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10 December 2008
General AssemblyGA/10795
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-third General Assembly

Plenary & Human Rights Commemoration

65th & 66th Meetings (AM & PM)

General Assembly marks 60 years of universal human rights declaration

by adopting its own, pledging to enhance dialogue among peoples

Adoption of Optional Protocol to International Covenant

On Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Caps Year-Long Worldwide Celebration

Making the sixtieth anniversary of the adoption of the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations Member States reaffirmed today their commitment to the full realization of all human rights for all peoples, and pledged to enhance international cooperation and dialogue among peoples and nations on the basis of mutual respect and understanding towards that goal.

Capping the year-long worldwide celebration of the Universal Declaration, the General Assembly adopted a Declaration of its own, which reaffirmed the indivisibility of all fundamental rights and freedoms, pledging commitment to development and to the internationally-agreed development goals, the fulfilment of which would be instrumental to the enjoyment of human rights.  “We all have the duty to step up our efforts to promote and protect all human rights and to prevent, stop and redress all human rights violations”, the Assembly declared.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees the political and civic rights of all peoples, including the right to freedom from torture, poverty, homelessness and other forms of oppression.  Its architects include former United States First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Peng-chun Chang, René Cassin, John Humphrey and Charles Malik.  The Assembly praised the Declaration as a source of progressive development for all human rights, saying:  “In an ever-changing world, the Universal Declaration remains a relevant ethical compass that guides us in addressing the challenges we face today.”

That was one of the highlights of the Assembly’s Human Rights Day 2008 schedule of events, which included two panel discussions on the state of human rights in the 60 years since the adoption of the Universal Declaration, and an award ceremony during which Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann of Nicaragua presented the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights to Louise Arbour, Benazir Bhutto (posthumous), Ramsey Clark, Carolyn Gomes, Denis Mukwege and Dorothy Stang (posthumous).  Human Rights Watch was also a recipient of the Prize.

Acting on the recommendations of its Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), the Assembly also unanimously adopted an Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (document A/63/435), recommending that it be opened for signature in 2009.  The Protocol gives any individual or group claiming to be the victim of a violation of any rights recognized in the Covenant the right to submit a written communication for examination by the Geneva-based Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, addressing the ceremony via video link from Poznan, Poland, where he was attending the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, said the Universal Declaration had been drafted amid utter destruction and destitution following the Holocaust and the Second World War.  “It reflects humanity’s aspirations for a future of prosperity, dignity and peaceful coexistence.”

Yet, while the international community had come a long way since the drafting of the Declaration, “the reality is that we have not lived up to the Declaration’s vision -– at least not yet”, he said, adding that, since taking office, he had been “humbled and saddened” by having seen so many people whose human rights were being abused and not properly protected, including through human trafficking, the exploitation of children, and a host of other ills.  “And still, after all the lessons we profess to have learned, shocking acts of brutality against innocent people often go unanswered”, he said.

“We cannot turn a blind eye to poverty, bigotry and repression.  We have a collective responsibility to reject indifference”, he continued, stressing that human rights -- indivisible and interdependent -- must hold the whole world in solidarity.  He went on to pay tribute to the individuals who risked their lives defending the rights of others around the world, including human rights experts, lawyers and journalists, as well as “ordinary people who find extraordinary courage and stand up for what is rightfully theirs, yours, mine and ours”.

In his opening remarks, Assembly President d’Escoto said the Universal Declaration was a recognized source of ethical and legal standards that called for respecting the dignity, freedom and equality of all peoples.  It taught that justice, solidarity and recognition of all peoples as members of the human family were the values that should govern the new world order.  Human rights were progressive, he said, citing numerous examples of their transformational powers:  the abolition of slavery and the recognition of full equality between men and women, among them.

“Human rights are the paradigm for the twenty-first century”, he declared, urging renewed commitment to prevent their violation.  “We must stop such violations and redress the historical damage we have caused to all those who have suffered abuses anywhere in the world.”  The Assembly could not tolerate that more than a billion people lived on less than a dollar a day; that 2.8 billion lived on less than two dollars; or that tens of thousands of women and children were victims of human trafficking.

The challenge was to instil the letter and spirit of the Declaration into the hearts of decision-makers, he said.  If human rights were to be the future archetype, international relations would need to be consistent with the rights to education, food, health, housing and clean water, among others.  Despite the many agreements, covenants and institutions, the Assembly must further strengthen human rights oversight, monitoring and implementation mechanisms.  States must work harder to implement human rights treaties and end the “insolent opulence of the few” in order to eradicate poverty.

Recalling that article 1 of the Declaration stressed that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”, Navanethem Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said those words resonated as widely today as they had in 1948.  Thanks to the Universal Declaration, all human rights were recognized as inherent and inalienable entitlements, rather than privileges “magnanimously bestowed” at the caprice of the powerful.

Today, the principles embodied in the Declaration were echoed in the constitutions and laws of more than 90 countries, while civil society everywhere had exerted vigilance over rights implementation with growing influence, she said.  The Declaration insisted on a common claim to a life of dignity and envisaged a world in which everyone was protected from hunger, oppression and violence.  Sadly, however, that vision had been undermined by repression, discrimination and inequality.

