Members of diverse faith communities participated with local residents and special guests in Human Rights Day events organised by Baha’is in Sydney and Canberra in December 2013.
Following a service at the Baha’i Temple in Sydney on 15 December, three panellists explored human rights from the perspective of community building.
They described their own experiences, and explored rights and responsibilities in response to questions from a gathering that had filled the reception centre to capacity.
Holocaust survivor Ernie Friedlander OAM enthralled the audience with his emotional reminiscences of when a German soldier gave his mother advice on how to save him when he was a young boy headed for a concentration camp.
“He taught me at a very early age that most people are decent human beings,” said Mr Friedlander, president of the Alfred Dreyfus unit of the NSW Jewish service organisation, B’nai B’rith.
“Each person has the responsibility to rise above political and tribal views,” he said.
Catholic Priest and interfaith worker, Father Patrick McInerney, drawing upon a quote describing the human being as “a mine rich in gems of inestimable value”, said individuals should not be in any way demeaned
“It is the dignity of every human person that is the core, the basis and the foundation of the preservation of all human rights,” said Fr McInerney, Director of the Columban Mission Institute and a member of the Australian Catholic Council for Ecumenism and Interreligious Relations.
A Baha’i advocate for gender equality, Carmen Lalehzari, said it was important to recognise that it was not just the education of woman that was vital.
“You need to educate the parents, the boys, the girls – everyone,” said Ms Lalehzari, a member of the local governing body of the Baha’i Faith in Hills Shire.
Among the special guests welcomed by chairperson Venus Khalessi were India Club President and Chair, Shubha and Aksheya Kumar, Soroptimist International executives Janine Drummond and Judy Todd, UNAA Human Rights Convenor Mina Singh Batra and Warringah Councillor Vanessa Moskal.
Ms Khalessi said the opportunity at the event to reflect on human rights experiences would help to raise consciousness on how to advance respect for the rights of all people.
The service in the House of Worship included readings from the sacred scriptures of the world’s religions, and musical interludes by the Baha’i Temple Choir.
In Canberra, the human rights day event was held at the ACT Baha’i Centre on 8 December. The theme was “Fighting poverty: a matter of rights, not charity”.
Special guests included Gai Brodtmann MP, Member for Canberra, and Nicole Lawder and Chris Bourke, members of the ACT Legislative Assembly.
In a keynote address, Professor Fariborz Moshirian, Professor of Finance at the University of New South Wales, said globalisation has been the challenge of our generation.
The global financial crisis impacted most on those living in poverty, Professor Moshirian said.
In the past, crises have led to the emergence of international institutions to respond more effectively to human needs, he said.
“What is required today is structural change to the global system based on recognition of the oneness of humanity.”
Readings on the themes of peace and justice were presented by members of the Canberra Interfaith Forum, representing the Baha’i, Brahma Kumaris, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Quaker, and Sukyo Mahikari communities.
A drama, “Worlds Apart”, adapted from a play by Joseph Crane, was performed by Tahirrae Slikker, 15, and Laura Mobini, 13.
The program also included a presentation of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s message for human rights day by Christopher Woodthorpe, Director of the United Nations Information Centre, Canberra.