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12/18/2018 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 12/18/2018 13:32

General Assembly: Human Rights

Note: A complete summary of today's General Assembly meetings will be made available after their conclusion.

Anniversary Commemoration of Human Rights Instruments

MARÍA FERNANDA ESPINOSA GARCÉS, President of the General Assembly, said that the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was one of the most important contributions that the Assembly has made to mankind. Indeed, it is irrefutable proof of the impact of the organ's work on the lives of people worldwide. The historic document was the legacy of a generation that suffered two world wars. She stressed the role of Eleanor Roosevelt and other visionary women who helped build a more inclusive and egalitarian declaration, which inspired women around the world. Today, the Assembly is looking back at an extraordinary achievement that is a strong foundation for the protection of human rights, she said. It is also an opportunity to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which created the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR). The Universal Declaration reflects the collective aspirations of an international order founded on human dignity and that has made the world a better place. It has also inspired the development of many international instruments, while its precepts have gradually been included into national laws.

At a time of global instability when the world is facing so many challenges, she urged the international community to stay faithful to current agreements and avoid the politicization of human rights. Member States must uphold the principles included in the Universal Declaration, she said, otherwise mankind will face fear, division and conflict. She went on to stress that human rights are for everyone and that selective interpretations weaken them. At the same time, the fight for human rights is an ongoing struggle that must be a part of the international community's daily efforts. Much remains to be done, she said, noting the millions of people yet to be freed from misery, poverty and inequality. Moreover, racism and discrimination are still a reality, and the rights of women and girls continue to be violated systematically. The undermining of human rights has led to barbaric acts. The world must not forget the path walked so far to achieve the Universal Declaration. Multilateralism must return to its roots and be inspired by the women and men who left future generations with hope. She called for a renewed commitment to the Universal Declaration, which is the best way to pay tribute to it. Freedom and equality are not utopian, she concluded, they continue to be as relevant today as when the human rights instrument was proclaimed in 1948.

ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said the adoption of the Universal Declaration marked the first time that countries had ever come together to recognize that all people, everywhere, are born free and equal and share fundamental and inalienable rights. 'The economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights enshrined in this document belong to everyone,' he said, regardless of race, colour, gender or sexual orientation, language, religion, opinion, nationality or economic status. No one ever loses their human rights, regardless of who they are or what they do. Describing the Universal Declaration as the world's most widely translated document, he said that the challenge of translating it into reality for all people everywhere remains.

Since its adoption, people around the world have progressively gained more freedoms and equality, he said, citing, among other things, advances in the rights of women, children, victims of racial and religious discrimination, indigenous peoples and persons with disabilities. Perpetrators of horrific human rights violations have also been held to account by international tribunals. However, there is still a long way to go, he said, pointing to the persistence of torture, extrajudicial killings, detention without trial and other egregious human rights violations. Women and girls face insecurity, violence and discrimination, and there is a rising tide of authoritarianism, intolerance, xenophobia and racism.

'It is only by respecting and promoting human rights that we can achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda of sustainable, diverse, inclusive and peaceful societies thriving on a healthy planet,' he said, recalling how he personally grew up under a dictatorship, worked in the slums of Lisbon and, as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, witnessed the bitter results of human rights abuses. He highlighted the fact that the United Nations Charter makes human rights part of the Organization's very identity. As custodians of the Universal Declaration, Member States' ongoing commitment to the rights it enshrines is critical. 'Let us keep the beacon of this towering document alight so it can continue to guide us all on the path to peace, dignity, security and opportunity for all,' he said.

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the recognition that the world's people possess fundamental rights and freedoms cannot be extinguished. Upholding all people's human rights is the only possible path to peace, and inclusive development is as valid today as it was 70 years ago, she said, adding that the achievements inspired by the Universal Declaration cannot be denied. Around the world, millions of women and men have come together to demand an end to tyranny and injustice, to insist on their rights to justice and freedom from exploitation, discrimination and violence. Today's attacks on fundamental rights and freedoms of the Universal Declaration are not motivated by that document's failure, but rather they stem from its success, she said. Because human rights stand against exploitation of many by the few, they require governance and institutions that serve the people, not the narrow interests of powerful individuals.