Quoting former South African President Nelson Mandela, she said the Declaration was a “shining beacon and inspiration” for millions of South Africans; proof that they were part of a great global movement against racism.  Those words rang true today for everyone who still suffered human rights violations.  Having grown up a “second-class citizen” in apartheid South Africa, she had seen the complete transformation of her country, which today had one of the world’s strongest constitutions.  For too many people, the Universal Declaration remained an unfulfilled promise: crimes against humanity were ongoing while rape and murder continued with impunity.

She said the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was an instrument of singular importance.  With its adoption today, the Assembly would close a yawning gap in human rights protection, marking a milestone in the history of the universal human rights system.  She concluded by pointing out that the Universal Declaration was never intended to be a mere “catalogue of hopes”, ringing in rhetoric but limping in deeds.  It aimed to end brutality and destruction.  Sixty years after its passage, it was time to realize its promises.

In his remarks, Human Rights Council President Martin Ihoghian Uhomoibhi said the three-year-old organ had made “good strides” in carrying out its mandate to promote and protect human rights and freedoms for all.  It remained constantly seized of rights violations around the globe while, at the same time, providing an invaluable space where the voices of the Universal Declaration’s defenders could be heard.

Under the Council’s “revolutionary” Universal Periodic Review mechanism, Member States had committed themselves to review of their human rights records by their peers, he said.  That initiative had “real potential for ensuring accountability and commitment by all States to international human rights standards, including the Universal Declaration”.  Stressing that it was nevertheless regrettable that for many, “the picture of human rights is dismal and begs for remedy”, he concluded with a call for global solidarity, which was the key to overcoming “the pernicious crisis” of lagging political will to translate the Universal Declaration into reality for the benefit of all human beings.

Of the two informal interactive panel discussions held to mark the anniversary, the first centred on the theme “Sixty years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:  Lessons learned”.  The panellists were Dr. Gomes (Jamaica), lawyer, Executive Director of “Justice for Jamaica” and a recipient of the 2008 United Nations Human Rights Award; and Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and former High Commissioner for Human Rights.  Moderating the discussion was Julia Dolly Joiner ( Gambia), African Union Commissioner for Political Affairs.

The second panel, titled “The full implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:  Challenges ahead and ways forward”, featured presentations by Maude Barlow (Canada), Senior Adviser on Water to the President of the General Assembly and National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians; Ghassan Salamé (Lebanon), Professor of International Relations at the Institute for the Study of Public Policies; Lauri Mälksoo (Estonia), Adviser to the Office of the Ombudsman of Estonia; and Dr. Mukwege (Democratic Republic of the Congo), an obstetrician and gynaecologist at Hospital Panzi and another recipient of the 2008 United Nations Human Rights Award.  The discussion was moderated by Eduardo Gonzalez ( Peru), a sociologist and Assistant Director of the Americas Programme of the International Centre for Justice.

In other business, the Assembly adopted a draft resolution by which it took note of the report of the Human Rights Council and endorsed its recommendations.

Also participating in the today’s ceremony were the representatives of Morocco (on behalf of the Group of African States), Thailand (on behalf of the Group of Asian States), Czech Republic (on behalf of the Group of Eastern European States), Colombia (on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States), Israel (on behalf of the Group of Western European and Other States), United States (as host country), France (on behalf of the European Union), Cuba (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Egypt (on behalf of the Group of Arab States), Mexico (on behalf of the Rio Group), Brazil (on behalf of the Southern Common Market, or MERCOSUR), Iceland (on behalf of the Nordic States), Canada (also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand), and Guyana (on behalf of the Caribbean Community, or CARICOM).

Addressing the Assembly on behalf of the African Union was the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs of the United Republic of Tanzania.

The General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. tomorrow, to take up the reports of its Sixth Committee (Legal).

Panel Discussions

MIGUEL D’ESCOTO BROCKMANN ( Nicaragua), President of the General Assembly, declared open the commemorative event devoted to the observance of the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, saying that panellists from various regions around the world had been invited, including directors of United Nations institutions, former High Commissioners for Human Rights and civil society leaders.

The responsibility for upholding human rights fell primarily within the purview of States, he said, but they were not the only ones responsible for promoting and protecting those rights.  Transnational corporations, banks and other private sector institutions, the media and private individuals shared in that responsibility. 

He said dialogue was sorely needed among all those actors to find solutions to the problems of environmental degradation, hunger and so on.  He expressed hope that today’s debates would lead to General Assembly resolutions that would end the concentration of capital, wealth and knowledge in favour of increased participation and democratization of institutions and revenues ‑‑ in short, creating a world where all people would attain the maximum standards of living.  Indeed, that proposition formed the essence of the Universal Declaration.

Panel I

The first panel centred on the theme “Sixty years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:  lessons learned,” involving panellists Carolyn Gomes ( Jamaica), lawyer and Executive Director of “Justice for Jamaica”, and Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and former High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The discussion was moderated by Julia Dolly Joiner ( Gambia), African Union Commissioner for Political Affairs. 

Welcoming participants to the panel discussion, Ms. JOINER said the panel discussion was a chance to share ideas in a world that was still grappling to realize commitments made sixty years ago at the adoption of the Universal Declaration.  People in conflict-ridden areas suffered from total disregard for basic human rights.  Rights taken for granted in some parts were not known to many in others, where the ability to realize basic human rights was constrained by bad governance and the absence of an independent judiciary and laws.  Yet, amid those hiccups there were positive developments, which ought to be recognized.  The Declaration had inspired regional human rights instruments and mechanisms that had led to a comprehensive system of legally binding treaties for their promotion and protection.  The progressive creation of human rights institutions had led to concerted efforts to address conflict, poverty, and disease.  Transitional institutions geared towards building peace in post conflict situations were being founded.  The Universal Periodic Review mechanism of the Human Rights Council could also be cited as a step in the right direction.  It was now time to reflect on lessons learned.

