In October last year, NGO Repubblika launched its Active and Responsible Citizenship campaign, a permanent educational campaign to promote a culture of democracy, the respect of human rights and the rule of law. 

The campaign, based on a declaration of principles and values available on the NGO’s website, is pitched at different levels. A recent initiative was aimed at youths, specifically by means of a competition open to students in public, Church and independent schools, meant to encourage young people to reflect on human rights. 

“It is impossible to have an effective democracy without full respect of human rights and the rule of law. Citizens who are aware of the importance of the rights of humankind may participate more actively and critically in democratic life and contribute to ensuring the respect of the rule of law in legislation, governance and the judicial system,” Robert Aquilina, president of Repubblika, said.

“It is important that human rights education is imparted at a young age so that youth, the promise of our future, can recognise the basic elements that allow humankind to live in dignity.”

Students taking part in the competition were given material concerning the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and were asked to pick out a specific human right and discuss it, either in essay form or through a poster. Nineteen schools participated in the project. 

The 98 entries received were divided into three categories according to age. An adjudicating panel chose finalists who were assessed by another panel, made up of University of Malta professors. 

A ‘democracy evening’ was held at St Aloysius’ College on September 17. Marion Pace Asciak, project leader of the campaign and former president of Repubblika, led the evening. Essay finalists read their essays, submitted in Maltese or English, which discussed the right to education, freedom of opinion and expression, leisure time and other human rights.  

“Students gave the adult audience much food for thought. They provided perceptive insights, such as the importance of knowledge and the necessity to consistently question those within the political system, the stability that a proper education can provide, the importance of sports, cultural and artistic activities,” Aquilina noted.

“The finalists also discussed past and present examples of the violation of human rights.  They raised the issue of the limits of free speech, the need to respect privacy and the meaning of civilised discussion. The fact that eight journalists were murdered in 2018 because they spoke out and fought to preserve democracy was highlighted.”

The students who submitted posters explained their use of colour, form and words to express their thoughts on human rights. 

Yasmine Camilleri, poster, F1, St Joseph School, PaolaYasmine Camilleri, poster, F1, St Joseph School, Paola

“Words can express human rights but they can also be twist­ed to suppress them. Colour can be used to express vibrant claims to freedom of speech and the lack of it can show the silencing of speech and of those who fight for freedom,” Aquilina explained.

During the event, St Aloysius College rector Fr Jimmy Bartolo highlighted three challenges to be active and responsible citizens. The first is to accept and respect profoundly whoever is different, whether through political colour, race, ethnic origin or religion, and to avoid polarisation and mutual prejudice. The second is to protect our common heritage, including climate, the natural environment and the safeguarding of our urban environment. The third is to participate in politics. 

Fr Bartolo said that Pope Francis often quotes Pope Paul VI who stated that, if properly conducted, political participation may be seen as a higher form of charity. He underlined the fact that Malta needs honest politicians who can change attitudes that encourage corruption in favour of working for the common good and exhorted the young not to be afraid to speak in favour of truth and justice.

The most important contribution to democracy is not simply laws but citizens’ attitudes and culture; people of integrity who take an interest in what is happening around them

“I reminded the young audience that democracy means not only free and regular elections, but also a civil society that participates in the democratic process between one election and another. The democratic laws of a country apply to all citizens, whatever their social provenance or their country of origin,” Aquilina said.

“However, the most important contribution to democracy is not simply laws but citizens’ attitudes and culture; people of integrity who take an interest in what is happening around them. It is important for the young to dream, to hope that their engagement will help produce a better society and, for this reason, it is important to speak up.” 

Judge Emeritus Giovanni Bonello, who presented the prizes to the participants, delivered the final speech in which he explained that democracy is not a commodity but a way of life that has to be acquired day by day. 

“He compared it to oxygen – we only realise how important it is when it becomes scarce. Hu­man rights are born with humankind; no government or institution can give people human rights but they can deprive them of their rights,” Aquilina remarked.

Krista Meilak, poster, F1, St Joseph School, PaolaKrista Meilak, poster, F1, St Joseph School, Paola

“Human rights can only survive through the constant perseverance of citizens to safeguard their rights, a government fully committed to the rule of law and a truly independent judiciary.”

Bonello also spoke of corruption, stating that the worst form of corruption is mental corruption, which allows people to assume behaviour that disregards moral responsibility. He highlighted how important it is for youngsters to understand the huge responsibility they have to protect human rights from being stolen from them and exhorted them to make their voices heard.

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LIST OF WINNERS

 

CATEGORY 1

Essay

First prize: John Grima (San Anton School)

Second prize: Shaneley Pisani (Our Lady Immaculate School) 

Poster

First prize: Yasmine Camilleri (St Joseph School, Paola)

Second Prize: Krista Meilak (St Joseph School, Paola)

CATEGORY 2

Essay

First prize: Gabriel Pullicino (St Augustine College)

Second prize: Zoe Cauchi (Bishop’s Conservatory, Gozo)

Poster

First prize: Sarah Schembri (Bishop’s Conservatory, Gozo)

Second prize: Arianne Xerri (Bishop’s Conservatory, Gozo)

CATEGORY 3

Essay

First prize: Daniel Rios Asensi, (St Aloysius’ College, Sixth Form)

Second prize: Nicole Zammit (Junior College)

The Bishop’s Conservatory was awarded a trophy for the largest number of finalists and St Aloysius’ College for the largest number of participants.

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