10 December 2009
General Assembly
GA/10901

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fourth General Assembly

Plenary

61st Meeting (AM)


GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT SAYS HUMAN RIGHTS FUNDAMENTAL ‘PILLAR’ OF UNITED NATIONS,


AT MEETING TO MARK END OF INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF HUMAN RIGHTS LEARNING


Assembly Calls for States to Expand on Efforts Made During Year;

Design, Implement Long-Term Human Rights Learning Programmes at All Levels


With millions fighting a daily battle against discrimination to gain access to education, health services and decent work, the President of the General Assembly today urged the United Nations family to join hands with Governments and other stakeholders around the world in embracing diversity and ending discrimination, during a special meeting to mark the end of the International Year of Human Rights Learning.


“Human rights stand, alongside development and peace and security, as a pillar of the Organization,” he said, reaffirming that promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction to race, sex, language or religion, was a fundamental purpose of the United Nations.


The special meeting -- held on Human Rights Day, as well as the sixty-first anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights -- followed the Assembly’s adoption of a resolution on follow-up to the International Year of Human Rights Learning, which concluded today.


By that text, which was recommended by its Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), the Assembly encouraged States to expand on efforts made during the International Year and to consider devoting the resources necessary to design and implement long-term human rights learning programmes of action at all levels.  It also recommended that the Human Rights Council integrate human rights learning into the draft United Nations declaration on human rights education and training, which had been prepared and would be considered by the Council during a high-level discussion on the matter in March.


Welcoming the text’s adoption, the representative of Benin, which was the main sponsor of the resolution that established the International Year, said that in a world where the majority of humanity had no access to dignity, freedom or responsibility, the objective was to build momentum among everyday citizens to discover their human rights and identify how those rights worked to make their daily lives better.  “We have often failed to focus on what is really at stake: we must give people the means to become aware of the decision-making processes that are affecting their lives,” he declared.


Emphasizing the link between education and progress toward the realization of human rights, the representative of the United States said knowledge of human rights was their first defence.  Human rights learning, thus, formed the heart of promoting human rights.  Among other things, this learning should include training programmes, developing human rights curricula, and incorporating human rights education and learning into extracurricular activities.


Several speakers highlighted their own country’s efforts to extend human rights learning to their citizens, particularly the most vulnerable.  For example, Thailand told delegates his country had translated the Universal Declaration into Braille and created a child-friendly version.   Kazakhstan had set up a digital library of legal documents on human rights.


Switzerland’s delegate stressed that a United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training would both provide a definition of principles and responsibilities related to human rights education and deliver the message that such education was not just “nice to have”, but necessary in preventing rights violations and improving countries’ human rights records.


Surveying the Assembly hall and noting the scarcity of Permanent Representatives in the room, the representative of Pakistan sounded a note of disappointment that the meeting lacked the vibrancy of past meetings on human rights.  He suggested the United Nations might not be sending the best message to the rest of the world, especially to those who were suffering from an inability to exercise their human rights.  His country would continue to do all it could to protect and promote the fundamental rights for all, and he urged the Assembly to reaffirm its commitment in that regard.


Earlier, the Assembly decided to extend the work of its Second Committee until Friday, 11 December 2009.


The General Assembly will reconvene at 3 p.m. to take up the reports of the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization).


Background


As the Assembly met this morning to hold a special meeting at the end of the International Year of Human Rights Learning, it had before it Addendum 2 Part I of the Third Committee’s report on the promotion and protection of human rights (document A/64/439/Add.2), which contains a draft resolution on follow-up to the International Year of Human Rights Learning.  That draft text (A/C.3/64/L.33/Rev.1), which was approved without a vote on 12 November, would have the Assembly encourage Member States to expand on efforts made during the International Year and to consider devoting the financial and human resources necessary to design and implement international, regional, national and local long-term human rights learning programmes of action. It would also recommend that the Human Rights Council integrate human rights learning into the preparation of the draft United Nations declaration on human rights education and training. (Press Release GA/SHC/3966)


Action on the work of the Second Committee


Before turning to its work of the day, the Assembly decided to extend the work of its Second Committee until Friday, 11 December 2009.


Action on Third Committee Text


Taking up the Third Committee’s report on human rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms (document A/64/439/Add.2 (Part I)), the Assembly adopted the draft resolution on follow-up to the International Year of Human Rights Learning contained therein without a vote.


Special Meeting at the End of the International Year


Recalling that it was Human Rights Day, General Assembly President ALI ABDUSSALAM TREKI ( Libya) wholeheartedly reaffirmed that promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction to race, sex, language or religion, was a fundamental purpose of the United Nations.


“Human rights stand, alongside development and peace and security, as a pillar of the Organization,” he said.  He further stressed that while it was approached with humility, mindful that all Member States had human rights challenges, “we embrace it with purpose, knowing that those challenges must be met, both for the cause of human rights itself and for the benefit of peace and development”.


Noting that the Human Rights Council was established to promote universal respect for the protections of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, he said the positive experience gained by Council must be built on as its mandated five-year review approached. Member States must engage in an open, inclusive and transparent process to fulfil the Council’s promise and to further strengthen human rights.


