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On Human Rights Day, UN officials call for boosting rule of law, ending impunity

On Human Rights Day, UN officials call for boosting rule of law, ending impunity

One of the most outstanding legacies of the last century has been the development of a body of international law that can protect the individual from injustice, arbitrary treatment and assaults on fundamental security, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today as the United Nations observed Human Rights Day.

"All too often, these laws are not honoured; all too often, domestic laws are subverted to provide a cloak of legitimacy for breaches of fundamental human rights, or infringements on civil liberties," the Secretary-General said in a message marking the Day, which commemorates the UN General Assembly's adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. "Yet the strength of the rule of law lies in its universal relevance and application - in its grounding in the fundamental human rights of all people."

Mr. Annan appealed to all governments, communities and individuals to recommit themselves to the universal application of the rule of law. "Let us ensure that we never take this precious legacy for granted," he said. "Let us nurture, develop, strengthen and defend it."

For his part, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello, noted that human rights, as protected by the rule of law, are now demanded by civil society, adopted as pillars of domestic and foreign policy, and invoked by parliaments, national and international judiciaries, the media, schools, workers, employers and corporations.

At the same time, he pointed out countless civilians are living in the midst of war and conflict, enduring atrocities that should outrage the conscience of humanity. "It is appalling that impunity for gross violations of human rights and grave breaches of humanitarian law is so rampant," he said, noting that the entry into force of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court on 1 July has given "great hope" for finally bringing an end to genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Nevertheless, the international community needs to do more, the High Commissioner stressed. "We must look with renewed urgency to means that will truly promote and protect human rights in areas ravaged by conflict," he said. "Armed conflict stands as a bloody monument to the failure of the rule of law. We must break the cycle of violence."

Meanwhile, General Assembly President Jan Kavan of the Czech Republic said that 54 years after the adoption of the Declaration, there are many whose human rights and fundamental freedoms are still not respected. He pointed out that respect for human rights is best fostered where conflicts are prevented through diplomacy and other measures.

"It is crucial to enhance the United Nations preventive capacity and in so doing move from a culture of reaction to a culture of prevention," he said. "The United Nations and other international organizations, side-by-side with world leaders, civil society, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders must do their best to prevent armed conflict in all parts of the world."