Civil society crucial in advancing human rights, UN officials tell Paris meeting

3 September 2008

Top United Nations officials have highlighted the important role played by civil society in advancing human rights around the world, as a major United Nations conference bringing together some 2,000 representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from 90 countries got under way in Paris today.

The annual conference, organized by the UN’s Department of Public Information (DPI), is usually held in New York. This year’s event is taking place in Paris to mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted in the French capital in 1948.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a video message to the conference, noted that human rights have been at the core of the UN’s work since 1948.

“At the same time, civil society has been on the front line,” he said. “For six decades, human rights defenders have sacrificed liberty, comfort and even life to ensure that all human beings can enjoy the rights enshrined in the Declaration – irrespective of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or other status.”

He also pointed out that human rights and freedoms continue to be “a distant reality” for too many people.

“It is our duty to ensure that these rights are a living reality – that they are known, understood and enjoyed by everyone, everywhere. 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,” he told the gathering.

The President of the General Assembly also highlighted the contributions of civil society to advancing human rights.

“NGOs have played an important role in putting human rights at the centre of humanity’s agenda,” Srgjan Kerim said in a video message.

Mr. Kerim stressed the value of partnership between the UN, its Member States and civil society, adding that the goal of achieving human rights for all, while ambitious, can be achieved with such partnerships.

“Working hand-in-hand we can make universal human rights a reality for all of us,” he said.

The three-day conference is being held at the headquarters of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and features roundtables and workshops, as well as an art exhibit on the history of the Universal Declaration.


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