The Assembly represents the hopes and interests of all the people of all Member States, she continued. Its bedrock is the determination to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, to reaffirm the faith in fundamental human rights; to establish conditions under which justice and respect for international law can be maintained; and to promote social progress and better standards of life. The anniversary of the Universal Declaration is an important reminder of why the United Nations and the Assembly came to be, and the purpose it must serve today. Its articles guide the international community to measures that resolve violence and global destruction and mark the path away from conflict and towards peaceful solutions. They build, inseparably, on each other, she said. In that connection, the right to participate in decisions, speak freely and seek justice contribute to the right to health, life, education and development. Meanwhile, fostering truly inclusive and sustainable economies requires the participation of everyone. Governance that serves rather than silences, and economic systems rooted in dignity are the responsibility of every leadership. They underpin the legitimacy of Government and the sovereignty of States. In that light, she urged Member States to work towards that vision of peace and justice for all its peoples.

NEVILLE MELVIN GERTZE (Namibia), speaking on behalf of the African Group, and noting the historic effects the Universal Declaration has had on the countries in his bloc, recalled that when it was adopted in 1948, only four African countries were members of the Organization and had a seat at the table. 'Most of us were absent because we were still under the yoke of colonialism,' he said, adding that the Universal Declaration by setting out the fundamental freedoms that should be inherent for every human being, 'spoke directly to our plight'. Saluting Eleanor Roosevelt, whose dynamic leadership as Chair of the Drafting Committee led President Harry Truman to refer to her as the 'First Lady of the World', he also expressed pride in the progress that African countries have made in advancing human rights.

Through the African Union, many Member States of the Group have adopted important instruments such as the 1969 Organization of African Unity Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, and its 2003 Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, among others, he noted. Some of those instruments, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, make direct reference to the Universal Declaration, having expanded the scope of human rights provided for therein. Several institutions set up to facilitate the effective implementation of human rights instruments - such as the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, and the Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child - have made a tremendous contribution to the advancement of human rights on the continent. 'If they are resourced sufficiently, their impact will be felt across the continent, especially where it matters most, with those furthest left behind,' he said.

MAHMADAMIN MAHMADAMINOV (Tajikistan), speaking on behalf of the Asia-Pacific Group, said that while a comprehensive normative framework of human rights treaties and covenants has evolved, along with an elaborate architecture of mechanisms, to support human rights work around the world, there are greater concerns about increasing challenges to multilateralism. The international community must ensure a safe working environment for persons engaged in the promotion and protection of human rights. It must effectively address reprisals and intimidation of any kind, including through cooperation with the United Nations and its mechanisms in the field of human rights.

The international community must remember the rule of law applies equally to all, he said. It should not let human rights be politicized and any challenges should be addressed in a spirit of cooperation and genuine dialogue. The Universal Declaration and the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action are the two pillars of global human rights action today. These two documents codify important messages and understandings of the past and provide the international community with frameworks to respond to emerging challenges. Most importantly, these two documents enshrine the international community's commitment to find global solutions to common challenges that hinder humanity's progress.

NAME TO COME (Lithuania), speaking on behalf of the Eastern European Group, said that the Universal Declaration has become a cornerstone of international law, enabling many States to build a solid and robust human rights architecture. While that Declaration 'spells out in a mere 30 articles the rights and duties we owe to each other by virtue of our humanity,' s/he added, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action manifested a great hopefulness for the era that began with the end of the cold war. However, the promises of those documents are yet to be fulfilled, and the anniversary is an opportune moment to evaluate the overall societal impact human rights have had throughout the years. 'We cannot take human rights for granted,' s/he stressed, pointing to current struggles being waged by people across the globe. Human rights violations and suppressions can and must be addressed, violence prevented and peace sustained.

He/she said the anniversary is a chance for the world to reaffirm the enduring human rights principles and standards the two declarations have helped establish, secure achievements and advances thus far and continue to defend human rights with fierce commitment. 'We need to reaffirm the fundamental significance of human rights for our lives and those of the future generations, finding our strength in the moral language of the Universal Declaration,' he/she said.

NAME TO COME (Bolivia), speaking on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States, noted that after the devastation of war, the historic adoption of the Universal Declaration on 10 December 1948 marked the first time that countries in the world had come together to recognize that every human being anywhere share[s] fundamental and inalienable rights. Also, the adoption of the Vienna Declaration on 25 June 1993 reaffirmed the commitment of all States to fulfil their obligations to promote universal respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms, highlighting that international cooperation on this matter is essential for the full achievement of the purposes of the United Nations.

There is no doubt that 'we have come a long way, but we still have much more to achieve on the field on human rights and overcome the current challenges in the world when universal values are being eroded,' she said. The international community must face challenges together, by strengthening the multilateral system, promoting international cooperation, and respecting the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of States. All human rights must be treated fairly and equally. The promotion and protection of all human rights must be guided by the principles of impartiality, objectivity, non-selectivity and non-politicization in the spirit of constructive international dialogue, solidarity and cooperation. To that end, she assured the Group's full cooperation and commitment.

