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Remarks of High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay at Rio+social

19 June 2012

Greetings everyone, wherever you are following this global Rio+Social conversation through live streaming and Twitter,

I am glad to take part in this global event. The very idea behind your efforts to bring everyone into the Rio+20 dialogue – Participation, is itself a human rights principle crucial for making development truly sustainable. This is why many human rights advocates and myself are here attending Rio+20 to speak up for human rights in the Future We Want.
But why talk about human rights at a conference on sustainable development? What does a human rights approach bring to this debate? One answer is “accountability.” Human rights provide a binding and globally agreed normative framework of accountability. Put simply, the difference between a green economy and a green-washed economy is a human rights-based approach.

But we also need the human rights principles of non-discrimination, meaningful participation, empowerment and accountability to keep us on course, and to keep us focused on people and their rights.

There is no such thing as sustainable development without due regard for human rights. Human rights matter to this debate.

Advancing the green economy and human rights must go hand in hand. Without explicit human rights safeguards, policies intended to advance environmental or development goals can have serious negative impacts on people’s rights and livelihoods.

Think about the demands of people in the Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street and other similar movements, of indigenous peoples in the Amazon forests, and of those struggling for dignity close to your own home. Are those demands for economic growth alone? Or are they demands for a dignified life, which economic growth can contribute?
By now the messages of civil society and the people must be clear. Strategies based on the narrow pursuit of economic growth without due regard for equality, environmental, social, and human rights considerations are doomed to fail. They have failed and they will again. Not only in achieving their economic objectives, but also in protecting the planet and the fundamental rights of the people who live here.

Simply put, participatory, accountable, non-discriminatory and empowering development is more effective, more just, and, ultimately, more sustainable.
Earlier in the negotiations process, I appealed to UN Member States in an open letter to fully integrate these human rights principles, give explicit attention to the rights to food, water and sanitation, health, education and the right to development, and to include human rights-based policy coherence and human rights impact assessments in the Rio+20 outcome.

In recent days, important human rights provisions have been brought into the draft outcome document, representing significant improvements over the original zero draft. But as the negotiations enter their final hours, we must remain engaged and continue speaking up for human rights. It’s now crunch time at Rio for human rights.

So how can social media help make a difference? Social media has proven to be a powerful tool helping people to mobilize and voice their demands for human rights and dignity. It is in effect a 21 century platform for participation. People across the globe are increasingly unwilling to defer to invisible forces, unaccountable institutions, or unresponsive governments to guarantee their economic and environmental well-being, and their human rights.

They use social media to remind governments, international institutions and businesses alike that jobs, health care, education, housing, and access to justice, are not commodities for sale to the few, but rather RIGHTS, guaranteed to everyone, everywhere, without discrimination.

This is also what the Rio+Social initiative is seeking to achieve: to bring everyone into the conversation, explore options and solutions. In this spirit, my Office has been running a “Speak Up for Human Rights in the Future We Want” social media campaign. As we speak, my team is now live tweeting this event with the hashtag #RightsRio.

What is the future you want? Freedom from fear, freedom from want, a life of dignity as envisaged in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? If so, we are counting on you to demand that human rights be given their due at Rio and countries across the globe, and the Future We Want.

Thank you.