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High-level panel discussion on the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 25th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action

37th session of the Human Rights Council

Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein

28 February 2018

Distinguished President of the Council,

This Council's mandate, like my own, is rooted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. I view this panel as an occasion to reaffirm our commitments to these fundamental texts.

I quote, "The advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief, and freedom from fear and want, has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people," the Universal Declaration states.

It is a promise by States to uphold the equality and inherent rights of every human being. Uniform practise was not a goal. The drafters took care to prove "that the co-existence of States which have differing economic conceptions and differing regimes is possible, and that it is not necessary for one conception to triumph over another conception.” The UDHR was not a projection of partisan politics, or a project for world domination. Indeed, the original push to draw up the Universal Declaration came from anti-imperialist, anti-racist movements in countries of the Global South.

Western countries – including the United Kingdom, France and the United States – were initially reluctant. It was Latin American States, with their experiences of slavery, colonialism and foreign domination, which pushed for international human rights measures even before the Second World War. Once discussions were underway, the Philippines stood staunchly for powerful language prohibiting torture. India and Pakistan strongly backed the rights of women.China,Costa Rica, Ghana, Jamaica, Lebanon and Liberia championedlanguage on justice and the dignity and worth of the human person.

These are values drawn from cultures and traditions across the world. The rights to justice, equality, freedom, dignity – and the imperatives of compassion and fellow-feeling for one another. These are principles and objectives which are fundamental and invariable – universal. You do not have to be rich or from a developed country to deserve human dignity. You do not have to be born with a specific skin colour or gender.

The universality of all human rights is what binds us all together, with all our differences, in the core of human values: the conviction that all human life is valuable. It is this universality which gives the Declaration its deep resonance. No other document in history has been translated into as many languages, and in every one of them it brings inspiration, hope and meaning.

The Vienna Declarationtook this fundamental notion of universality a step further, by acknowledging the inseparability of all human rights. All States recognised that all human rights are "indivisible, interdependent and interrelated".

Civil and political rights, economic, social and cultural rights, and the right to developmentbuild on each other and advance together.Even if a person’s right to speak out and protest is recognised, she is not truly free if she is constrained by lack of education or inadequate living conditions. And even a wealthy person is not living well if he lives in fear of arbitrary detention by his government.

Access to social protections and economic opportunities form a powerful antidote to the spread of violent extremism. Measures to end discrimination and uphold people's freedoms to speak out accelerate sustainable development. Indeed, the Declaration on the Right to Development emphasises the right of all individuals and peoples to free, active and meaningful participation in decisions.
Moreover, it was in Vienna that steps were taken to create the mandate of my Office – "in the recognition that the promotion and protection of all human rights is a legitimate concern of the international community".

Mr President,

In seeking to become members of this body, States pledge that they will act without selectivity – both in regard to the countries which they scrutinise, and the rights they will uphold. Any selectivity – whether it involves an exclusive focus on particular rights, or political action on behalf of allies –damages this Council's legitimacy and impact.

The provision of governance which serves rather than silences, and economic systems rooted in dignity, are the responsibility of every government, in all regions, at every level of development. They underpin the legitimacy of every government. They are also a recipe for the creation of resilient, successful societies.

And at the global level, it is extremely clear that respect for international law, including international human rights law, is essential for peaceful coexistence among States, particularly smaller and less-developed ones.

Today, factures are deepening across the world, violence and conflict are rising, and a blind nationalism is pursuing narrowly defined national interests at the expense of the common good.

It is said that today's human rights violations will become tomorrow's conflicts. May these anniversaries remind us of the disasters, the catastrophic violence, which may ensue, when we violate the commitments we made 70 years ago, to the universal values of humanity.