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15th annual International Human Rights Colloquium, Sao Paolo, Brazil

"Human Rights Today: Crisis or Transition"

Video statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein

6 October 2017

I feel privileged to address you today, for you represent thereal pillars of the human rights community. The work of my Office to promote human rights – our advocacy with governments and other decision-makers; our technical cooperation and training programmes for law enforcement, government officials, justice and security personnel, civil society and more; even our work on monitoring and investigating reports of human rights violations – all this would be without foundation if we could not count on your courage, your sense of principle, and your voices.

People sometimes tell me I am brave to speak out. But it is you who are brave; you, and the many other human rights defenders whom you represent, who truly stand for human rights values. My Office and the international human rights bodies whom we support rely on your insights, your evidence and your action. I speak for all of them when I thank you for your work, which too often goes unrecognized.

This colloquium has been titled “human rights: crisisortransition”. If I may, I think that “or” should be an “and”. We are in crisis and transition. It is striking that, when we go back in history, whenever the cause of human rights has made a leap forward, that leap was generally in response to crisis. The first written laws, far back in human history, sought to tame arbitrary violence. Humanitarian law developed in response to the unbearable brutality of warfare. Our human rights signpost, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was written to seek an end to the horrors of the Second World War and the Holocaust.

Today, unspeakable cruelties are being perpetrated in conflicts across the globe. An antagonistic nationalism is on the rise, with mounting levels of racism and xenophobia, and a backlash against many human rights advances, including the rights of women. There is an undercurrent of anxiety in the human rights community. Where is our leap forward? When will it come, and who will lead it?

The time is now, and you are the leaders we need. You, who stand up for human rights, and we, who will stand up to support you. You, who inspire others to do the right thing, and we, who recognise the value of your work and will seek to protect and assist it. We must come together to build a much larger and stronger constituency for human rights – across all divides, with renewed confidence and strength.