Speech by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein
24 October 2017
It is a great privilege to speak to you at this occasion, which honours the United Nations – humanity's greatest hope for peace, justice, development, and indeed, survival.
Today this Organisation stands at the intersection of powerful and contradictory trends.
On the one hand, we can look forward to immense progress. Thanks to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which has been universally endorsed, an end to hunger and extreme poverty is within reach. We have a detailed blueprint to end discrimination, improve governance, and realise fundamental human rights, including the right to development.
And yet in many parts of the world, blind, "me-first" nationalism; hatred; and a blinkered hostility to multinational cooperation seem newly strengthened. Already we are seeing the ravages, in increased hate crime, heightened rancor between communities and between States, and a deepening fear that we are being pulled towards greater suffering and conflict.
It seems that 72 years after the end of World War II, we have forgotten the lesson so bitterly drawn from that experience. The lesson was that justice builds peace. That humanity could be saved from the scourge of war by reaffirming fundamental human rights, establishing conditions in which justice and international law would be respected, and promoting social progress, in freedom.
Today, international institutions are increasingly becoming arenas for for political rivalry rather than cooperation. And we see, again, a return to the calamitous policies which led humanity to disaster.
Nationalism, which puts one country first and fails to see the interests of humanity are always in every country's interest.
The politics of scapegoating, which cultivates fear, shapes it into blame, and then harvests it as roaring crowds, blindly lashing out at the vulnerable – a harvest of violence. A rising tide of ethno-nationalism – a conviction of supremacy over other people: minorities, foreigners, or indeed women, which humiliate and oppress individuals and communities, and splinter societies into weaponised shards.
Crackdowns against dissenting voices, against independent media and human rights defenders.
The fundamental values of human equality and dignity, are under pressure – a new kind of pressure, because governments now are not only flouting the rights of their people.They are doing so without shame, openly, knowing they will face little challenge.
What can we do?
Many in this room play important roles in the political, economic, social and cultural life of this great nation. Thanks to you and many others, Peru has worked towards integrating human rights into law and practise since the end of the terrible internal conflict. I ask all of you to act with fresh determination to uphold the rights of all people in Peru and beyond, leaving no-one behind.
But all of us can advance human rights for the people around us. Whether in our political actions, or in the context of our work, our schools, our neighbourhoods and communities – all of us can stand up for our rights and the rights of others.
We can transcend our differences and come together to cooperate, for the future of our societies and our children – all our children – and to preserve humanity from.