12 December 1996

Press Release


19961212 Addresses Panel Discussion Programme Organized by DPI and Centre for Human Rights

Following is the statement made today by Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to the panel discussion programme for Human Rights Day, organized by the Department of Public Information (DPI) in cooperation with the Centre for Human Rights:

I am delighted to welcome you all to the United Nations for this important event.

Human rights is a truly universal issue. As human beings, we share a desire to live in peace, to enjoy basic freedoms, and to live our lives with dignity and free from government coercion and interference. These are noble goals, but for too many of the world's citizens they remain remote and unattainable. In too many parts of the world human rights are threatened by war, civil strife and repression. And abuse of government authority is not simply a problem confined to countries in the least developed world. Even established democracies must be permanently on their guard against the loss of liberties and the erosion of individual rights.

Throughout human history, war has always been the greatest enemy of human rights. It was with memories of world war fresh in their minds that the framers of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirmed that "recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world". These words are as relevant today as they were in the 1940s.

Unspeakable acts of barbarism continue to be committed in the name of war. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burundi and Rwanda, the world has watched in horror as the grim reality of modern civil conflict unfolds daily on our

television screens. And the victims are too often the innocent, the old, the sick and the children.

Graça Machel's report on the impact of armed conflict on children brought to the world's attention the growing plight of the youngest victims of war. The report emphasized what we at the United Nations have known for many years: war robs children of all human rights -- the right to life, the right to be with family and community, the right to health, and the right to proper physical and psychological development. In short, the right to a childhood. The challenge facing the international community today is to do more to raise the profile of human rights issues around the world, and to meet the concerns raised in the Machel report.

This goal will not be easy. There will always be those who seek to sacrifice individual freedoms in the name of collective advance and progress. There will always be those who ride roughshod over human rights in the pursuit or exercise of power. There will always be those for whom racial, tribal or religious enmity provides justification for gross human rights abuses, war and even genocide. Despite our best intentions and our best efforts, rights and freedoms will continue to be threatened by war and armed conflict. Today, our task is to ensure that these challenges are addressed swiftly and effectively.

For our part, the United Nations has worked hard over the past 50 years to develop a comprehensive framework for the protection of human rights. We have established precise international human rights standards. We have created ways and means of improving respect for human rights within Member States. And, where necessary and possible, we have intervened to protect victims of human rights abuses and violations.

One principle remains of overriding importance: every human being, regardless of race, sex, language, religion or class, is entitled to enjoy their human rights to the full. These rights extend beyond political and legal rights. The United Nations commitment to lasting development requires that the international community uphold and promote fundamental economic and social rights. These include the right to food, shelter, employment, education and health care. We must do more to ensure that the fight against poverty is an integral part of international development, democratization and human rights efforts.

Human rights are at the very centre of the concerns of the world Organization. But success does not depend on the United Nations alone. Other international and national actors, such as the media, parliamentarians and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), have a vital role to play. The media can promote the free flow of ideas within and between nations. Parliaments can give effective voice to legitimate concerns. The NGOs can provide vital

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information and exert real influence in defence of human rights at the local, national and international levels.

Today, the High Commissioner for Human Rights is developing ever-closer links between the United Nations and the NGOs. Our partnership with civil society, and in particular the NGOs, is essential to the success of the United Nations human rights programme. In the field, the NGOs are working hard to implement vital human rights promotion and education programmes. These programmes form an important part of global efforts to promote peaceful and democratic change in countries around the world. The NGOs information and expertise have a vital role to play in the effective implementation of the United Nations human rights technical co-operation programme.

Je voudrais également insister, en ce jour anniversaire, sur le caractère universel de ce combat que nous avons à mener au service des droits de l'homme.

En effet, les droits de l'homme et le respect de la personne humaine constituent la fin ultime de toute politique. Et cet objectif suprême est partagé par tous les peuples et toutes les nations.

Ce principe d'universalité s'exprime dans la Charte même lorsqu'elle souligne que le but des Nations Unies est de favoriser "le respect universel et effectif des droits de l'homme".

L'intitulé même de la Déclaration de 1948 -- universel et non pas international ! -- amplifie encore cette tendance.

Cette universalité, c'est l'Assemblée générale des Nations Unies qui, par sa nature et par sa composition, est le mieux à même de l'exprimer. Et je voudrais rendre hommage ici à l'action qu'elle déploie, dans le domaine des droits de l'homme, depuis plus d'un demi siècle.

Ainsi, les domaines de protection sont-ils devenus de plus en plus précis : de la répression du génocide à l'abolition de l'esclavage, de la lutte contre la torture à l'élimination de toutes discriminations fondées sur la race et sur la religion.

De même, les destinataires des droits ont été progressivement mieux définis : droits des peuples, protection des réfugiés, des apatrides, des femmes, des enfants, des handicapés.

Cette action normative de l'Assemblée générale des Nations Unies est aujourd'hui notre bien commun. Elle a de quoi satisfaire tous les Etats, tous

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les peuples et toutes les cultures. Car l'universalité qui s'y affirme est bien celle de la Communauté internationale dans son ensemble.

D'année en année, l'Assemblée générale a poussé plus avant sa réflexion sur l'universalité en élaborant, à la suite des droits individuels et des droits collectifs, ce que j'ai appelé "des droits de solidarité", supposant l'action conjuguée de tous les acteurs sociaux. Et je voudrais insister ici sur l'importance que l'Assemblée générale a si justement accordée au "droit au développement".

Par là même, l'Organisation des Nations Unies nous invite à considérer les droits de l'homme comme le patrimoine commun de l'humanité. Elle nous incite aussi à rassembler l'ensemble des acteurs de la vie internationale autour de ce combat essentiel.

A l'heure actuelle, l'urgence me semble moins de définir de nouveaux droits que d'amener les Etats à adopter les textes existants et à les appliquer effectivement.

Pour cela, l'opinion publique et les associations ont un rôle essentiel à jouer. Par leur mobilisation, elles sont un élément essentiel de la prise de conscience, à l'échelle planétaire, de la nécessité pour les Etats et les gouvernements de remplir pleinement leur rôle de défenseur de la personne humaine.

C'est dire combien le combat pour les droits de l'homme rejoint le combat pour la démocratisation de la vie internationale.

L'un et l'autre sont indissociables ! L'un et l'autre revêtent une dimension universelle ! L'un et l'autre doivent être notre préoccupation constante !

A l'occasion de cet anniversaire, je veux donc insister sur le devoir de vigilance qui incombe à chacune et chacun de nous. Car c'est grâce à notre mobilisation et à notre attention que les droits de l'homme pourront enfin devenir une réalité pour tous les peuples et toutes les nations.

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For information media. Not an official record.