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Statement by Mr. Miloon Kothari, Coordination Committee of Special Procedures at the HR Event: 60th Anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

10 December 2007

Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen,

As Special Rapporteur’s we do not often bring good tidings to this room – not because we do not want to – we are constantly searching for good practices – but the reality we regularly confront is a stark, bleak reality of human rights violations, of hopes squashed and dreams destroyed – of frail and tired bodies too weak to ask for respect for their dignity…

It is in the context of this reality, which we constantly confront, that we issued a joint statement today in which we are seeking to call attention to the momentous implications of the implementation of the fundamental human rights principle of non-discrimination. This is one of the core values of human rights which have implications for the world’s disadvantaged and demands immediate action by States consistent with the cardinal human rights approach of meeting the needs of the vulnerable, those whose dignity is most under assault, first.

In this statement we highlight the need to intensify efforts to combat discrimination and exclusion, which continue to impair the rights, dignity and access to justice of millions of individuals and innumerable communities worldwide. We point out that discrimination is a root cause of many human rights violations and that civil and political as well as economic, social and cultural spheres, the extraordinary impact of discrimination on human rights forms a common thread between our mandates.

Discrimination may be deeply and historically entrenched or, as our societies have changed and evolved, it may emerge in new yet equally abhorrent forms. We point out that discrimination based on gender continues to be a concern in every country of the world.

In the current global climate of growing income disparity and the growing gulf between the rich and the poor it is important to remember that discrimination and segregation in economic, social and cultural rights are not only based on grounds of race, class or gender,  but can also result from poverty and economic marginalisation. Discrimination can also lead to segregation, ghettoization and persistent poverty.

In her statement on human rights day the High Commissioner, in an important paragraph lists our individual and collective failures to violence, racism, xenophobia, torture, repression of unpopular views. To this shameful list it is important to add the persistence of poverty across the world as an individual and collective failure.

In the statement we stress that the connection between long-term discrimination and exclusion to tensions, instability and conflict is now well established, but must be more widely understood. In this understanding lies the possibility of more effective prevention measures that promote inclusion and stability and address the root causes of conflict at a much earlier stage.

We acknowledge that the existence of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation yet too often, in our experience, such clear legislation is absent or not matched by effective implementation and access to justice for victims of discrimination. States, with civil society partners, must take the lead in promoting non-discrimination and equality in wider society, and be proactive in efforts to encourage social cohesion and inclusion, including through education and the media.

We call on all parties to be vigilant in identifying problems stemming from discrimination in order to craft appropriate responses, and ensure that institutions, including political structures, the police, and the judiciary better reflect the diversity and multiculturalism, which are increasingly a feature of all societies in all regions. The fight against discrimination is more than a passive obligation, in many cases it also requires positive steps to redress historic and enduring inequalities.

We conclude the statement by recalling the 2001 the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance took place in Durban, South Africa. We stress that the 2009 review conference on the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action offers a crucial opportunity to assess the progress achieved and the challenges remaining towards the elimination of racial discrimination. We reiterate our commitment to work with States to eliminate discrimination and exclusion on all grounds, in an effort to prevent human rights abuses and conflict, to redress ongoing and past violations, and to design appropriate legislative and policy responses. We celebrate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a fundamental text for the protection and promotion of all human rights for all, and call on States to ensure its full implementation.

Mr. President, as Special Rapporteurs we attempt our best to bring the truth to light – it is often not a popular job as the truth we often bring to light is not easy to face especially by those that are, by acts of omission or commission, responsible for human rights violations. 

We attempt to discharge our functions with independence, impartiality, integrity and in accordance with the standards of fairness and due process and in the quest for justice.  

We are the via media between the victim and the Human Rights Council and indeed the world. We place the protection of those in need as high among our priorities and pursue a victim-oriented perspective. We have the enormous task of analysing the human rights situations, making relevant recommendations and striving for justice or the victims, actual and threatened.

It is an enormous responsibility yet an inevitable one and unique in many ways amongst the independent functions existing within the United Nations. The role we play needs to be protected and strengthened.

The ideological moorings required to rescue the world from the consolidation of a ‘militaristic mindset’ needs to draw upon and adhere scrupulously to international human rights principles and instruments. The need to meet this challenge head-on is an inescapable task. The challenge is to forge a structure of multilateralism that is underpinned by a moral, ethical and legal basis of all human beings – the very foundation of human rights – the very foundation of the UDHR and the core value inherent in all human beings that we strive to honour and uphold today.

We owe the worlds poor nothing less than the full human rights that the pursuit of their dignity deserves and our actions will be judged by nothing less than whether we are able to achieve this inevitable task.

Millions around the world continue to have their dignity stifled, betrayed, erased and find no voice - Dignity does not find a hearing – live in humiliation,  live in pain and search  and wait, sometimes interminably to find justice, recompense.

They search for a foothold in the world of possibilities for dignity to blossom - possibilities of justice, peace, human rights.

Human rights principles and instruments play an important role. These principles and instruments that give practical direction for their implementation comprise unambiguous directions for State responsibility at local, national and international levels.

The instruments are there, much work has been done to interpret these instruments to inform national legal, policy and administrative actions. We need, however,  to urgently and collectively improve rapidly their implementation, the accountability of all actors and the will of all to realise human rights and in the process give due recognition to the dignity that resides in all human beings

Only then will it be said that we took suffering seriously – that we answered an ethical imperative to act.

As I was preparing this statement, images kept coming to me from some country missions I have recently carried out.

I see an elderly, indigenous woman in a wheelchair outside a homeless shelter asking for help, a mother relating to me the humiliation and helplessness she feels when she has to wait in line to sleep in a church basement floor with her children carrying their possessions in small bags – her inability to look them in the eye and explain that she has no home to take them to that night.

Mr. President this statement began with the observation that the reality is bleak...yet we continue to act because we believe in human rights and because we have to believe that all of us collectively have the capacity to change, what now often appears to be an unrelenting reality.

Let me conclude by reciting a poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. The original is in Urdu and I read here an English translation:

All the Flowers have Wilted

“All the flowers have wilted
The sky’s tears will not stop;
The candles have gone dark,
The mirrors lie shattered;
No more music do instruments make,
The dance is over.

And behind these clouds,
Far, far in the distance,
Twinkles a star,
The star of pain,
It glimmers,
It makes music,
It smiles”

Mr. President, High Commissioner, Ladies and Gentlemen, let us open our ears to that music, embrace that smile and respond to that pain with action in words and deed.

Thank You.