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70th anniversary of the UDHR at the UN General Assembly

73rd session of the General Assembly

Commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of the 
25th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action

Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet
New York, 18 December 2018

Distinguished President of the General Assembly,
Secretary General,
Excellencies,
Colleagues, Friends,

Seventy years ago, when the third session of the General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as its Resolution 217, the world's States were beginning to emerge from catastrophe.

Genocide on a scale never before inflicted experienced by humanity had inflicted monstrous suffering.

Nationalistic and isolationist policies had generated two global wars and an economic depression whose reach and scope harmed millions of people across the planet.

The depredations of colonialism had oppressed and exploited entire nations and regions.

And the use of atomic weapons made it clear that any future global conflict could essentially extinguish life on this planet as we had known it since the dawn of time.

Mme. President,

The first impulse to create a human rights declaration came from Latin America. China, Costa Rica, Ghana, India, Jamaica, Lebanon, Liberia, Pakistan and the Philippines insisted on strong commitments against torture, for the rights of women, and on justice, dignity and conscience.

Together, States from every region drafted the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and agreed that they must stand as " a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations" – so that "by progressive measures, national and international", Member States would build "the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world."

Today, this vow still stands.

The recognition that the world's peoples possess these fundamental rights and freedoms cannot be extinguished.

The acknowledgment that upholding all people's human rights is the only possible path to peace, and inclusive development, is as powerful and valid today as it was 70 years ago.

And the achievements inspired by the Universal Declaration cannot be denied.

Millions of women and men have come together, to demand an end to tyranny and injustice, to insist on their rights to justice and freedom from exploitation, discrimination and violence.

Today's attacks on the fundamental rights and freedoms of the Universal Declaration are not motivated by that Declaration's failure.

They stem from its success.

Because human rights stand against exploitation of the many by the few. They require governance and institutions that serve the people – not the narrow interests of powerful individuals.

Mme. President,

This Assembly represents the hopes and the interests of all the people of all Member States.

Its bedrock is the determination
  • To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war 
  • To reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small 
  • To establish conditions under which justice and respect for international law can be maintained, and 
  • To promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom. 

The anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an important reminder of why the United Nations and this Assembly came to be, and the purpose it must serve today.

Its guidance echoes across these 70 years to the many crises we see building in our era.

The Declaration's 30 articles guide us to measures that resolve violence and global destruction, repair social breakdown and mark the path away from conflict –towards shared, peaceful solutions.

They build, inseparably, on each other.

The rights to participate in decisions, to speak freely and to seek justice, are important in and of themselves, and they also contribute to the rights to health, to life, to education and to development. To foster truly inclusive and sustainable economies requires the participation of everyone -- an end to discrimination, and the right to speak out, to make choices and criticise.

The provision of governance that serves rather than silences, and economic systems rooted in dignity, are the responsibility of every leadership. They underpin the legitimacy of government and the sovereignty of States.

I ask you to work towards this vision of peace and justice for all your peoples.

I thank you Mme. President.