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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust

Honouring Holocaust victims

26 January 2018

Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein
on the Holocaust Remembrance and Education: Our Shared responsibility

27 January 2018

Human history will be forever scarred by our memory of the Nazi Holocaust, which is symbolized by Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest extermination centre, liberated on this day 73 years ago.

Every year we honour the victims of the Shoah – millions of Jews, Roma, homosexuals and political opponents who were brutally murdered, and others who survived. Every year, fewer of them remain among us as living memories of that time, and we must redouble our efforts to recall the horror they experienced, and the wisdom they learned.

As Simone Veil – a heroic French survivor of Auschwitz who died last summer – once said, “Our legacy is in your hands. The task of vigilance is yours. The Shoah was unique in the history of humanity; but the poison of racism, anti-Semitism, the rejection of the ‘Other,’ and hatred are not limited to any one era, culture or people. To varying degrees and in various forms, they have been daily threats everywhere and always, in the past and in the new century that dawns … Our testimony calls on you to embody and defend the democratic values rooted in absolute respect for human dignity, which are our most precious legacy.”

And indeed, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was conceived out of the Holocaust and two world wars, driven by the urgent need to forever prevent such horror and destruction. When it was adopted, on 10 December 1948, the world's leaders acknowledged that only justice and respect for human dignity, equality and rights can ensure enduring peace.

Even today – perhaps especially today – these messages need to be absorbed by a growing number of world leaders who view human rights as a tiresome constraint. Nationalists are once again stirring up discrimination, hatred and violence against vulnerable scapegoats, seeking to profit from messages of ethnic or religious supremacy. Across the world, many people are suffering atrocities and mass campaigns of killings. International human rights law is being violated and undermined.

But every individual is worthy of rights. And the solemn promise to respect the rights of minorities and uphold fundamental freedoms and protections made by every State in signing the Universal Declaration is the only possible path to sustainable development and peace. It is not a passive philosophical ideal, but a practical plan of action that grows increasingly urgent, if humanity is to survive, and thrive.

We must learn the lessons of the 20th century. As we mourn and honour the victims of the Holocaust, we must also push back against today's monstrous denials of human rights, which create more victims and generate more threats to peace. In every country where there is still space to express thoughts, participate in decisions, raise one's voice, I urge everyone to stand up for the values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: equality, dignity, freedom and justice.” 

This year, 2018, is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70thanniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: