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[Incumbent] Opening Remarks at the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

  • Date : 2018-09-28 17:12:51
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(As delivered)


Thank you very much, sir.

Good morning, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,


It is really a distinct honor and pleasure for me to be a part of this event as a co-host, and would like to extend my sincere appreciation to all of those who have worked very hard to organize this meeting, focusing on human rights as a prevention tool to achieve peace and sustainable development. On a personal note, it is wonderful to be back in the midst of my former colleagues and friends in the human rights community, including our two former High Commissioners, but I guess the human rights work is such that once you join, you never leave, so a part of me is very much with you.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


Human rights work would be self-serving, even hypocritical, if it is not firmly based on the quest for truth and honesty. So in a world full of fake news and untempered information manipulation, the work is doubly, triply challenged. And even without this, the harsh winds blowing against human rights, human dignity and freedom in many parts of the world, are harsh indeed.


And so as birthdays go, the 70th anniversary of the UDHR is not a very happy one -- but all the more the reason to celebrate the Declaration, to take heart in its vision, to instill its spirit among today's generations, and to redouble our efforts to apply its far-reaching powers to enable peace and sustainable development, and today's event is just that.


For seven decades, the UDHR has served as an ideal and guiding light toward the destination that we all long to arrive at: freedom, justice, peace and prosperity for everybody. The principles enshrined in the UDHR have spawned covenants and conventions that have set common standards for all countries to strive to achieve. The adoption of the Vienna Declaration in 1995, and the establishment of the Human Rights Council in 2005 were also important milestones which have served to take the spirit of the UDHR forward, and along the way, we also realized that human rights, peace and development go hand in hand. Simply put, peaceful and prosperous countries are also those that protect and promote the fundamental rights of its people. Today, countries are struggling with existing as well as newly emerging challenges to peace and sustainable development: protracted conflicts and terrorism, poverty and inequality, climate change, transnational crimes an ever-increasing number of people who leave their homes -- forced or choose to -- and in overcoming these challenges collectively and individually, we must do so through the prism of human rights. As the new High Commissioner stated in our first oral update to the Human Rights Council, we have a powerful medicine which heal wounds and develop resilience, respect for human rights.


My previous work in OHCHR and OCHA took me to many corners of the world where peace had been shattered by violence, where peace was collapsing under repressive rule, where fragile post-conflict society quickly relapsed back into conflict amidst pervasive human rights abuses. I also saw the fragility of development gains that had been blinded to human rights standards. There are so many lessons to learn from the cases of failure to incorporate human rights, and thus the failure of peace and development.


But there are lessons on the other side as well. Societies that are grounded in human rights are stable and resilient because they harness human dignity and diversity and enable peaceful resolution of differences and tension. This is why in all efforts to prevent and resolve conflict and to restore and sustain peace and development, full consideration for human dignity and fundamental rights must be at the center. But there are those that refuse to learn these lessons, but the global consensus has fully incorporated them. The sustainable development goals embraced the human rights agenda and set targets to promote human rights and human dignity, to make societies more equitable and inclusive and peaceful, where the benefits of development are enjoyed without discrimination and marginalization, and the rule of law safeguards peaceful order and protection for the most vulnerable members of society. In line with the SDGs, my government has reframed our development cooperation policies around 3Ps, namely people, peace and prosperity, but in the first instance, people. The aim is to support partner countries to achieve sustainable development by focusing on values that matter most to the human rights of the beneficiaries, such as participation, gender equality, quality work and fairness.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


The struggle for human rights will always be ongoing. There are ups and downs and at times, the uphill battle seems unwinnable. But in the long run, the innate dignity that lies within each and every human being, and found clear and powerful expression in the UDHR, will drive us forward. There are remarkable achievements that should inspire. My country, we experienced war, dictatorship, authoritarian regimes, but the people always stood up again, and we have succeeded in achieving prosperity and democracy. And at every important juncture, the aspiration of the people for dignity and rights prevented the country from sliding backwards into chaos or authoritarian rule. And now, human rights standards penetrate every aspect of governance. There are of course, still many shortfalls, but we are endeavoring to meet them, again through the preventive prism of human rights. I very much look forward to more stories of human rights as prevention through the active discussion among the participants today. Thank you very much.