"We need to be brave": HC hails the Amnesty International Conscience award

Video Statement for Amnesty International's "Ambassador of Conscience" award
ceremony by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein

I wish I could be with you tonight, to celebrate the inspiring example of this year's Ambassador of Conscience, and to speak with all of you. As Salil and I both transition out of our current positions, I want to thank him, and you, for your incredible work for human rights, and the support you have given to me and to my Office – which I very much hope you will extend to my successor.

Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience and US athlete Colin Kaepernick © EPA/JOHN G. MABANGLOIt is a difficult time for human rights activists. We are seeing a new wave of a very old kind of leader. Leaders who prey on their people's fears, with lies and propaganda, stirring up hatred and directing that hatred against vulnerable scapegoats. Ethno-populists who are deeply threatened by the principles which uphold all human beings' equal rights to dignity and justice.

These deeply toxic messages of hate and blame are driving our world towards a tipping point of violence. Tonight, you have come together to stand for humanity and equality. In this room are many women and men who have suffered for their principled advocacy of human rights. And again and again, I am brought back to the example of our forbears in the human rights movements – who fought to end slavery, end imperialism, end legalised segregation and apartheid; and to uphold worker's rights, women's rights, the rights of Afro-descendants, of indigenous peoples, ethnic and religious minorities, LGBTI people and more. The challenges they faced were colossal; and yet they persisted. And because of their struggles, humanity has made many giant strides away from brutality and tyranny.

Now it is our time to lead this movement. And despite the xenophobia, bigotry and short-sighted nationalism that is metastasising across the world, I am still confident that we can come together to build societies that are truly strong. Strong because they are fair. Stable, because they resolve disputes not with violence but through justice. Confident, and forward-looking, because they embrace diversity and benefit from the full contributions of everyone.

We need to involve new constiuencies – people who may not realise that human rights principles lead to powerful, practical steps. We need to find the words and actions that will make it clear to them that human rights values mean an end to discrimination and violence, better health-care, more opportunities, greater freedom and respect for personal choice.

We need to defy the racists, the tyrants, the bullies. We need to stand firm on our principles and push back against the forces of selfishness and violence.

We need to be brave.

Thank you

21 April 2018

See also