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Opening remarks by UN High Commissioner Navi Pillay at the “Celebrate Human Rights” Press Conference Geneva, 1 December 2011

Thank you for being here.

2011 has been an extraordinary year for human rights.

A year when a single word, embodying the thwarted quest of a single impoverished young man in a remote province of Tunisia, struck a chord which swiftly rose to a crescendo.

Within days it had rolled into the capital, Tunis, with such a roar that, in just four weeks it knocked the foundations from under an entrenched and apparently invincible authoritarian regime. This precedent, and its radical revision of the art of the possible, quickly reverberated into the streets and squares of Cairo, followed one after another by towns and cities all across the region, and, ultimately, in different forms, across the world.

That word, that quest, was for “dignity.”

In Tunis and Cairo, Benghazi and Dara’a, and later on – albeit in a very different context – in Madrid, New York, London, Santiago and elsewhere, millions of people from all walks of life have mobilized to make their own demands for human dignity. They have dusted off the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and demanded “freedom from fear and freedom from want,” the Declaration’s shorthand for all the civil, political, social economic and cultural rights it contains. They have reminded governments and international institutions alike that health care, and education and housing, and access to justice, are not commodities for sale to the few, but rather rights, guaranteed to everyone, everywhere, without discrimination.

In 2011, the very idea of “power” shifted. During the course of this extraordinary year, it was wielded not just by mighty institutions in marble buildings, but increasingly by ordinary men, women, and even children, courageously standing up to demand their rights. In the Middle East and North Africa, many thousands have paid with their lives, and tens of thousands have been injured, besieged, tortured, detained, and threatened, but their newfound determination to demand their rights has meant they are no longer willing to accept injustice.

Although we must mourn the lives of many, including -- just in recent days – during the remorseless assault on various towns and cities in Syria, in renewed excessive use of force in Cairo and in efforts to subvert the elections taking place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we also have cause to celebrate.

The message of this unexpected global awakening was carried in the first instance not by the satellites of major media conglomerates, or conferences, or other traditional means – although these all played a role -- but by the dynamic and irrepressible surge of social media.
The results have been startling.

By the end of this first year of the global awakening, we have already seen peaceful and successful elections in Tunisia and, earlier this week, in Egypt -- where the turn-out for the first truly democratic elections there for decades has exceeded everybody’s expectations, despite the shocking upsurge in violence in Tahrir Square.

Today, as in the past, editorial and financial factors – as well as access – determine whether or not protests, and repression of protests, are televised or reported in newspapers around the world. But, wherever it happens, you can now guarantee it will be tweeted on Twitter, posted on Facebook, broadcast on Youtube, and uploaded onto the internet. Governments no longer hold the ability to monopolize the dissemination of information and censor what it says.

Instead we are seeing real lives in real struggle, broadcast in real time – and it is in many ways an exhilarating sight.

In sum, in 2011, human rights went viral.

So it seemed natural, as we planned Human Rights Day this year, to try to build on this remarkable momentum for change through a social media campaign to encourage people to get involved in the global human rights movement. Our social media human rights campaign focuses on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and aims to help more people KNOW, DEMAND and DEFEND human rights.

Do they know -- do you know -- for example, that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights holds the Guinness World Record for the most translated document in the world? So far it has been translated into 382 languages. Do they know – do you know – what all those human rights are?

As part of our campaign, on 10 November we started an online discussion on Facebook and Twitter in English, French and Spanish called “30 Days and 30 Rights.” It is also being carried in Chinese on Weibo. It counts down to Human Rights Day on 10 December with a daily posting about one specific article of the Universal Declaration – 30 in total.

Never before did we see such a vibrant discussion on human rights and the Universal Declaration. I encourage you and your audiences to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter using #CelebrateRights.

Meanwhile questions are pouring in via different social media platforms for a global human rights dialogue I am hosting on the eve of Human Rights Day. I will answer human rights questions from all corners of the world on 9 December, 9:30am New York time, 15:30 here in Geneva. The event will be webcast and streamed live. Stay tuned, and send in your questions using #AskRights

The second phase of the Celebrate Human Rights campaign is being launched here today. It is both serious and fun, and centres around the premise that everyone everywhere shares one day, Human Rights Day, on 10 December. This is the day, every year, when we celebrate the official birthday of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In this new phase, we have been given on a pro-bono basis help by the international advertising agency, Lowe and Partners. This is not only the first major social media campaign undertaken by the UN human rights system, it is also the first time we have come to such a significant pro-bono arrangement with a company. I would like to thank Lowe and Partners for their generosity and their creativity, and I will now hand over to the company’s Chairman, Mr Tony Wright who has kindly come here today to explain what this core part of the campaign is, and how it works.

Statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay - 10 December 2011: Human Rights Day


For broadcast quality footage of the press conference - Servers:
1. ftp://unis-ftp.unog.ch/ -- User: CLIENT1 -- Password : 7dl0PY9R
2. ftp://CLIENT1:7dl0PY9R@unis-ftp.unog.ch
3. And through UNifeed on APTN's Global Video Wire 2145-2155 and at www.un.org/unifeed

For more information on the Human Rights Day campaign: http://ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Day2011/Pages/HRD2011.aspx

Follow the live tweet of the High Commissioner’s press conference: #CelebrateRights at http://twitter.com/UNrightswire

Follow us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/unitednationshumanrights

Make a wish for Human Rights Day on: http://www.CelebrateHumanRights.org

For more information on the High Commissioner’s social media conversation:

Check our YouTube Channel for videos related to Human Rights Day:

Learn more about the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/AboutUs/Pages/HighCommissioner.aspx

For more information or media enquiries please contact:

In Geneva: UN Human Rights spokesperson Rupert Colville (+ 41 22 917 9767 or rcolville@ohchr.org) or press officers: Ravina Shamdasani (+ 41 22 917 9310 or rshamdasani@ohchr.org) or Xabier Celaya (+ 41 22 917 9383 or xcelaya@ohchr.org)

In New York: Fred Kirungi (+1-917-367-3431 or kirungi@un.org)