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The destiny of Christchurch - a neoliberal or ethical human rights culture for the rebuild?


The destiny of Christchurch - a neoliberal or ethical human rights culture for the rebuild?


Anthony Ravlich
Human Rights Council (New Zealand)
10D/15 City Rd.
Auckland City.
Ph: (0064) (09) 940.9658

It is very well-known that neoliberalism did not result in ‘trickle-down’ in New Zealand. So do the residents of Christchurch want the same neoliberal approach for the rebuilding of the city?


Neoliberalism requires omitting over half the human rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in order to emphasis the human rights and development of the middle class, professional sector and the Corporations (a social class, socio-economic (wealth) discrimination, see below) with the promise of ‘trickle down’.


Whereas human rights are meant to address the worse off i.e. those without even their core minimum human rights.


Our council promotes an ethical approach to human rights, development, and globalization for World Peace (to replace neoliberalism).


The ethical approach, which ensures the core minimum human rights, emphasizes a bottom-up approach to development in contrast to what is seen as neoliberlism’s extreme top-down bureaucratic control of development.


For example, Chris Trotter describes an ‘undemocratic and bureaucratically-driven Christchurch Earthquake recovery Authority’ (see his article below).


The ethical human rights approach is not only a vision for Christchurch but also New Zealand and the world.


I hope to have the opportunity to raise the ethical bottom-up approach at St Alban’s Community Centre’s meeting on Tuesday, 9 October 2012, 7 – 8pm, Mairehau Library, 42 Kensington Ave, Christchurch.

On 18 May 2012 New Zealand’s economic, social and cultural rights record was reviewed at the United Nations (the Universal Declaration of Human Rights comprise two sets of human rights, civil and political rights, a number of which are in New Zealand’s human rights law, and economic, social and cultural rights e.g. the right to housing, which are not)

In the Concluding Observations of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights the Committee recommends that New Zealand ‘adopt a human rights approach to [Christchurch] reconstruction efforts’ (Section 21) but it also states that it is concerned that ‘economic, social and cultural rights are not recognized in the Bill of Rights’ and ‘urges’ New Zealand ‘to incorporate economic, social and cultural rights into the 1990 Bill of Rights’ (Section 10) ( see Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 48th Session, E/c.12/NZL/CO/3, 30 April to 18 May 2012, ).

The Committee, which wants New Zealand to ensure the right to housing, also expressed concern about the long waiting list for social housing in New Zealand and ‘further regrets the decision of the State party to restrict eligibility for social housing to only those ‘in the greatest need,’ (Section 22) but New Zealand is obviously seriously failing even with respect to the latter.

Taking one example, Dr Sue Bagshaw, described as a pivotal figure in youth health in Christchurch, states there is about 200 young people, ‘cyfs kids’ [formerly in the care of the Department of Child, Youth and Family] ‘who have nowhere to call home’.

CRESA/Public Policy & Research estimated up to 20,000 12-24 year olds across the country were living in insecure or unsafe housing (see Hannah Ockelford: ‘Cyfs kids’struggle for a roof over their heads’, Sept 19 2012, ).

Also see one young man’s, a ‘cyfs kid’, Damien, struggle to better himself - alone, against all the odds’, often, it seems, having had to sleep outside in the freezing cold of Christchurch with its earthquakes, in a society which also, in my view, indirectly discriminates against the ‘more troublesome’ white males because of the affirmative action it gives to compliant others (see ‘Troubled teens in New Zealand’, 20 September 2012, ).

The ethical human rights approach sees ensuring the core minimum of the human rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (and so ensuring choices), such as the right to shelter for ‘cyfs kids’, as requiring implementation within an ‘immediate timeframe’.

While higher levels of human rights, often required to be earned, can be achieved progressively e.g. perhaps such as the plan to rebuild the CBD - Mayor Bob Parker recently stated: “We may not be here to see the dream completely finished” (St Alban’s News, September 2012, p1).

