War and Peace: The Anzac spirit

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War and Peace:

The Anzac spirit

and human rights


The Australian Human Rights Commission encourages the dissemination and exchange of information provided in this publication. All material presented in this publication is provided under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia, with the exception of:

  • the Australian Human Rights Commission Logo

  • photographs and images

  • any content or material provided by third parties.

The details of the relevant licence conditions are available on the Creative Commons website, as is the full legal code for the CC BY 3.0 AU licence.


Material obtained from this publication is to be attributed to the Australian Human Rights Commission with the following copyright notice:

© Australian Human Rights Commission 2015.

War and Peace: The Anzac spirit and human rights • 2015 ISBN 978-1-921449-70-3
Design and layout Dancingirl Designs
Electronic format

This publication can be found in electronic format on the website of the Australian Human Rights Commission:

http://www.humanrights.gov.au/publications Contact details

For further information about the Australian Human Rights Commission, please visit

www.humanrights.gov.au or email communications@humanrights.gov.au. You can also write to:

Communications Team

Australian Human Rights Commission GPO Box 5218

Sydney NSW 2001

War and Peace: The Anzac spirit and human rights
Australian Human Rights Commission 2015

This publication is a series of papers given by the various speakers at the Australian Human Rights Commission’s War and Peace: The Anzac spirit and human rights 2014 seminar.

These papers represent the views of the speakers, not the Commission. Whilst some minor edits have been made to the original transcripts, the Commission has maintained the integrity of the speeches as they were delivered on the day.

All papers must be checked against delivery.

everyone, everywhere, everyday


Message from Professor Gillian Triggs 1

    1. WWI and the evolution of human rights 3

Professor Gillian Triggs 3

President, Australian Human Rights Commission 3

    1. Human rights and the Anzac spirit 5

David Rutherford 5

Chief Commissioner, Human Rights Commission

of New Zealand 5

    1. Australia in the twentieth century: War and

peace, human rights 8

Dr Damian Powell 8

Principal, Janet Clarke Hall and Senior Fellow, School of Historical and Philosophical Studies,

University of Melbourne 8

    1. Australia, the UN Charter and human rights 16

The Hon Elizabeth Evatt AC 16

Commissioner, International Commission of Jurists. Former member of UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the UN Human

Rights Committee 16

    1. Understanding Anzac day: What were we

fighting for? 21

Lieutenant General David Morrison AO 21

Chief of Army, Australian Army 21

    1. Humanity in war – 100 years of Red Cross in Australia and developments in international

humanitarian law 25

Robert Tickner 25

CEO, Australian Red Cross 25

Message from Professor Gillian Triggs

Professor Gillian Triggs


Australian Human Rights Commission

Every year around Anzac Day, Australians and New Zealanders remember those who fought in all wars and conflicts over the last 100 years. As the national human rights institutions of Australia and New Zealand we wanted to mark the anniversary of the start of the First World War by examining the relationship between the Anzac spirit and the evolution of international human rights.

We therefore convened a seminar on the 1st of May 2014 that examined the following questions:

  • What was it that New Zealanders and Australians believed they were fighting for during the First World War?

  • Is it merely a romantic myth that the Anzacs fought for individual freedom and liberty against the threat of national aggrandisement and racial superiority? Was it a war of ideas between the individualist democratic enlightened French and English tradition and the German heroic ideal of sacrifice for the common good? In short, did such lofty ideas as liberty really stimulate the Anzac bravery in a conflict that was so many thousands of miles from us?

  • How did the Anzac experiences from 1914-18 shape and articulate the global human rights based regime that we have 100 years later in the 21st Century?

The speakers who presented at this seminar were eminently qualified to provide some answers to these questions, and to take different perspectives in doing so. We are grateful to them for agreeing to publish their papers.

I would also like to thank Professor Joan Beaumont for facilitating an insightful and engaging discussion at the seminar.

I sincerely hope this publication will provide you with an insight into how Australia’s and New Zealand’s war experience shaped the development of the contemporary world order and how 20th Century conflicts framed our nations thinking about rights and freedoms.

Gillian Triggs

Lt Gen David Morrison

The Hon Elizabeth Evatt

Mr Robert Ticker, Dr Damian Powell, Mr David Rutherford, Elizabeth Evatt (L-R)

  1. WWI and the evolution of human rights

Professor Gillian Triggs

President, Australian Human Rights Commission

On behalf of all my colleagues at the Australian Human Rights Commission, may I welcome you to our event War and Peace: The Anzac Spirit and Human Rights. We have convened this event to mark the 100th anniversary of the First World War in August 2014.

