The Importance of Human Rights


Last night I attended the eightieth commemoration of Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass at Sydney’s Great Synagogue. The events that occurred in Nazi Germany and its surrounding European countries, on Kristallnacht was the precursor to the worst atrocity committed by humans against one another in modern times, if not all times. How it could occur in the country that produced, Beethoven, Mozart, Freud, and many other intellectual giants remains one of the greatest questions.  The answer I think is based on the concept of “Humans Rights” and what this means and what can occur when those rights are denied or not recognised in others.

One of the speakers at the event last night, quite correctly pointed out that the terrible events of Kristallnacht occurred after a period from at least 1933, where the Nazi’s had begun a concerted and coordinated attach on anything Jewish. They did this at first by words, and pictures, using the enormous Nazi propaganda regime to depict Jewish people as responsible for all of Germany’s woes, encouraged the average German to use the Jew as the scapegoat and to depict Jewish people in a negative less than human light. It was common for the Nazi propaganda to depict Jews as vermin. It is much easier for people to reject and destroy that which they do not consider is the same as them.

The key note speaker at the commemoration event last night was Edward Santow, the current Human Rights Commissioner. He made a very important observation. It is critical we remember events such as Kristallnacht, but we need to be vigilant against any form of discrimination or action that fails to account for the basic human rights of any person. As long as we do not give proper regard to each of our rights as human beings to be treated equally and appropriately, we run the risk that the events that gave expression in Kristallnacht and the murderous aftermath will recur.

Why am I raising this as an employment lawyer in an article that is predominantly meant for clients who are interested in employment law matters? The notion of the protection of basis human rights extends to every facet of our lives, including our work and our workplaces. Matters such as sexual harassment, bullying, race discrimination, sexual discrimination, disability discrimination or any other discrimination is a fundamental breach of our obligation to uphold the human right of others. The #metoo movement has, in recent times, harnessed this truth to agitate that all participants in the workplace whether man or woman are treated equally, fairly and appropriately. This should apply to everyone in the workplace, and it is for each of us to ensure this occurs. When we forget that others, although they may be different because of their religion, race, sex or disability deserve the same treatment we wish for ourselves, we leave room for the atrocities of Nazi Germany and Kristallnagt to occur again.

It occurred to me when I was reflecting on the speeches given last night, that as an employment lawyer I am consistently advising my clients on how to prevent discrimination and inappropriate behaviours in the workplace. I have done so, based on the concern that failure by clients to ensure that they or their employees are complying with the law will mean legal claims, reputational damage and significant cost and inconvenience. This however, is and should not be the motivating factor – we should all take appropriate steps to ensure each one of us is afforded our basic human rights, because it is fundamental to a peaceful and proper functioning society and by default, the workplace.

I will end this article with another quote: “You should never be a perpetrator, you should never be a victim, but above all else, you should never be a bystander.”

By Shana Schreier-Joffe

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