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European Parliament Human Rights Week

Panel discussion:Universality and indivisibility of human rights in today's global and digital world

Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet

Distinguished Chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights,
Members of the European Parliament,
Members of the 28 National Parliaments,
Excellencies, Commissioners
Colleagues, Friends,

It is a great honour to be present among such distinguished panellists, and to speak on behalf of the Secretary General, on how we can advance the rights of the peoples of Europe and the world, to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In the words of my compatriot Hernán Santa Cruz, one of the drafters of the Universal Declaration, its adoption represented “… a truly significant historic event, in which a consensus had been reached as to the supreme value of the human person – a value that does not originate in the decision of a worldly power, but rather in the fact of existing; which gives rise to the inalienable right to live, free from want and oppression, and to fully develop one's personality.”

The Declaration's recognition of specific and universal rights has driven vast improvement in human wellbeing over the past 70 years – in health, education, peace, more sustained development, and less marginalization and abuse of many minorities.

People have affirmed their rights to equality, and to live free from tyranny and exploitation, with fair access to justice, key services and economic opportunities.

We can well measure the power and the value of their achievements in this region, which was just decades ago the epicentre of wartime devastation, economic depression, and the horror of the Holocaust.

Disputes have been resolved by the impartial workings of justice. Democracies have been grounded on a strong legal framework and governed by the rule of law. Solid institutions, vibrant media and civil society ensure wide and open debate in the marketplace of ideas. Societies have become more inclusive, and more respectful. In some cases, the perpetrators of violations have been prosecuted. In a growing number of countries, people’s rights to the truth, and to redress, have been upheld.

And Governments have grown in their understanding that they should serve the needs and rights of their people.

Where once, our parents or grandparents experienced an era in which tyrants could inflict the worst suffering - without recourse – now, Constitutions across the globe refer to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and incorporate many of its provisions into law and practise.

Over seventy years, the world has set up a framework of binding treaties, established international and inter-governmental institutions, and adopted a web of laws to establish and support precise commitments willingly made by States.

Honourable panellists,

Human rights values are powerful.

They have effected – and continue to drive – immense positive change.

But all of us are aware of the turbulent and increasingly polarised context of this 70th anniversary year.

A rising wind of divisiveness undermines for peace and progress towards shared human rights goals.

Conflicts are causing unbearable suffering, and contributing to unprecedented levels of displacement.

Even within this European Union -- with its strong human rights benchmarks and its commendable institutional principles -- judicial independence, freedom of the press, and the civic space are being eroded.

Hate speech is being directed at migrants and minorities to generate and reinforce political support.

For EU policies towards third countries to be credible, it is essential that human rights advance within the European Union – and are not scaled back. In many EU countries, much remains to be done to fully include the Roma, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and the poor, in society.

My Office is also concerned about approaches to migration governance that view migrants as a threat rather than a contribution, and which fail to focus on the experiences and needs of the individuals concerned.

Across the globe, inequalities on a scale not seen in our lifetimes threaten our hopes to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – with its transformational human rights promises to the peoples of the world. While, in parallel, climate change is intensifying, creating negative human rights consequences.

Together, we face a moment of truth.

We have an opportunity to reassert the critical relevance of multilateral and inter-governmental approaches in responding to the turmoil of these trans-national challenges.

An opportunity to take and implement decisions, guided by the clarity and objectivity of international human rights law.

Whether we are talking about migration, nationalism, climate change, economic and social inequalities, judicial independence, freedom of expression, mass surveillance, artificial intelligence, the vital importance of the broadest possible space for public participation and expression -- at the core of all these challenges are civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights.

Preventing or mitigating their effects require all of us to work together, within the framework of international human rights law – a framework that is solidly in place, and has demonstrated great success in achieving beneficial outcomes.

Parts of this framework are under heavy pressure today, but they stand, and remain very broadly respected.

Part of our challenge is to make these international norms and standards more acceptable to policy and decision makers, by better communicating the many ways that they, and their people, will benefit from the protection and promotion of human rights.

I agree with Stavros Lambrinidis: we need to showcase good stories that can demonstrate that upholding human rights leads to stronger societies, with better, more sustainable development, and more effective conflict prevention.

Above all: to move forward, we need to push back.

Push back against the vilification of migrants, minorities and other targeted communities with the clarity of principle and truth.

Push back against agendas of hate, by shining a light on the values of the Universal Declaration – the fairness, and dignity, which sustain the wellbeing of all humanity.
I look to a Europe which has the courage, the vigour and the will to continue building on its powerful achievements.

A Europe which has the conviction to sustain and uphold the human rights, social progress and inclusion that constitute its greatest strengths. Which has the foresight to grasp that human rights principles must guide policies at the frontiers of the digital universe, as they should guide all public policies.

We need to build a culture of human rights and a culture of dialogue. We need to reinforce the culture of respect, with the embrace of multitudes of diverse voices.

So that the children of this region, the children of the world – and their children, too – can grow up amid recognition of “the inherent dignity, and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” – which as States acknowledged 70 years ago, is “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

Thank you.