Seeking to bolster its support for human rights programmes around the world, the United Nations today launched a new system-wide approach to helping countries promote and protect the civil liberties of their citizens.
The ultimate aim of the initiative, known as "Action 2," is to ensure that the rights of individuals are respected and protected - not only to the benefit of individuals but also as a foundation for sustainable peace and development, said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour.
"What we are seeking is nothing less than a fundamental improvement in the chances of each and every individual to live a life of security and dignity: in this sense, Action 2 goes to the core of the very purpose of our Organization," she said at the launch ceremony held at UN Headquarters in New York.
As part of the new approach, the UN will try to strengthen individual countries' national protection systems, from ensuring domestic laws comply with international standards to improving the performance of courts and correctional systems to promoting the work of ombudsmen and human rights defenders.
Mark Malloch Brown, Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), noted that while support for human rights has always been at the heart of the UN's mission, for too long during the Cold War years, discussion of the concept as it related to development was too often distorted by political rhetoric - civil and political rights on the one hand and economic and social rights on the other were regarded not as two sides of the same coin, but as competing visions for the world's future.
"Fortunately, we have moved well beyond that confrontational discussion to a wider recognition that both sets of rights are inextricably linked," he said. "The goal is to achieve all human rights - civil, cultural, economic, political and social - for all people. Access to education, healthcare, shelter and employment is as critical to human freedom as political and civil rights are. And when adhered to in practice, as well as principle, the two concepts make up a virtuous circle of freedom and development, hand in hand."
Underscoring that theme, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, said that the promotion and protection of human rights lay at the very heart of humanitarian action. The very right to life and survival is the core principle which compels humanitarians to act, he added.
Noting examples in Darfur, Sudan, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where basic human rights were flagrantly violated, Mr. Egeland said, "All serve as compelling reasons why the UN must take humanitarian action and be better able and better equipped to work with national partners to extend protection to the innocent victims of conflict and violence."
Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), said that the UN system's experience with a human rights-based approach to development and humanitarian operations so far has resulted in deepening support to national efforts, "through better analyses of the economic and social environment in which people live, through strengthened partnerships with both the state and civil society, facilitating the participation of a wide range of actors, and through involvement in issues related to governance, such as legislative reform and accountability mechanisms which allow people to claim their rights."
Video of launch ceremony [1hr 02mins]