Under neoliberalism the CBD plan is, in my view, a ‘middleclass dream’ but the New Zealand experience shows it is very largely for the social controllers of public bodies, executing a self-serving human rights agenda, because the ‘tall poppies’ within the middle classes ‘who do not fit in’ e.g. troublesome ‘top intellectuals’ and independently minded small business owners, will eventually be excluded or marginalized (see the ‘low cunning’ used to pass the bill of rights ‘by and for a left minority’ in my article cited below, “Hope in Christchurch rebuilding….”).

By contrast the ethical human rights approach is a dream for all i.e. no one is ‘left behind’.


However, despite the urging of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to include economic, social and cultural rights in the NZ bill of rights it seems very unlikely our government will listen.

For example, New Zealand has constantly ignored (in 1995, 2002, and 2010) the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Committee (which deals with civil and political rights) to include the many omitted civil and political rights in the NZ bill of rights (see “Hope in Chch rebuilding and ethical human rights despite all attempts to crush potential’, ).

Consequently, and despite the present Key Government’s constitutional review, it certainly appears that the rebuild will take place within the prevailing neoliberal human rights culture rather than an ethical human rights culture unless the people of Christchurch decide otherwise and take their destiny into their own hands.

For further information on a bottom-up approach see Chris Trotter’s article,‘What if? – The Christchurch That Might Have Been’ (Bowalley Road, Sept 23, 2012, . Also published in The Press 18 September, 2012).



Chris Trotter asks:


“WHAT IF it had all been handled differently? What if the rebuilding of Christchurch, which began which such inspiring displays of bottom-up initiative, had been encouraged to develop along the same lines? All those magnificent student volunteers; all that neighbour-to-neighbour generosity and care; all that practical support and sustenance from the Farmy Army: what if these had become the Government’s model for recovery?”


“Imagine a very different sort of government had been in power when the earth under Christchurch began to tremble; a government which was willing to put its faith in grass-roots, participatory and unashamedly local democratic action.

“Such a government would have based its response on a single, very radical, principle: that the people living in the houses, streets and neighbourhoods most directly affected by the earthquakes are the people most likely to know, and better than anyone else, what needs to be done”.


He also asks: is it too late?


In my letter to John Key only 2 days after the first earthquake on 4 September 2010 I stated that ‘it is times like these – the earthquake in Christchurch – that a gamble on a new dream and a new hope, when the existing dream [i.e. neoliberalism] is failing, is necessary’.

I stated: “This includes the self-help right to development (the rights of peoples….to pursue their economic and social development is a civil and political right but not in NZ’s human rights law). The latter involves a more balanced approach to development with an emphasis on small/medium business development” (‘New hope new dream required following earthquake’, 9 Sept, 2012, ).

In my many articles I have often referred to Christchurch and the ethical bottom-up emphasis and two articles are specifically about Christchurch, see ‘Top-down bureaucratic neoliberalism threatening Christchurch rebuild….’, 15 February 2012, and also see ‘Global ethical human rights culture to rebuild Christchurch’, 15 December 2011, ).

The ethical human rights approach is gaining some high-profile support on the social networking sites. For example, the United Nations, the US State Department, the Open Democracy Initiative of the White House, and Save the Children (US) have embedded tweets of support stating: ‘ethical human rights, development, and globalization to replace neoliberalism’.

While a number of professionals, including the former New Zealand Chief Human Rights Commissioner, have joined my linkedin in support of the ethical human rights approach. Also some top academics are now beginning to discuss the omitted human rights, one giving much support for the ethical human rights approach which seeks the inclusion of all rights while others want the inclusion of the omitted children’s rights (see my article, ‘Top academics rebel against State capture in favor of truth and ethical human rights’, 18 Aug, 2012, .

My human rights activities began in Christchurch in 1991 and after the first two major earthquakes I travelled to Christchurch to inform people of my considerable concerns regarding a neoliberal human rights culture for the rebuilding of Christchurch (after having personally experienced over about 20 years how people at the bottom of the social scale were ‘crushed and isolated’, see my submission to the Auckland High Court, “Freedom is not an impossible dream’, ).