Dr. GOMES observed that the remarkable vision set out in the Declaration’s preamble and thirty articles had demonstrated the “wholeness” of every right.  Sixty years later, the vision remained “fresh” and had the ability to inspire new generations, as was the case among the youth in her country.  Yet, there was much misunderstanding of the integrity of that vision.  There were some that did not understand that “rights could not be separated from rights”, for instance, by allowing the right to vote and a fair trial, but not ensuring an adequate standard of living.  Moreover, arguments about political systems had appeared to retard the attainment of the vision, which was about “the entirety and not pieces”.  Too little time was spent not teaching the vision, or giving people the history that led to the vision.  Ultimately, however, a vision was not enough.  Individual action was the basis for the Declaration’s realization, which should begin at home, she said.  

Ms. ROBINSON remarked that the Declaration’s drafters might have been struck by the millions of people that had embraced the common standard they had crafted.  They might also have been struck by how little progress was actually made in realizing the Declaration’s vision.  The Eminent Jurists Panel established by the International Commission of Jurists, of which she was a part, had been meeting for two years to consider the impact of counter-terrorism measures on human rights.  Governments were openly justifying departures from norms such as the absolute prohibition of torture, or were claiming that secret detentions were legal.  Moreover, new laws had the effect of closing space for legitimate political and social dissent.  Evidence suggested that counter-terrorism measures, initially deemed as temporary, tended to become permanent over time.  The Panel’s report would come out in February.

She went on to draw attention, as well, to shortfalls in support for women’s rights, but highlighted the greater role being played by businesses in the realm of human rights, which presented a success.  It was a testament to efforts by the United Nations Special Representative on Business and Human Rights, John Ruggie, working alongside the Global Compact, supportive Governments and civil society.  Furthermore, an expert panel appointed by the Swiss Government, which she co-chaired with Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, last week launched a process to develop an agenda for human rights for the next decade.  As part of that agenda, world leaders would be made to address the global economic crisis, not only by stabilizing the international financial system but also by investing in social safety nets.  Also, a group of “Elders”, of which she was a member along with Nelson Mandela, was bringing organizations together to spread the Declaration’s vision, as part of the “Every Human Has Rights” campaign.

In the ensuing dialogue with panellists, speakers from the audience laid stress on ending impunity for violators of human rights and enabling the process of reconciliation where it was needed.  It could be achieved through dialogue among cultures and civilizations, as underpinned by United Nations mechanisms for protecting human rights.  Some highlighted the increasingly innovative role being played by the Security Council in addressing violations, where links were being drawn between peace, security and human rights through “landmark” resolutions such as 1612 (2005) on children and armed conflict and 1820 (2008) on sexual violence in armed conflict.  The international community must exercise political will to implement such texts, they said.  Similarly, the Universal Periodic Review process within the framework of the Human Rights Council, depended on the commitment of States to ensure a credible follow-up to recommendations coming out of that process.

Some speakers emphasized the equal importance of civil and political rights and economic and social rights, saying they viewed international development assistance as one of the main instruments to achieve that goal.  Others said human rights education was the way forward, so that democracy could be brought to all individuals by raising awareness about the worth and dignity inherent in each person.  Those speakers described what their countries were doing to bring human rights to far-flung areas within their borders, resulting in reforms of existing institutions, and the creation of new legal structures to disseminate information to make “individuals aware of their own dignity” so that people could say “no” whenever minimum standards were not being met.  On that note, one speaker remarked that today was the start of International Human Rights Learning Year.

The representative of a civil society organization said his work in documenting human rights violations demonstrated how far human rights had come in sixty years.  Human rights violators faced more pressure today than in the past.  The notion of human rights itself seemed to have entered the mainstream, with many national constitutions including human rights protections within their provisions and establishing corresponding Government ministries.  But, recent years had also seen a “trampling” on human rights in the context of the war on terror.  In the worst human rights situations, repression was still “the order of the day”.  In that regard, some speakers paid tribute to innovations at the legal level that led to the creation of the International Criminal Courts for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, which meant that tyrants could no longer feel free to “get away with murder”.  Ending violations of human rights also meant ending foreign occupation, another said.  Perhaps more innovations would arise out of the financial crisis, which was challenging the prevailing socio-economic order, said another, just as climate change justice was another challenge that would require much more “togetherness” in the pursuit of human rights.

Speaking today were the Foreign Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of Italy, along with the representatives of Belgium, Morocco, Benin, New Zealand, Ireland, Venezuela, Slovenia, San Marino, Czech Republic and Syria.  The representative of Human Rights Watch also spoke.

Panel II

The second panel, entitled “the full implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:  challenges ahead and ways forward”, was moderated by Eduardo Gonzalez ( Peru), a sociologist and Assistant Director of the Americas Programme of the International Centre for Justice.  The panellists included:  Maude Barlow (Canada), Senior Advisor on Water to the President of the United Nations General Assembly and National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians; Ghassan Salamé (Lebanon), Professor of International Relations at the Institute for the Study of Public Policies; Lauri Mälksoo (Estonia), Advisor of the Office of the Ombudsman of Estonia; and Denis Mukwege (Democratic Republic of the Congo), an obstetrician and gynaecologist at Hospital Panzi and a recipient of a 2008 United Nations Human Rights Award. 

