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“How to promote and protect human rights in a multi-polar world: Perspectives from UN Observer Delegations”

Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet

26 November 2018

Distinguished President of the Council,
Director-General Moller,
Colleagues, Friends,

I’d like to thank the organisers of this discussion by Permanent Observer delegations. I very much appreciate the opportunity to benefit from their perspectives. Given the value of multilateral cooperation for the protection and promotion of human rights, I am also pleased that so many inter-governmental groupings have co-sponsored this event.  

Whether we are talking about migration, climate change, economic and social inequalities, judicial independence, artificial intelligence, or the participation of civil society decision-making and governance, it is steady, open and constructive dialogue, and action, which has and will advance greater respect for human rights.

It is that greater respect that drives sustainable development and peace. As the Universal Declaration begins

Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.

Seventy years ago, the world’s States faced immense, and very different challenges – no less diverse than what States face today. At that time as now, perspectives on and approaches to human rights varied to a considerable degree. But they were able to agree on the core principles of the Universal Declaration, and they concurred that the measures laid out in its 30 articles were essential to “freedom, justice and peace in the world”.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights holds all peoples and nations to a common standard and guides them to a clear destination, which does not vary. It recognises that human security is indivisible. No group of people can be safe at the expense of others' safety.

This universality of human rights goes to the heart of the mandate of the Human Rights Council, the mandate of the Office – and indeed, the Charter of the United Nations itself:

To achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.

  States, in adopting the Universal Declaration, acknowledged that the interdependent civil, political, economic and social rights are not granted to people by any specific authority, or on any specific condition. They are “inherent” and “inalienable” for every human being. No Government may legitimately strip those rights away.

And over the past 70 years, the Constitutions of many countries, across the globe, have referred to the founding principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, incorporating many of its provisions into national law.

States have set up a framework of binding treaties, established international and inter-governmental institutions, and adopted a strong and flexible web of laws to establish and support precise commitments to uphold human rights, which they have willingly entered into.

That framework of international human rights law – and institutions -- has been successful in achieving beneficial outcomes.

Peoples have thrown off the oppression of colonialism, and women and many racial, ethnic, religious and minority communities have been able to push back against discrimination and gain access to vital civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. 

Not everywhere. The horror of the atrocities and violations inflicted on so many of our fellow human beings by State and non-State actors in these seven intervening decades, can not be forgotten.

But the balance is positive. Human rights principles have brought powerful benefit to the world.

We cannot allow that progress to be undermined today,

Rising inequality, resentment and hatred are fracturing societies. We are seeing conflicts, massive involuntary displacement, and an urgent threat to all humanity from climate change.

Moments such as these are tests of our true values. This is an opportunity to step forward and demonstrate the importance of human rights guidance in times of turmoil.

We must strengthen existing partnerships, while creating new one between international actors and civil society groups and businesses.  

The 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in exactly two weeks’ time, provides us with a unique opportunity to engage the broadest possible audience worldwide, on a topic, which empowers everyone to take a stand and shine a light on human rights.

My Office will stand firm in its support of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I count on your mobilisation in support of this historic anniversary and the human rights agenda. And I trust we can continue to count on your support and help of the people of this country as we navigate the waters ahead.

Thank you