While in Christchurch I was interviewed at the Canterbury Television studios but to my knowledge it was never shown. All my attempts to get the mainstream media to inform Christchurch residents of the ethical approach have failed (as was the case when trying to inform New Zealanders of what was happening lower on the social scale including a book, ‘Freedom from our social prisons…’ recommended on the UN website for two years) . But now I am trying again.

My most recent article shows that even if residents were informed of this choice and they decided against the ethical approach it could be adopted in Bangladesh (see my most recent article, ‘Muslim anger and the ethical human rights approach’, 3 Oct 2012, ).

The above article describes the support for the ethical approach by Narayan Charmakar, country representative of the International Commission of Dalit Rights [Dalits are often called ‘the untouchables’], who has been advancing the voices of Dalits, slums and other marginalized groups, women and girls gaining wide recognition including the current Prime Minister Madam Sheikh Hasina.

Narayan is extraordinary. He is also a lawyer and journalist born into a poor Dalit family and he is described as ‘the only higher educated person among Charmakar Caste and even Dalit communities in Bangladesh’ (see bibliography, ICDR Staff, ).

On reading the above article Narayan told me ‘your thinking is absolutely right. Only ethical human rights approach can ensure freedom of life’ adding "I want to start ethical human rights education in Bangladesh for social peace and for creating more change makers in the human rights fields."

While also endorsing me as a ‘special consultant’ on the UN Human Rights Council he states on Facebook: "We are the Dalit peoples of the World. Only Ethical human rights approach can ensure our rights in the society and state. United Nation should include ethical human rights approach in its development goals” and also that “ethical human rights approach can ensure human dignity in the World”.

But what is the connection between Bangladesh and New Zealand and the World?

Bangladesh is dealing with perhaps the most despicable form of discrimination in the world today – caste discrimination, which means virtually not even a glimmer of hope of bettering oneself for those it effects condemned by discrimination to the lowest forms of jobs (and worse). I consider it a major crime against humanity.

As was once the case with racism in South Africa when this caste discrimination is seriously addressed it will also mean some of its ‘ugly variants’ such as social class discrimination, well-known in Britain, socio-economic discrimination (wealth), in America, and descent discrimination, such as according to family lineage or Whakapapa, in Maori culture, will also be addressed (living in Auckland I witness the consequences of this disgusting discrimination nearly every day).

It is rarely known that non-discrimination on the grounds of social origin and birth were left out of our bill of rights to permit the three latter ‘ugly variants’ to exist in New Zealand. Of course, people have a choice but at least they should be made aware of the choice they are making.

For example, Kaiapoi residents describe discrimination according to socio-economic status their complaint to the United Nations:

“The condition of the land should be the only reason why our land would be deemed unsuitable and unrepairable, however it seems that the red zone decisions are all about money, saving the Government money and saving the insurance companies money. We have been denied seeing information about why our undamaged land is not suitable to live on therefore we must assume it is because our land is at the lower end of the scale in terms of price range and therefore judged not necessary to remediate” (see Article 2, the United Nations Submission Template.doc, Wider Earthquake Communities Action Network or ‘WE CAN’, ).


Such discrimination requires the mass conformity of the establishment (paid well for their silence!), and consequently the exclusion of ‘tall poppies’, to contain those at the bottom of these extreme top-down controlled States or tribes - the purpose being to ‘shut down’ dissent which is not State condoned. But, in my view, this is out of elite ignorance of the ethical human rights alternative.

Perhaps ‘We Can’ (see above), which also upholds the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, led by high profile local activist, Rev. Mike Coleman (who is also a trained economist), could take a leading role in helping to create an ethical human rights culture if residents choose this path - if, of course, they get the chance.

I find New Zealand as being a very largely ideologically captured, increasingly ‘effete society’ being ‘far more about image than any substance’, including with respect to human rights – but simply ‘looking tough’ or having ‘charm and grace’ is extremely unlikely to be of much use in the rebuilding of Christchurch or real life for that matter.


PS. Unlike Damien, I had a Mother unrelenting in her support