Welcoming participants, Mr. GONZALEZ said the panel would address how best to tackle the myriad of human rights challenges facing the world today.

Ms. BARLOW then took the floor to urge nations to give priority to extending the human rights established in the Universal Declaration to the right to water.  Many communities had endured abuse, poverty, hunger, and a lack of education and basic health care for decades.  But, the assault on water had been the great turning point for millions.  Without it, there was no life.  Water was a public trust, a common heritage of people and nature, as well as a fundamental human right.  Those principles had become the great standpoint of the water justice movement and were shaping policies around the world on global water supplies.  The growth of a democratic water justice movement was a critical and positive development that was bringing needed accountability, transparency and public oversight to the water crisis.  What was now needed was binding law to codify that States were obligated to deliver sufficient, safe, accessible and affordable water as a public service.  While “water for all, everywhere and always” appeared self-evident, many powerful forces had resisted that notion fiercely.  A United Nations covenant would set the framework for water as a social and cultural asset and would establish the indispensable legal groundwork for a fair water distribution system. 

A right to water covenant would oblige Governments to adopt measures restraining practices that denied equal access to water, polluted source water or unsustainably extracted water resources, she said, adding that “there is no human right to water without clean, available fresh water in the first place.”  It would also give citizens a tool to hold their Governments accountable in domestic courts and the “court of public opinion”, and opportunity to seek international redress.  Within a year of ratification, States would be expected to adopt plans of action, with targets, policies, indicators and timeframes to realize those rights.  States would also have to amend domestic law, including their constitutions, to comply with the new rights, and rights’ monitoring mechanisms would be set up, particularly to address the needs of marginalized groups.  While water was not included in the Universal Declaration, several important United Nations resolutions and international declarations had recognized the right to water.  Governments and communities in Uruguay, South Africa, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Kenya, the European Union, India, Bolivia, Colombia and Mexico were also taking the lead. 

Mr. MÄLKSOO then addressed participants.  He said Eastern Europe had been a true success story for the Universal Declaration.  That transformation took two decades, beginning with the 1975 Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.  History had shown the difficulty in having universal human rights standards respected in Europe.  The 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall had not meant that the highest human rights standards could be immediately established in the East.  But, Europe had, in fact, developed a web of human rights instruments, such as the Council of Europe’s European Convention of Human Rights, providing a powerful normative tool to respect those rights.  Regional instruments created in the spirit of the Universal Declaration could also help.  The creation of national institutions like the Ombudsmen in Estonia, which was built on the Scandinavian model, was a positive step.  But making such institutions work successfully was a challenge and an exercise in democratic culture.  When they were, in fact, successful, the benefits would be reaped by generations to come. 

The international community could help move that process forward by encouraging and empowering such institutions and giving society a greater voice, he said.  That meant further empowering progressive civil society and including them in the work of international institutions.  The world was changing and had further moved away from the Westphalian state system.  Sovereignty did not just involve States rights.  It also involved the responsibility to protect and respect human rights.  It would be a huge challenge to implement that normative standard.  But, if the international community wanted to fully implement the Universal Declaration, then there must be real negative consequences for States that violated human rights.  The development of technology would pose new questions and new challenges, such as the definition of a core concept of human rights and human dignity under new conditions.  Informal human rights dialogues would be needed.  The Universal Declaration did not give ready-made answers, but it was good that the world had a universal document that addressed the challenges ahead.

Mr. SALAME said that, as the world looked back to when the Universal Declaration was signed, it was increasingly surprised that an agreement had been reached at all, since there was a very limited window of opportunity at that time to create one.  He pointed to several politically ideological clashes that had occurred over the past several decades, noting that the North-South alignment had been transformed into an East-West polemic that almost paralyzed the United Nations for half a century.  During the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration, a better balance between economic and political rights was called for.  But, recent attempts to settle that tension through the concept of human security had not been successful.  One could only speculate if the present financial crisis could bring Western liberals closer to the real spirit of the Universal Declaration.  He pointed to the clash between intervention and sovereignty, and the need for States, as part of sovereignty, to recognize not only their duty to protect their citizens, but also the need for international rights’ monitoring.  That had led to the concept of the responsibility to protect. 

The proliferation of States during the present century had led to a different reality of State intervention worldwide, he said.  The major challenge was not that States were too powerful, but that they had been made too feeble in order to accommodate their motto of a leaner State.  That conflicted with the desire for capable, strong States to feed and protect people.  He pointed to the clash between human rights and nationalism.  The Palestinian Authority might be a failed authority, but that did not negate Palestinian rights to self- determination.  Attempts to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict had failed.  Freeing Palestinians from Israeli jails was a positive step, but it was not a substitute for creating a Palestinian State and giving full rights to Palestinians. 

