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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Rekindling the Spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The Hernan Santa Cruz Inaugural Dialogue on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, focusing on Strengthening Social Protection in Sudan

20 October 2020

Delivered by

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights


Khartoum University

My greetings to the distinguished Ministers, Ambassadors and to all of you in Sudan and around the world.

This has been a year of extraordinary events. In Sudan, the popular revolution and the courage of the Sudanese people have been an inspiration to many of us. But all over the world, as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, we are also grappling with threatening crises – including the shocks created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

We are coming together today, across the globe, to honour the legacy of Hernan Santa Cruz, a Chilean diplomat who participated in the drafting committee of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. His contributions – and notably, his powerful advocacy of economic and social rights, in the face of considerable opposition – make him a key architect of our current United Nations human rights system, and a source of wisdom that can guide people and policy-makers through these many critical challenges.

The United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights committed States to create a new social contract for freedom from want and from fear. Politically, economically, socially and culturally, societies agreed to work to achieve the fundamental rights of every human being. International cooperation would emphasize this rights-based approach. Respect for human equality, dignity and rights would be an imperative for all governments, all organizations, and all organs of society.

And as Hernan Santa Cruz argued, this also meant achieving economic, social and cultural rights, which are essential to, and indivisible from, civil and political rights.

This vision, which Hernan Santa Cruz so strongly advocated, also included the need for international cooperation and solidarity. It contributed to the UN Declaration on the Right to Development, which was adopted in 1986, and it is key to building more resilient and inclusive societies in every region of the world, as we work to recover from the impact of the pandemic and current recession.

To support this vision, we are launching today a new platform for a progressive dialogue on socio-economic rights linked to challenges of our times.

Through a series of dialogues, which begins today, we want to engage with people across the world, amplify their voices, and empower them to become agents of change.

We want to bring renewed attention to economic, social and cultural rights, and the right to development, in policy making, and to ensure that our pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals are firmly grounded in human rights principles of equality and non-discrimination, participation and accountability.

The legacy of Hernan Santa Cruz has much to teach us about why these rights are important, where we've gone wrong and how we can turn the tide.

After many years of conflicts, humanitarian crises, massive displacement and biting poverty, the people of Sudan have many lessons to share with the world in this respect.

It is a time of hope in this country. Effective implementation of the peace agreement that was signed on 3 October could now pave a way for advancing economic and social rights – including addressing the regional disparities and inequalities, which have been a persistent source of tension.

I welcome recent reforms of legislation, including the prohibition of female genital mutilation; elimination of discrimination against women in law; protection of freedom of religion or belief; and better protection for child rights.

I also commend new and stronger efforts to reach out to poor and marginalised groups through targeted programmes, such as Family Support Programme and "My Commodity Programme".

But as in many countries around the world, we need to see much more action to ensure that everyone enjoys at least the minimum core of economic and social rights.

The current pandemic is demonstrating that establishing integrated systems for social protection is not only the right thing to do – it is the smart thing to do. These and other human rights-based systems – such as Universal Health Coverage and Universal Primary Education, supported by legislation and policies with robust accountability mechanisms – are crucial, life-sustaining tools that shield communities from extreme poverty, and enable economies to continue functioning in times of crisis.

I encourage countries like Sudan to embark on concrete and targeted actions, using maximum available resources – including through international assistance and cooperation – to progressively achieve a universal and comprehensive social protection system that leaves no one behind.

It will be important to free the Sudanese people from the impediment of sanctions that were imposed before the country's governance transition. I am encouraged by the Sudan Partnership Conference held in June, where participants pledged a total of 1.8 billion dollars, in addition to the World Bank's commitment to providing an additional pre-arrears clearance grant of up to 400 million dollars.

A strong, independent and effective national human rights institution, with a broad mandate including economic and social rights, could provide critical help to addressing the lack of economic and social rights, which have been at the root of so many conflicts and grievances.

All societies are at a crossroads today. Our societies and economies are being battered by the pandemic and global recession, and we need to seize this opportunity to build back better. Not to return to the previous status quo. Not to aggravate nationalism and narrow interests. But to build, with international solidarity, systems that are grounded in the vision of Hernan Santa Cruz – because all human rights, civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, as well as the right to development are the foundation of sustainable peace and development.

The people of Sudan know how vital this work is. I am glad to be able to benefit from your thoughts.