NAME TO COME (Netherlands), speaking for the Group of Western European and Other States, said that since the signing of the Universal Declaration 70 years ago, the world has moved in a promising direction. More and more people see their human rights codified into national laws and protected by functioning justice systems. This, in turn, has led to more freedom, more equality and more prosperity. The Universal Declaration has played an instrumental role in the progress made. It has repeatedly served as a source of inspiration for national constitutions, as well as for other international and regional human rights conventions. However, she said, the peoples of the United Nations have also failed many fellow human beings, many who would doubt if they really were born free and equal in dignity and rights, and who face violations and abuses often at the hands of the very Governments whose responsibility it is to protect and promote such rights. 'And where we have failed them, we should learn lessons and do better,' she stressed.

The role of civil society, including through a free press, is crucial in holding Governments accountable for respecting and fulfilling human rights, she said. Strong international human rights institutions are also essential for furthering intergovernmental dialogue and mutual understanding. She paid tribute to all the women who have made crucial contributions to gender equality and the achievements of human rights over the past 70 years. Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the Drafting Committee of the Universal Declaration and Hansa Mehta ensured the inclusion of 'human beings' instead of 'men' in article 1. Tribute should also be paid to the brave women of today such as Malala Yousafzai and Nadia Murad, both winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. Quoting Eleanor Roosevelt, she said: 'We face the future with the lessons we have learned from the past. It is today that we must create the world of the future.'

SHEILA GWENETH CAREY (Bahamas), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), noted her country's upcoming membership in the Human Rights Council in 2019. For small island developing States, climate change represents a challenge to the realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Such countries' vulnerability to the negative impacts of climate change threatens the right to water, food and housing. It also impedes their ability to implement the Sustainable Development Goals. She underscored CARICOM's support for greater cooperation at all levels to address the adverse impact of global financial and economic crises, food crises, climate change and natural disasters on the full enjoyment of human rights. She went on to emphasize the need for a holistic approach to addressing human rights - one that is mindful of the nexus between peace and security, sustainable development and human rights.

JAN KICKERT (Austria), recalling the adoption in 1993 of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, said 2018 is an opportunity to reflect openly and honestly on what has been achieved and what more must be done. While the world sees a backtracking on established human rights commitments, a need to address such challenges is being confronted by mistrust and hostility, with civil society organizations and rights defenders in many countries facing pressure, restrictions and reprisals. Encouraging delegates to reflect on suggestions that emerged from the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights, held in May, he said the gathering saw participants discuss how global trends such as urbanization, digitalization, demographic changes and climate change will shape the human rights agenda going forward. Only if human rights are effectively protected can they help to strengthen the rule of law, combat social exclusion, drive sustainable security and guarantee justice and equality in a spirit of solidarity.

GRIGORY LUKYANTSEV (Russian Federation) said the Universal Declaration set the course for the modern system that aims to promote and protect human rights. Even today, the text sounds like a political manifesto, bringing together benchmarks that Member States should follow in response to relevant human rights challenges. Although it does not have the strength of an international treaty, it has been widely recognized by Member States. It highlights diversity, taking into account the national and historic traditions of different countries. For its success, States must renounce short-term political interests and strengthen dialogue. The Universal Declaration's driving force must be, like 70 years ago, the United Nations, while the implementation of the goals is incumbent upon Member States. Since the document was adopted, Member States have made steps to overcome discord in human rights. However, serious difficulties continue to arise, making the implementation of the document more challenging. Looking back, it was adopted following the Second World War in response to the suffering stemming from that tragedy. Many who adopted it had suffered from doctrines such as Nazism. Today, the Universal Declaration is still relevant and is invaluable as a platform for dialogue. More broadly, it can become a powerful tool to build bridges between civilizations, he said.

MAGED ABDELFATTAH ABDELAZIZ, Permanent Observer for the League of Arab States, said that, based on shared responsibility, the League has always worked to strengthen cooperation with the United Nations and interact with its documents and resolutions, including the Universal Declaration. He outlined a number of Arab-led initiatives that seek to mainstream human rights in Arab States, including the adoption of an Arab Day for Human Rights; a programme of action on human rights education; the implementation of an action plan to promote a culture of human rights in the Arab world; and a biannual conference on human rights protection. Strengthening respect for human rights is key for Arab States in their collaboration with the United Nations and other organizations. When celebrating the Universal Declaration's anniversary, the League stresses the importance of achieving peaceful solutions to crises around the world, especially in the Middle East. In that vein, he called for the right of Palestinian people to enjoy the human rights outlined in the Universal Declaration. The League will continue to support the document's implementation to ensure that its people's aspirations can be met, he said.

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