Dr. MUKWEGE, who was, this year, awarded a 2008 United Nations Human Rights Award, expressed gratitude on behalf of the thousands of children and women victims of sexual violence worldwide, who felt, thanks to the prize, that they now had a voice.  Women’s and girls’ bodies had been transformed into a battlefield.  He implored nations to go after outlaws who perpetrated human trafficking.  All individuals had the right to life, freedom and individual security.  To rape a women or child was a mark of hostility against that person, her family and her entire community.  The modus operandi of the violators was to introduce objects into women’s vaginas, with the sole aim of destroying the source of life.  He urged those who claimed that the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was due to its cultural past to realize that people had the right to social justice.  Sexual violence was a strategy of war, not just a weapon of war.  There could not be salvation for humankind unless the international community made it its mission to protect women worldwide.  The most recent events in North Kivu had created new victims of sexual of violence, who had been abused by armed bands and forces.

All people who suffered human rights violations were entitled to protection, he said.  “I am speaking on behalf of the many women and children who barely have a status higher than that of an animal,” he said, stressing the plight of women and girls who had been torn from their families and subjected to sexual abuse by armed groups in the forests.  He said he spoke on behalf of those who had been forced by their perpetrators to return to their villages pregnant and infected with HIV/AIDS.  All people everywhere needed to be feminists and to protect womankind in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bosnia, Darfur and elsewhere.  Everyone should mobilize to protect people against violence.  He also spoke on behalf of adolescent children, who would bear their mothers’ shame and humiliation of rape and abuse throughout their lives.  He urged full application of the Universal Declaration and Security Council resolution 1325 (2000).  He urged effective support for all people working for peace and human rights in the Great Lakes region, stressing that such assistance would help end the war there that had killed more than 5 million people and during which more than 500,000 women had been raped.  That was a tragedy that had involved tremendous human rights abuses and had led to the spilling of its victims’ blood.  It must end.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers from the audience shed light on efforts in their respective countries to implement the Universal Declaration.  They stressed that human rights were deeply tied to democracy, transparency, justice and the rule of law.  They noted the importance of the right of all to development, particularly as the world grappled with the challenges of climate change and the energy and food crisis.  Those rights could best be achieved by implementing the Universal Declaration.  Water was also a cross-cutting problem, requiring practical solutions to make it a free common good, not a private commodity.  One speaker stressed that protecting people with disabilities was a major challenge to national health care delivery systems and a cross-cutting issue that must be addressed effectively through national policies in health care, economic development, justice, education and transport. 

Canada’s representative said the international community must go beyond rhetoric.  It must fully implement Council resolutions 1325 (2000) and 1820 (2008) and respect the most basic tenants of human rights.  She asked the panellists to comment on the challenges associated with translating those resolutions into progress on the ground.

The representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo said that, although peaceful elections had taken place in his country, they had been severely tested by the enemies of peace working on behalf of several international interests.  The conflict in his country was economic and enterprises were seeking to illegally exploit it.  When human rights activists intervened to denounce human rights abuses, they must do so immediately and before the abuse spiralled out of control.  He asked Mr. Mukwege to comment on the role of human rights groups in that regard.  In a similar vein, the United States representative said Mr. Mukwege’s efforts had led, to some extent, to Council resolution 1820.  He asked Mr. Mukwege if that work continued to have an impact on implementation of the resolution.

The Observer for Palestine noted that the Universal Declaration was adopted about the same time as United Nations resolutions on the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination.  But those rights continue to be violated, despite countless resolutions over the years, an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, a decades-old peace process, the creation of the Palestinian Authority, huge contributions by international organizations and donor countries, and civil society activism.  None of those steps had ended the Israeli occupation.  What was the way forward on Palestine?  Could the panellists recommend any new actions or measures to enable Palestinians to fully realize their rights and to end the occupation and all human rights violations of human rights that stemmed from it? 

A representative of Amnesty International took the floor to urge Governments to halt and prevent violations that drove poverty, accept the Millennium Development Goals as human rights challenges, and recognize that human rights obligations extended beyond borders.  She also called on them to effectively implement the Assembly’s commitments to counter-terrorism, as well as to vigorously defend the independence of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and other independent United Nations human rights experts, strengthen judicial institutions to end impunity and fill the gaps in accountability mechanisms, and better protect human rights defenders.      

In closing remarks, Mr. D’ESCOTO thanked participants for their input and said that human rights must, once and for all, be put into practice as the universal values that guide economic and social policy, so that all people enjoyed the highest standards and quality of life.  Economic, social, political, cultural and environmental rights should be implemented simultaneously everywhere.  The United Nations should thoroughly review implementation of human rights agreements, covenants, declaration and action plans.  States should allocate more funds and strengthen political will to achieve full enjoyment of human rights worldwide.  He called for recognizing the right to water as a human right, not as a commodity bought and sold.  The right to water should unite the world to build a new sustainable human development model. 

Continuing, he said the twenty-first century should be declared “The Century for Human Rights”, laying the groundwork to end economic dictatorships, ideological forms of colonialism, gender-based violence and social violence, and discrimination on the grounds of culture, ethnicity, gender and age.  He called for unequivocally respecting the human rights of women, children, people with disabilities, older people, indigenous people, people of African descent, and migrants and their families.  “Let human rights be our guide, from an ethical perspective, in building a new economic order,” he said. 

The representatives of the Republic of Moldova, Indonesia, China, Colombia, Romania, Dominica, Cuba, Maldives, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Venezuela and Syria also made statements, as did the Observer for the Holy See.


