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“It is my right”, The Universal Declaration on Human Rights – Sixty years of inspiration and empowerment for human rights

08 December 2008

The Special Procedures Mandate Holders of the United Nations Human Rights Council issue the following statement on International Human Rights Day, 10 December:

GENEVA -- Sixty years ago today, on 10 December 1948, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In so doing, a promise of rights was proclaimed to all men, women and children, of every race, colour, and religion.

The Universal Declaration emerged from a period of unprecedented global crisis and human tragedy, to bring an inspirational message of hope, and vision of a new humanity to a deeply damaged world. It set in train an unstoppable process towards the goal of human rights for all that has, in the 60 years that have elapsed, seen both progress and setback. Despite the countless challenges that remain, the message is an enduring one. The Universal Declaration has truly changed our world for the better.

Where its principles have been adopted as fundamental tenets and laws, the Declaration comes to life in peaceful societies, enriched by their diversity, and resolute to achieve equality. Yet in some States or regions where conflict or oppression have taken their dreadful toll, the flame of hope that the Universal Declaration provides has burned only dimly.

The depths of cruelty that one person, group or nation inflicts upon another continue to be witnessed in every region. Racism, discrimination and exclusion continue to demand our greatest vigilance and our concerted action. But the flame has never gone out. The Universal Declaration has been a beacon of hope and guidance even where despair exists. It has been espoused and embraced by brave women and men who in the face of adversity are the true keepers of the Declaration, courageous human rights defenders everywhere.

The rights that the Declaration has proclaimed us all to have cannot be taken away. They remain inherently ours as human beings even though they may be violated. They are not abstract principles. They are not just words on a page. Within those words exists a life saved and a prisoner released, a family housed, a child educated, a voice allowed to speak out freely or against injustice, a victim who gains remedy, a woman who grows up equal in her opportunities to a man.

The Declaration has allowed the most vulnerable among us to claim with conviction “it is my right”. Today, more than ever before, the message of rights reaches to every corner of our world. The Universal Declaration continues to empower people to make that claim.

We, independent experts from every region of the world, are entrusted with helping to promote the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration. This remarkable document inspired the comprehensive array of human rights standards that underpins our work, and forms an essential bedrock of international and domestic law. On these solid foundations, our activities go far beyond highlighting violations of rights. We work in partnership with States, civil society and others to identify the many positive practices and experiences from all regions that help to protect and promote rights and that can provide a model for others. We seek opportunities to propose assistance and develop solutions alongside States that work within and across borders. All regions provide challenges, and equally all provide us with the lessons and guidance and the rich cultural resources needed to find those solutions and to make rights reality.

Today the interests of States, and the impacts of actions by States, are ever more inter-connected. New challenges include ensuring global access to food, and those presented by climate change and financial crisis have potentially massive human rights and development implications. If we are to confront them effectively we must do so collectively.

Sixty years ago the drafters of the Universal Declaration, from all regions, envisioned a future of unparalleled cooperation and friendship between peoples and States in the pursuit of universally applied human rights, international development, peace and security. In this new era of complex global challenges, the international community must renew its commitment to strive for common understanding, and to find shared processes and systems of cooperation.

There remains no better single articulation of all human rights belonging to all people than the Universal Declaration. As relevant today as it has ever been, it should have a place in every school in every country, in every public office and in every courtroom. It should be in the hands of those whose rights are violated and of those who have the responsibility to protect.

On this anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights we call upon all to intensify efforts to realize its promise of dignity, justice and equality for all. We pledge ourselves to this task.


For more information on the work and mandate of the Special Procedures holders, visit the website: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/chr/special/index.htm