Human rights enshrined in UN Declaration apply universally, says Ban Ki-moon
The Day also kicked off a year-long UN system-wide campaign, with the theme “Dignity and Justice for All of Us,” to raise awareness of the Declaration, which turns 60 on 10 December 2008.
“The Declaration remains as relevant today as it did on the day it was adopted,” Mr. Ban said. “But the fundamental freedoms enshrined in it are still not a reality for everyone. Too often, Governments lack the political will to implement international norms they have willingly accepted.”
He said that this year leading up to the 60th anniversary of the landmark document provides an opportunity to reinvigorate efforts to ensure that the Declaration’s freedoms apply to all.
“It is a chance to ensure that these rights are a living reality – that they are known, understood and enjoyed by everyone, everywhere,” the Secretary-General noted. “It is often those who most need their human rights protected, who also need to be informed that the Declaration exists – and that it exists for them.”
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, in a separate message, paid tribute to those who have given their lives in the pursuit of transforming the ideals of the Declaration – inherent human dignity, justice, non-discrimination, equality, fairness and universality – into reality.
“Today is also the day to reflect upon our individual and collective failures to stand up against violence, racism, xenophobia, torture, repression of unpopular views and injustices of all sorts,” she observed.
Efforts to make sure that every person can rely on just laws for his or her protection must be stepped up in the year leading up to the Declaration’s 60th anniversary, the High Commissioner said.
“In today’s growing divisions between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the vulnerable, the technologically advanced and the illiterate, the aggressors and the victims, the relevance of the Declaration and the universality of enshrined rights need to be loudly reaffirmed,” she declared.
The President of the General Assembly also sounded the alarm about those who are denied the Declaration’s rights, stating that “it is incumbent upon us to champion their cause.”
Srgjan Kerim urged that measures to promote rights should “live up to the spirit embodied by those who had the courage and conviction to leave us with this great legacy.”
Underscoring the rights of girls and women, who continue to be subjected to discrimination and violence, the head of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) stressed that “every human being should be able to live and make decisions free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”
Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid pointed out that although it has been long-recognized that all couples and individuals have a right to decide whether and when to have children, some 200 million women worldwide have no access to modern contraception.
She also noted that while the right to health has similarly long been recognized, a woman dies every minute during pregnancy and childbirth because of lack of maternal health services.
The UN’s independent rights experts marked the Day with a call for the elimination of the twin scourges of discrimination and exclusion.
“Discrimination continues to distort the economic, social and political contours of societies,” the UN special procedures mandate holders – ranging from rapporteurs and experts to working groups – said in a joint statement. “Individuals and communities face discrimination and exclusion on the basis of their race, ethnicity, religion, language, sex or sexual orientation amongst many other grounds.”
The group emphasized that if left unchecked, the consequences of discrimination and exclusion “can begin to create fault lines within society between those who have full rights, justice and dignity respected, and those who do not.”
Events commemorating the Day are taking place throughout the world. At UN Headquarters today, panel discussions on human rights will be held, while a special celebration was held at the world body’s Geneva office, where the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Human Rights Council are based.
An essay competition for teenagers is being held on the occasion of the Day in Parwan province, north of Afghanistan’s capital Kabul. Meanwhile, in Paktia province, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) celebrated the Day at an event attended by victims of the country’s three decades of conflict, Government authorities, tribal officials and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC).
The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) has organized a series of activities across the country, including workshops, campaigns and panel discussions in Darfur, as well as marches to promote human rights messages in southern Sudan.
Several events will also be taking place in the lead up to the 60th anniversary of the Declaration. In Rome, illustrations inspired by Human Rights Day by 17 artists from around the world will be exhibited as part of an initiative called “Cartooning for Human Rights.” The artwork will travel around the world next year.
Next September, a conference to celebrate the Declaration will be held in Paris, while a series of five human rights capacity-building trainings will take place in the Asia-Pacific region next year as part of the Diplomacy Training Programme, a non-governmental organization (NGO) founded by Nobel Peace Prize laureate José Ramos-Horta.