MOHAMMED LOULICHKI ( Morocco), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the Universal Declaration affirmed values shared by all and established basic standards in the field of human rights.  Enhanced international cooperation was essential to the full achievement of the Declaration’s purposes, and particular attention should be given to building the capacity of developing countries in the human rights field.  Despite the progress achieved, colonialism, poverty, underdevelopment and racism prevailed, he said.  The right to self-determination of people living under foreign occupation also remained valid, and the African Group adhered fully to the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference.

The African Group attached great importance to realizing all human rights for all peoples, he stressed.  The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) was a cornerstone initiative aimed at protecting the economic and social rights of Africans.  The right to development was an inalienable human right and the African Group opposed all forms of intolerance based on religion or belief.  There was also a need to promote inter-religious dialogue so as to foster unity among all peoples.  The African Group supported the Human Rights Council’s declaration on training and education in the field of human rights, and encouraged all States to contribute to the International Year of Human Rights Learning.

DON PRAMUDWINAI (Thailand), speaking on behalf of the Asian Group, said his continent, home to the planet’s largest and most ethnically, politically and culturally diverse populations, had embraced the noble ideal of human dignity contained in the Universal Declaration “because it is the ideal that finds resonance in all social and religious values across the continent”.  In addition, countries across the region had become parties to many of the core international human rights instruments, while many had also incorporated elements and principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration into their respective national legislation and institutions.

He went on to say that the Asian Group reaffirmed that all human rights were universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated.  Therefore, the international community must treat human rights globally, in a fair and equal manner.  It was the duty of all States, regardless of political, economic and cultural systems, to promote fundamental freedoms.  The processes of promoting and protecting those rights should be conducted in conformity with the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter and international law.  The Asian Group also stressed the need to promote constructive dialogue and cooperation on human rights on the basis of mutual respect as the best way to promote human rights.  Finally, it was important to create an environment that would enable the culture of human rights to thrive as a means of promoting peace, justice and tolerance.

MARTIN PALOUŠ (Czech Republic), speaking on behalf of the Group of Eastern European States, said the Declaration had proved to be a living document and programme of action that had, over the past 60 years, inspired nations, peoples and international organizations.  Its sixtieth anniversary and the annual marking of Human Rights Day provided an opportunity to highlight and celebrate achievements and lessons learned from failures.  To that end, Governments throughout Eastern Europe, as well as non-governmental organizations, had embarked upon organizing a variety of events to commemorate the anniversary of the landmark Declaration.

He said the Universal Declaration had had a tremendous impact on the recent history of the Group of Eastern European States, which pledged to honour and uphold its tenets.  Those principles were still vital and would, therefore, remain a source of guidance to the international community in protecting and advancing human rights around the world.  The Eastern European Group also stressed that human rights were a prerequisite for the well-being of all individuals and of humankind as a whole.  “Words must turn into deeds and the formal commitments of Governments must have a real impact in even the remotest corners of the world.”

CLAUDIA BLUM ( Colombia), speaking on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States, said the Universal Declaration strengthened the commitment of States to the promotion of, and respect for, human rights and freedoms.  Countries in the Latin American and Caribbean regions had participated constructively in processes arising from the Universal Declaration, and had been “committed actors” in the definition of different norms and standards, including the 1968 proclamation of the International Year for Human Rights.  The Group reaffirmed its commitment to democracy and respect for human rights, and reiterated its adherence to both the Universal Declaration and the Vienna Programme of Action.

She highlighted the contribution of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and underlined the special relevance of the right to development, while also reiterating the need to promote concerted actions to eradicate poverty, and underlining the special relevance of the right to development.  Gender equality and women’s empowerment were a priority, and the Group had also worked resolutely to promote the rights of the child.  Regarding the issue of migrants, the Group highlighted the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.  The Group also reaffirmed its commitment to work for the protection of the human rights of indigenous peoples, emphasized the importance of education in human rights, and reaffirmed the international community’s significant role in helping all peoples realize their human rights.

GABRIELA SHALEV (Israel), speaking on behalf of the Group of Western European and Other States, said that the international community had been shocked by the atrocities of the Second World War and the Holocaust.  Determined to respond to that brutal attack on human dignity, the United Nations had adopted the Universal Declaration, which reaffirmed faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women.  The Declaration represented the highest aspirations of mankind and strove for a common understanding of those rights and freedoms.

On the sixtieth anniversary of the Declaration, the international community must acknowledge that for millions and millions of the world’s most vulnerable and disenfranchised people, the document remained an unfulfilled promise, she said.  “For them, it is our shared responsibility to commit ourselves yet again to the full realization of the principles contained in the Declaration.”  The Group called on the Assembly to reaffirm that all States must fulfil their primary responsibility to respect and protect the rights of all individuals, without distinction of any kind.  In the end, human rights were an expression of a common humanity and a common vision for a better and more just world.

ZALMAY KHALILZAD (United States), speaking on behalf of the host country, recalled that, 60 years ago today, States had recognized that all people were born free in dignity and human rights.  It was a monumental achievement, particularly because the world was recovering from the devastation of the Second World War.  From those trying times, courage and inspiration had arisen, thanks in part to the efforts of former United States First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who had chaired the drafting of the 1947 International Bill of Human Rights.  She had seen that human rights began “in small places”, close to home -– in places where every man, woman and child sought equal dignity without discrimination.  The spirit and letter of the Declaration had guided countless millions in following their conscience, practising their religions and living free from persecution.

