United Nations officials today mourned the passing of Stéphane Hessel, a former member of the French Resistance, writer and “one of the great champions of human rights,” who died overnight at the age of 95.
Mr. Hessel, who served with the French Resistance during the Second World War before he was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to concentration camps, survived to help draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, and also held a number of important French diplomatic posts, including at UN Headquarters in New York.
The UN Human Rights Council, currently meeting in Geneva, paused and observed a minute’s silence in Mr. Hessel’s memory – the first time it has honoured an individual in this way.
“Stéphane Hessel was a towering figure in the human rights world,” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. “His close involvement with the team who drafted the Universal Declaration is enough by itself to earn him a place of honour in global history. But he went on to do so much more, and kept contributing to the advancement of human rights well into his 90s.”
In 2010, Mr. Hessel published a 12-page pamphlet entitled “Indignez-vous!” which urged people, especially young people, to take a stand against discrimination, inequality and indifference.
“He supported the core human rights principles with a fierce integrity and never allowed politics or personal history to cloud his judgement on major unpopular issues, such as migration and racism,” said Ms. Pillay.
“He was a great thinker and a remarkable man. I shall miss him personally, and wish I’d been able to tap more in to his unparalleled experience. It’s very sad to have to say goodbye to someone who played such a monumental role in furthering the cause of human rights.”
The Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, voiced her deep sadness at the death of Mr. Hessel, who she described as “one of the 20th century’s greatest advocates for human rights, tolerance and mutual understanding.”
“With the passing of Stéphane Hessel, the world has lost one of its most forceful and most graceful voices for human rights and one of its strongest defenders of peace and the causes of the United Nations – in these challenging times, his legacy and message remain as powerful and as relevant as ever,” she stated.
In 2008, Mr. Hessel was awarded the UNESCO/Bilbao Prize for the Promotion of a Culture of Human Rights. His engagement with UNESCO was longstanding, including during the International Decade for the Promotion of a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World.