It is my pleasure to welcome our speakers, the Honourable Elizabeth Evatt, Mr David Rutherford, Dr Damian Powell, Mr Robert Tickner, Professor Joan Beaumont and Lieutenant General David Morrison.

I would also like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

From my perspective as an international lawyer, it is important to acknowledge that many contemporary human rights principles evolved from the experiences and aspirations of the First World War.

It is generally true that law tends to reflect and respond to earlier cataclysmic events. Each conflict of the 19th and 20th Centuries has therefore stimulated its own legal responses to protect human rights. While there were, of course, many landmarks in the evolution of human rights philosophy and law pre-dating the First World War- not least of which was the Magna Carta that will be celebrating its 800th anniversary in June 2015- the conflicts of the modern era have catalysed a number of significant human rights developments. As such, in the 19th Century

alone, slavery and racial discrimination were made illegal, calls by Florence Nightingale and Henry Dunant to ensure human treatment in conflict led to the negotiation of the International Committee for the Red Cross and the 1864 Geneva Convention on the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field, and the persecution of Christians, Armenians and Jews exposed the need to protect minorities.

It was, however, the carnage of the First World War that accelerated the development of a number of internationally recognised human rights principles. The need to care for the sick, wounded, and prisoners of war was recognised, along with obligations of belligerents to respect the rights of civilians in conflict. Recognition was also given to the contributions made by ethnic minorities in the armed forces, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, which fostered the idea of self-determination. The tasks necessarily performed by women during the First World War also opened up opportunities for women that had been unthinkable before the war.

Furthermore, some key ideological lines that remain with us today were drawn during the First World War. American President Woodrow Wilson claimed that the United States valued human rights more highly than other rights, supporting the campaign for universal human rights such as personal autonomy and liberty, self-determination and equality. Vladimir Lenin, then leader of Soviet Russia, also espoused human rights, but emphasised collective social and economic rights rather than the individual civil and political rights championed by the Western Powers.

These evolving ideas provided the stimulant for provisions in the developing peace treaties to protect minorities, and established the mandate system, which would eventually bring former colonies (including what would become Papua New Guinea) to self-determination.

Perhaps most significantly for the development of international human rights, negotiations began for the Covenant of the League of Nations. The League of Nations was designed to ensure that the First World War would be the ‘war to end all wars’, by creating a global ‘rule of law’-based regime to regulate international conflict through ‘arbitration’ of disputes and trade sanctions by members of the league.

While the idea of arbitration seems quaint in light of subsequent history, the Covenant and the League of Nations were described at the time as ‘one of the noblest conceptions in the history of mankind.’ Indeed, it was this treaty that most inspired me as a young law student to become an international lawyer. The Covenant explicitly protected human rights, included fair and humane conditions of labour, established a sacred trust for the development

of peoples of the colonies, and created the mandate system. It also outlined obligations to protect freedom of conscience and religion, and to end the trafficking of women, children, munitions and drugs.

While the Covenant failed, due to a failure of parties to comply with their obligations, the potential for an international legal system based on human rights had gained widespread recognition. Nearly three decades later, at the end of the Second World War, the groundwork had been established for negotiations to begin on the Charter of the United Nations.

Importantly, this Charter recognised the link between international peace and security and human rights, with the Charter nations agreeing that:

To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our life time has brought untold sorrow to mankind [the United Nations will commit to the] promotion of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.”1

These ideals were soon given further legal substance by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, passed unanimously by the General Assembly of the United Nations under the Presidency of Australia’s Dr HV Evatt. This Declaration stated that:

Recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”2

The Declaration was to provide the foundation for the seven major human rights treaties that now form the principles and mechanisms for human rights implementation that we know today; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CROC), the Convention Against Torture (CAT), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

The international community continues to work to achieve an effective regime for human rights protection and the United Nations Security Council increasingly recognises that it can consider humanitarian intervention in conflicts and deploy peacekeeping forces to enforce human rights.

Therefore, while the current international regime remains subject to political will and national sovereignty, the ideals that emerged from the First World War and subsequent conflicts continue to inform our efforts to create a strong legally-based regime for human rights in the 21st Century.

The greatest challenge now is to translate the ideals of human rights law and international treaties into national laws and practice.

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