While Ms. Roosevelt’s dedication to social justice was an example to all Americans, it also reminded the world of the great work left to be done, he continued.  If the promise of the Declaration was to be fulfilled, the global community could not stand by silently while others were deprived of their human rights.  Regrettably, some Governments had imposed constraints on their peoples’ ability to exercise their fundamental freedoms -- people who had done no more than attempt to exercise those rights.  Indeed, some Governments continued to pressure civil society and the independent news media, while using urgently needed humanitarian aid as a “political weapon”.  As States rededicated themselves to the Universal Declaration today, the United States called for holding all Governments accountable for protecting, promoting and ensuring human rights for all.

MATHIAS MEINARD CHIKAWE, Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs of the United Republic of Tanzania, speaking also on behalf of the African Union, said it might be an understatement to describe the record of human rights in post-independence Africa as “chequered”.  Excesses by dictators had blighted the human rights landscape on the continent.  “War crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide have happened on our watch; this should not be repeated.”  The African Union was striving to rise to the challenge and leading the way towards providing a framework for protecting and promoting human rights on the continent.

He said the regional body had adopted several instruments to that end, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (1981) and the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights, which his country would be proud to host when it became operational.  On the rights of women and children, the African Union had established the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women, as well as the Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.  However, it might be futile to preach human rights to people steeped in poverty and debilitated by hunger and diseases.  “We have to address those challenges simultaneously to make the Declaration relevant and useful to ordinary people in the betterment of their daily lives.”

JEAN-MAURICE RIPERT (France), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that the bloc, founded on the principles of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms -- including those of expression, conscience, democracy and the rule of law -– shared fully the values in which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was rooted.  The universality and indivisibility of human rights, the responsibility to defend those rights throughout the world, and the promotion of pluralistic democracy and its effective guarantees for the rule of law were essential principles for the European Union.

However, the European Union deplored the continuing flagrant violations of human rights in many of the world’s regions, including on the basis of sexual orientation, he said.  It reaffirmed that the international community and all States, acting individually or collectively, had the legitimate and permanent responsibility to protect and safeguard those rights throughout the world, particularly in the context of the responsibility to protect, a concept endorsed by all Heads of States and Government at the 2005 World Summit.

Paying tribute to the courage of human rights defenders, he described them as “those often anonymous women and men” who fought indefatigably to defend those universal values, sometimes at the cost of their own safety.  “As we mark the sixtieth anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, combating the impunity of those responsible for human rights violations must be a priority.”  The European Union called on Member States that had not yet done so to accede to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

ILEANA NÚÑEZ MORDOCHE (Cuba), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, reaffirmed its abiding faith in, and strong commitment to, its founding principles, one of which was respect for fundamental human rights.  The Movement attached great importance to promoting and protecting human rights, reaffirming that all human rights, notably the right to development, were universal, inalienable, indivisible and interrelated.  It unequivocally condemned the systematic violation of human rights and the exploitation of human rights for political purposes, including the selective targeting of nations for “extraneous considerations”, which should be prohibited.  Adequate attention should be given to issues of foreign occupation, which engendered social exclusion, as they could not be excluded from any meaningful discussion of human rights.

Indeed, the inalienable rights of all peoples, including those in Non-Self-Governing Territories and under foreign occupation, remained valid, she continued.  Democracy, good governance, development and respect for human rights and freedoms were interdependent.  The adoption of coercive unilateral measures against developing countries flagrantly violated the basic rights of their populations.  It was essential that States promote efforts to combat extreme poverty and hunger.  In that context, the Non-Aligned Movement reiterated the need for adherence to core principles -– equity, non-discrimination and transparency -– and the effective participation of developing countries in norm-setting.  The Movement had agreed on measures, including the protection of all human rights, notably the right to development, in line with its founding principles and the United Nations Charter.

MAGED A. ABDELAZIZ (Egypt), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, stressed the importance of “the right to development”, while noting also that it was imperative to avoid attached conditionality aimed at imposing controversial concepts or linking them to development assistance.  Moreover, there was a need to reinforce respect for the existing institutional balance between the principal United Nations organs, particularly vis-à-vis the prerogatives of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council in supervising the activities of the Human Rights Council, special procedures and treaty bodies.

Reasserting the Arab Group’s commitment to the promotion of human rights at the national level, he said they also maintained that collaborative efforts in the field of human rights should be based on common standards, rather than misguided attempts to impose one’s viewpoint or one’s own standards as international ones.  It was also important not to limit the consideration of human rights issues to those relating to civil and political rights, at the expense of the economic, social and cultural rights that were among the top concerns of peoples in developing countries.  An objective approach was needed, based on the principles of international law, on an equal footing for all.

It was also necessary to enhance existing dialogue, on the basis of respect for cultural identities and peculiarities, to deepen mutual understanding, respect and tolerance, he continued.  That was crucial to ending incitement to hatred, be it on racial or religious grounds.  Serious international dialogue should continue in order to strike the balance necessary for the promotion of the right to freedom of expression in tandem with the right of the adherents of different religions to manifest their religion and preserve their identity freely and without restrictions.  Similarly, there was a need for stronger commitment to human rights while countering terrorism on the basis of existing international commitments, the latest of which was the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.

He said the pursuit of universal respect for all human and peoples’ rights would not materialize unless the international community totally divested itself of selectivity, politicization and double standards in dealing with the question of the right of the Palestinian people and other Arab peoples suffering under foreign occupation, to self-determination.  It would only materialize when the international community acted with solid determination to end incessant violations by the occupying Power of its commitments under international law, on top of which came the Fourth Geneva Convention.

