Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being here and support this event.
It has now been ten years since I started with the Gerard Noodt Foundation. It began when I became aware of my responsibility to not just talk about Human Rights, but do something about it. All of us are constantly bombarded in the news media with horrible stories of how people are abused or otherwise suffer the consequences of human mismanagement of power. One cannot live in a fair and orderly world without rules. Some rules are based on law, which are enforced by police and military. Others are based on morals, as taught by family tradition, the insight of good people and religions. Governments often attempt, but are not very good at teaching morality. Today we celebrate the blending of judicial law, mingled with good moral judgment, the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And it is these human rights that are not based in human law, but by natural law – universal law. They are inalienable.
When I started my venture into the Human Rights Arena, it soon became apparent that I should focus on Freedom of Speech, Conscience and Religion. Why? Not just because an ancestor in the 17th century, Gerard Noodt, was one of the founding fathers of the debate in Europe in his day; and not just because it is an extremely difficult one to tackle; but mostly because, in my mind, it lies at the heart of all human rights; it distinguishes humans from animals. Take a man’s belief system away, and what is left is no more than a machine, animal following instinct at best, acting without conscience, unable to take responsibility for his choices and actions. Take a person’s right away to believe or not believe, and you cannot, in good conscience, punish him for doing wrong. Freedom of Religion or Belief, freedom of conscience and speech are at the heart of humanness, without which there is no intelligence, or purpose of living.
Over the years the Gerard Noodt Foundation for Freedom of Religion or Belief has developed into an organization that helps raise awareness of the need for Human Rights. It does so by facilitating for other NGO’s as well as governments; in finding tools to make Human Rights more practical in implementing. It aids in clarifying the elements that make Human Rights possible, and it helps create instruments for others to use. It is a simple organization with few at the helm. But as it works with many others, we strengthen our efforts in raising the humanness of humanity to a higher level. There is wisdom in joining forces with other experts in the field, and the outcome is synergy. Together we can do much more than on our own.
And finally a word about NGO’s in general. There remains a strong need for governments and national policy making, as well as the judiciary enforcement agencies to protect basic human rights. But it should not be governments that enhance Human Rights but families as well as NGO’s. You see, Human Rights are not about judicial rights, but about human dignity. It is not about demanding our rights, but about granting rights to others – in particular those whom we do not agree with, or whom we look down upon. Such values are to be taught and nourished, not granted by law. Families and NGO’s are better able to help explain where the rubber hits the road (as some might say). It is their mission to give Human Rights its human face, in particular.
As we celebrate 70 years of the signing of the Declaration of Human Rights, I, too, applaud the members of civil society, distinguished scientists amongst us, and the many of my colleagues. I congratulate them for their attempts to make this world a better place. May I add, too: Let’s keep up the good work, even if things take a down turn in many nations in the world. Even if our efforts may seem in vain; we do it because we celebrate the brotherhood of mankind. Let’s strive for a world of peace – the type of world many religions talk about.