Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
High-Level Event Commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
First, my thanks to all of you. It is incredible what you have done: our panellists; our participants, ranging from Heads of State, Heads of Government, Ministers, to civil society organisations, human rights defenders, representatives of Parliaments, and National Human rights institutions. And also, in particular, our amazing youth advisory group, who have motivated us even further to do our work.
I also want to thank very much our co-host, the government of Switzerland, and our many partners behind the scenes who have made this possible. And I have to give a big shout out to my own colleagues who have been working tirelessly – and in particular the Human Rights 75 Secretariat – to make this event happen so smoothly, which feels like a minor miracle.
This has been a truly remarkable event, profoundly useful to the cause of human rights. It has been a demonstration of commitment by people from every walk of life, from all kinds of societies, to the cause of human rights.
We have received 286 pledges from over 150 member states – substantive pledges – in addition to 76 pledges from civil society organisations; 23 pledges from different UN and intergovernmental organisations; 17 from National Human Rights Institutions; and many from Parliaments and from businesses, including several business associations. It is impressive.
There have also been many expressions of tenacity, of struggle, of hope and also of despair. There have been fresh ideas – many fresh ideas. And we will respond to these voices that we have heard from every region, from every generation, which are demanding hope and change. We will consider, digest and work on all of this.
Throughout this whole year of anniversary commemoration, we have been seeking to write a new narrative for human rights as the driver of an ambitious agenda of change. An agenda that must meet the biggest challenges of our time: those we face now, and also those that lie in the future. Through these wide-ranging conversations we have harvested many recommendations – including over the past two days. We will use these thoughts and recommendations to inform a vision of human rights for the future.
We hope to publish this in early next year. It will become a roadmap for our Office, and it will be a concrete contribution for the UN's Summit of the Future next year.
I also see a great deal of what we have heard from you as entry points for more engagement and collaborative work. It will help us build on existing frameworks, such as the strategic framework on human rights that we recently signed with the African Union.
What are some of the key takeaways? There is a lot to reflect on.
Firstly, there can be no doubt that we have a strong global constituency for human rights. There has been an incredible turnout for this event. We had over 2,200 attendees in person, between Geneva, Bangkok, Nairobi and Panama. About 1600 people joined the virtual conference-room online, worldwide, and many more that we couldn't track on the UN's Web TV.
This demonstrates a very powerful willingness to engage – to work through difficult issues, including some challenging conversations. To push boundaries, to broaden the edges, to ask oneself and others to go the extra mile. And of course, sometimes this means this will be, as I said earlier, uncomfortable conversations. It can be difficult. It can also be healing, taking us further forward.
This is another key takeaway: human rights don't take part in political conflicts. Human rights will always be on the side of victims and as one of our panellists said: we are all on Team Humanity. This confirms, for me, that human rights create bridges across geopolitical divides. They are a blueprint for solutions to our greatest challenges, and for multilateral cooperation, because they are grounded in values that span divisions: because they are rooted, as another participant said, in the universality of the human condition.
Many speakers emphasised that the numerous and grave violations that the people of the world continue to experience do not constitute a crisis of human rights. They are a crisis of implementation. So the focus has to be on implementation. This is how we can ensure that the universality of human rights is lived and breathed – by pushing for equal respect of everyone's human rights in every context.
The pledges we have received, and the Tree that was developed yesterday, illustrate the hunger for us to do better on human rights. We need to support this global constituency and give it the space to innovate. That means more dialogue, more creative solutions, sharp thinking, wider partnerships. Young people are part of this core constituency, and it is not just about asking them to contribute ideas. They need to contribute to decisions. Participation is fine, but what young people are telling us is it has to be meaningful and decisive.
We have a very powerful youth declaration, and we know we can count on young people to keep pushing us – which is exactly what we need. We need also to bear in mind future generations. Again, there's a link to the Summit of the Future, where a Declaration of future generations is planned. This long-term vision is essential. We are preparing the world for the generations that succeed us.
To end cycles of conflict, we need to put rights – all rights – at the centre of prevention and peacebuilding, including by addressing economic injustices.
We need to transform our economies and our relationship with our planet, with equality and meaningful and inclusive participation at the core of that effort. This is the objective of the human rights economy, which includes the very important human rights responsibilities of businesses, and an emphasis on good governance.
Accountability is another crucial issue. Impunity is intensely corrosive. It creates grievances and deep harm, and it perpetuates conflicts. We must work to end impunity.
And we must strongly advocate far greater protection of the civil society space. Fundamental freedoms must be upheld. Every society needs the innovation and the creativity of each and every one of its members.
We heard also from our discussions of digital technology that the products of human ingenuity and human creativity must be used in the service of humanity. Technology and science can serve us enormously, when they are used on the basis of human rights. We must overcome the digital divide, which creates new inequities, and we must ensure that digital technology advances human rights.
Underlying all these messages is a simple truth: we cannot course-correct on human rights without strengthening our human rights system. Many proposals were made yesterday to improve the accessibility, effectiveness and impact of our global and regional human rights architectures. One of them was very clear: we need to very substantially correct the underfunding of the human rights pillar of the United Nations.
Ultimately, much of this depends on States – on the Sates that adopted the Universal Declaration and established our human rights systems. States need to act on human rights recommendations: this is essential to peace and security, to development, and to international cooperation.
As we look to the future, it's clear that now is the time for action.
We need to build this new era for human rights. We need to embrace its full transformational power as a means to shape the future in our common interest – to overcome division, to surmount unequal outcomes, to solve unsolvable crises.
Because we can overcome these crises.
We need to act in solidarity with all those who suffer from human rights abuses, and with deep gratitude for the courage of human rights defenders everywhere in the world.
We remain, all of us, each other's best hope.
And so, at last, let me offer you my pledge: the pledge of my Office. Our promise is that we will be steadfast. We will be a trusted partner on rights, in the pursuit of this vision of rights that will build a better future – a vision that you have entrusted to us.
Thank you very much.