, Foyle MLA Martina Anderson has said that that the Bill of Rights Forum needs to effectively engage with all sections of our society and specifically with those who feel marginalised or excluded.

Speaking during a debate in the Assembly today Ms Anderson said:

"This goes to the very heart of the historic process in which we are engaged - a process which must achieve real, inclusive, participation of each and every sector of our society.

"It is important that any section that feels excluded from the process should action a remedy. We need all to be committed to ensure the greatest participation possible, if we are to make real the notion of democracy as a dynamic, on-going persistent, two-way dialogue between government and the governed.

"It is the special circumstances of our histories here in the North which necessitates that rights be defined by participation of all the people in that discourse. The Forum has identified many groups to which it must outreach, including those within the PUL and Catholic Republic Nationalist communities - also those groups who do not identify themselves as neither.

"We have the opportunity to influence the drawing up of a Bill of rights which enshrines, and rests on, core values of humanity - of human dignity, equality, freedom, non-racism and non-sexism. Common citizenship, universality, based on our common human rights, need to be solidly rooted in the outcome.

"We need to promote genuine agreement across political divides that human rights are for all. They are not a zero sum game to be played out between conflicting, partisan, interests. We are not looking for supremacy, or even an equal negotiated balance between sides in a conflict. We are looking to the great principles that underpin our humanity and which can enable us to build a future that is not mired by unacceptable histories of conflict and division.

"The fundamental issue upon which all this is based is the participative process itself. Hence there is a need for the Outreach Workers to be employed because whilst sections of our community are excluded or feel themselves excluded, we are confined to the straightjacket of seeing this huge adventure as a zero sum game. From the outset, through the process which is the Forum, the crucial measure of success, the very basis of its legitimacy, is that the majority of people whatever their race, religion, ethnicity, or political or community affiliations can say "This is MY Bill of Rights".

"We have to recognise the indivisible link between civil and political rights and social and economic rights. The Bill of Rights has to provide remedy and deliver; or legitimacy of it and trust of the participating groups, will vanish. We need to recognise that minorities need protection from the majority, especially in a democracy where minorities can always be outvoted, and majorities remain indifferent.

"The forum is clear that additional work is needed to engage with many groups including those which might have a potential mistrust of the concept of human rights. Again, it is not simply one community who are identified as not having engaged as fully in the consultation process undertaken by the Human Rights Commission - but others too such as the disabled, children and those living in rural communities that the Forum has agreed to target outreach efforts at engaging." ENDS

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