Declaration of Human Rights given new life in readings

Lizzy Ellis, reading in Pintupi Luritja.

AN unusual open day dedicated to the reading of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was held at the residency of the Slovenian Embassy yesterday (September 6).

Ambassador Helena Zorko said she’d been inspired by the example of the Berlin International Literature Festival, running now, which organises an annual worldwide reading of a text with special relevance to the present day.

This year the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was chosen and from 10am to 4pm at the O’Malley residence, invited guests and members of Canberra’s diplomatic and multicultural communities and delegates of UNHCR and the UN worked their ways through the declaration no fewer than five times.

Ambassador Helena Drnovšek Zorko

Lizzy Ellis, a Ngaanyatjara woman from Western Australia, read the text in Pintupi Luritja, translated by Sarah Holcombe into the Pintupi Luritja language, while others stepped up to read the declaration in Arabic, Bahasa Indonesia, Catalan, Croatian, English, Fijian, Filipino, French, German, Greek, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovenian, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Turkish and Tetum. This writer was persuaded to read too, in Indonesian.

One guest, who brought a poem to read on the occasion, was impressed, saying: “Doc Evatt [Australia’s H. V. Evatt, the third President of the United Nations General Assembly, who helped to draft the Declaration] would have been proud as to how well the words have stood the test of time since drafting… the only dated thing is the constant use of the masculine pronoun.”

That, of course, would depend on which tongue one was using – it certainly didn’t apply to all of them.

Yesterday’s reading of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was recorded and may be viewed at

Readers wishing to read the declaration can find translations into more than 500 languages at

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