Young Baha'is address UK parliamentarians on human rights

24 April 2008

LONDON — Four young people offered their view of human rights at a reception this week in the United Kingdom Houses of Parliament.

The reception is an annual event hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Friends of the Baha'is. The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United Kingdom used this year’s reception to announce a program of activities planned to mark the 60th anniversary next December of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

One of the messages presented by Ruth Banda, Jenna Nicholas and Collis Tahzib, all members of the Baha’i Faith, and their friend Lavina Hassasing, was that there is a difference between the principle of human rights and the reality of human rights.

Jenna Nicholas, 18, addresses the reception in the UK Parliament. Photograph: Andisheh Eslamboli.SLIDESHOW
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Jenna Nicholas, 18, addresses the reception in the UK Parliament. Photograph: Andisheh Eslamboli.

"As the ideals of human rights become more mainstream, we hope that our generation can play its part to fulfil the promise of dignity and equality for all," Miss Nicholas, 18, told the 100-strong audience, which included members of Parliament and the House of Lords, and representatives of the media, various faith communities, and nongovernmental organizations.

"As young citizens at the beginning of a new century, my friends and I have reflected on what the values enshrined in the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights mean to us today in a world much more connected than it was in 1948," she said. "As a young Baha'i, I recognize in the two key concepts of equal rights and dignity, the secular expression of the ideas I acknowledge within my faith."

"I was born in the country of Zambia," Miss Hassasing, 20, told the guests, "and across my home country and indeed the African continent, social and economic rights are fundamental to the ability of people in exercising civil and political rights. Without an education, it is more difficult to participate meaningfully in political processes.… Many girls are denied the opportunity to an education. In many families, particularly in rural areas, parents opt to educate their male children while they prepare the female children for marriage."

Miss Banda, also 20, who studied with Miss Hassasing in Zambia, added:

"Having had the opportunity to go to an international school that promotes education (for girls), we hope to help others realize what they as human beings are entitled to."

"The record of some states in guaranteeing rights for their own citizens remains ultimately woefully inadequate and lamentably defective," said Collis Tahzib, who is 15. "It falls to our generation to realize the promise of human rights."

In a special message to the reception, held on 22 April, Prime Minister Gordon Brown wrote: "I would like to express my respect and admiration to those attending this reception, and the wider Baha'i community which makes an important contribution to British life.

"The Baha'i community has a long, proud and respected tradition and contributes much to today's Britain," wrote Mr. Brown, "Your faith includes a clear obligation to work towards religious tolerance and respect for other faiths, an aim shared by both myself and a wide range of different communities across Britain.

"The Baha'i community can be proud of its success in working to foster cohesive and integrated communities."

The All Party Friends of the Baha'is group was formed in 1999. It is open to members of Parliament from across the political spectrum. Group members offer motions and Parliamentary Questions and speak in debates on issues concerning Iran, Egypt and human rights. Members have also taken other actions including writing private letters to ministers and to the Iranian embassy.

The chairman of the All Party group, Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament Lembit Opik, assured the guests of the All Party group's commitment to continue acting on behalf of Baha'is in various parts of the world.