CLAUDE HELLER (Mexico), speaking on behalf of the Rio Group and associating it with the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States, said that, in recognizing that every individual was entitled to all human rights and fundamental freedoms, the Declaration’s adoption had marked the beginning of a profound transformation of the relationship between the individual and the State.  The Rio Group recognized the Declaration’s value for having underpinned the work of the United Nations, and for being a source of inspiration for the development of international human rights law, including the latest instruments adopted by the General Assembly for the promotion and protection of human rights -– the Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, on the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance, and the one from today, the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Noting that no State could claim that human rights and fundamental freedoms were fully and universally respected, he said the Universal Periodic Review mechanism constituted a significant innovation in terms of the role of the United Nations in promoting and protecting human rights.  That new mechanism had great potential to enhance cooperation, collaboration and constructive dialogue when addressing human rights situations wherever they might occur.  The Rio Group paid tribute to the treaty bodies helping States implement their obligations under the various human rights covenants, conventions and protocols, as well as to human rights defenders, some of whom had sacrificed their lives for the cause.  The Rio Group also stressed the importance of adequate attention to poverty, underdevelopment, marginalization, instability and other conditions amounting to social and economic exclusion or violations of human dignity and human rights.

MARIA LUIZA RIBEIRO VIOTTI (Brazil), speaking on behalf of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), said it was not possible to consider human rights in the international sphere without recognizing the fundamental importance of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action on Human Rights, adopted in 1993.  The promotion and protection of human rights, democracy and development had been fundamental pillars in the political and social affairs of MERCOSUR countries.

She said that those countries, while having faced and continuing to face many challenges in their historic struggle for human dignity and freedom, nevertheless acknowledged that substantial progress had been made at the institutional level and in raising awareness about the importance of preventing human rights violations, punishing abusers, and ensuring reparations for victims.  Among the instruments and mechanisms adopted by MERCOSUR’s member States were the 2005 Asunción Protocol on the Commitment to the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights, as well as the regular meetings of the High-Level Authorities on Human Rights and related working groups.  Within the Organization of American States (OAS), MERCOSUR members had, among other activities, contributed to the adoption of the Democratic Charter, and were currently participating in negotiations on the Social Charter of the Americas.

HJALMAR HANNESSON (Iceland), speaking also on behalf of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden -- the Nordic countries -- reaffirmed the Universal Declaration as the cornerstone of human rights, which were the foundation for safeguarding and advancing human dignity worldwide.  Over the years, human rights defenders had been crucial in bringing violations to the world’s attention and providing guidance on how to end them.  The Universal Declaration had inspired national and international efforts to place the protection of individuals at the centre of human development, while contributing to the development of customary international law.  Rights enshrined in the Declaration had also been laid down in international human rights conventions.

Still, 60 years on, no country could claim to have fully realized the Declaration’s aspirations, he stressed.  Millions of people still suffered violations of their civil, political, economic or social rights at the hands of their Governments, or violations that Governments had the responsibility to prevent.  Crimes of genocide and other large-scale violations should be crimes of the past, not the present.  The international community and individual countries had the shared responsibility to take that work to the next level.  Governments must do everything possible to extend the protection of all human rights to everyone, regardless of race, gender, religion, political affiliation or any other status, including sexual orientation.  Ownership of the Universal Declaration must be shard by Governments, as well as those it strove to protect.  The Declaration must be brought to universal attention through human rights education and learning.

JOHN MCNEE (Canada), speaking also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand (CANZ), expressed concern that, despite the global benchmark provided in the Universal Declaration, 60 years since its adoption, discrimination and violations of human rights persisted.  There were still serious and overwhelming gaps between the universally endorsed standards and the practices of States in all regions of the world.

The sixtieth anniversary provided an opportunity to acknowledge and address that gap between the universally agreed standards and everyday practice, and to renew efforts and commitments to human rights in the United Nations, he said.  It was time that Member States focused their collective resources on the full and effective implementation of the Universal Declaration and subsequent human rights treaties to which a large number of them had voluntarily adhered.  The CANZ Group called on all Member States to redouble their efforts and engage with national, regional and multilateral institutions to narrow the gap between the agreed human rights standards and the reality faced daily by millions of people around the world.

GEORGE TALBOT (Guyana), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said the societies comprising that grouping had been initially forged in an environment characterized by the most pervasive violations of human rights.  Indeed, the pernicious system of slavery and the ensuing servitude had visited the worst indignities on the forebears of today’s CARICOM citizens.  “ Caribbean peoples paid a heavy historical price for the assertion of the human rights and fundamental freedoms we enjoy today.”  They were acutely aware that their present achievements had been made possible not only through arduous struggle and sacrifice, but also by the actions and goodwill of men and women from every nation.

He went on to say that the Universal Declaration was the common standard of achievement for all peoples and nations.  Great progress had been made in the individual and collective pursuit of that standard throughout the CARICOM region.  At the same time, challenges and gaps remained at every level, in every nation and region.  Many people remained mired in poverty, many others still faced discrimination, and women continued to face increased violence, even as they became the targets of rape and other forms of sexual exploitation in situations of conflict.  With that in mind, CAROCOM called for a comprehensive approach rooted in the indivisibility of all human rights, and in recognition that all fundamental freedoms were interdependent.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.