Millions continued to fight a daily battle against discrimination to gain access to education, health services and decent work, he said. Indeed, the United Nations would be called on, during the current session, to follow up on the outcome of the Durban Review Conference at a time when racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance challenged societies around the globe.  He urged the United Nations family to join hands with Governments, civil society, human rights institutions, the media, educators and individuals to embrace diversity and end discrimination.


Statements


JEAN-FRANCIS R. ZINSOU ( Benin) said that the promotion and protection of human rights was among the most important issues with which the international community dealt.  The fundamental nature of those rights had been outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international treaties.  Yet, much work was required to ensure that the world’s people could exercise those rights, or indeed, sadly, to even be made aware of their existence.  How many people in the world today were completely unaware of their social, civil and political rights?  How many women and children suffered mistreatment and were unaware of what measures they could take remedy their situations?  While most Member States believed in the universality of such rights, they should also acknowledge that hunger, “backwards policies” and intolerance hindered the majority of their citizens from exercising them.


The majority of humanity had no access to dignity, freedom or responsibility.  “We have often failed to focus on what is really at stake: we must give people the means to become aware of the decision-making processes that are affecting their lives,” he declared.  The full enjoyment of human rights was the solid foundation on which economic and social growth could take place, he said, noting that achieving basic rights and ensuring dignity for all was at the heart of attaining the Millennium Development Goals.  The international community was making strides in that direction.  Member States had created the Human Rights Council and had launched its Universal Periodic Review Mechanism as a way to depoliticize human rights.


“Yet, we find that when we push against one thing, something else pushes back even harder,” he said, adding that he hoped the upcoming 2010 review of the Human Rights Council’s founding resolutions would provide an opportunity for all to reaffirm and recommit to the exercise of basic human rights.  He went on to say that his delegation had led the efforts to mark an International Year of Human Rights Learning because it had been keenly aware that the attainment of all socio-economic goals hinged on making human rights available for all. The only way to do that was through education.  Benin had taken the initiative to move ahead with the process of human rights learning in all communities, and its objective was to build momentum among everyday citizens to discover their human rights and see how they worked in making their daily lives better.  Education could help disseminate knowledge, experience and ownership of human rights. Such learning could also shape the lives and minds of people and their communities.


Finally, his delegation was pleased to welcome the adoption of the resolution before the Assembly, especially as the international community celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration.  The Assembly’s action was a “seal of approval” by the international community to ensure the protection and promotion of human rights for all, women, men, disabled persons, and children.  He also paid tribute to all those working at the grass-roots level to promote human rights among ordinary citizens.  “We have everything to win […] in the search for international solidarity and human rights,” he said.


WELLINGTON WEBB ( United States) said the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was conceived as a common standard of achievement of human rights for all people.  Forged in the ashes of war, today it was the bedrock of human rights.


“While we ought rightly to pause on this day to celebrate and commemorate the remarkable achievements of the past, we must also recall that it is best honoured through action, not rhetoric,” he said.  Nevertheless, success was and would be marked by efforts to live up to the Declaration’s goals.  The United States believed in the fundamental importance of the principles enshrined in the Declaration as much today as it did 60 years ago.  Indeed, recalling the universality of these principles during his address to the Assembly during its general debate, United States President Obama had pledged that the United States would always stand up for the student who sought to learn, the voter who demanded to be heard and the innocent who longed to be free.


He went on to underscore that individuals everywhere sought equal dignity and rights in their own spheres, and unless those rights had meaning there, they would not have meaning elsewhere.  Knowledge of rights was their first defense. But, while the human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Declaration were the birthright of every man, woman and child, tens of millions of people were still unaware of their rights and the fact that their governments were responsible to them.


Thus, at its core, human rights learning formed the heart of promoting human rights.  Among other things, he said this learning should include training programmes, developing human rights curricula, and incorporating human rights education and learning into extracurricular activities.  On this day, the United States Nations took pride in pledging, alongside other countries, to continue its work to promote human rights education and learning, as part of its long-standing commitment to furthering the human rights of people everywhere.


NORACHIT SINHASENI (Thailand) declared his country’s firm commitment to the cause of human rights both at home and abroad, deriving from its long tradition of tolerance, diversity and caring towards people of different backgrounds, as well as its belief in the dignity of all human beings.  In that context, Thailand attached great importance to the promotion, both in word and action, of an enabling environment for a human rights culture to thrive at the national, regional and international levels.


Thailand believed that human rights learning was a life-long process that extended beyond conventional classrooms; was a process that required leadership and commitment at all levels, and also needed constant nurturing and should be based on a deep appreciation of the values of each society.  Because of the importance it placed on human rights and the need to reach out to specific groups, Thailand had translated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for particularly vulnerable groups, including into Braille and a child-friendly version, he said.  A human rights manual for the military, as well as “soldier cards,” had also been published -– all aimed to promote sensitivity to human rights considerations within the military.  As part of its grass-roots work, a “Human Rights Caravan” had been launched by the Prime Minister this year, with the collaboration of the National Human Rights Commission and the United Nations country team.  It will travel around the country to raise public awareness of human rights, especially in primary schools.


ASKAR ZHUMABAYEV ( Kazakhstan) said that 60 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the realization of these rights remained a fundamental task of the United Nations.  His country viewed the Declaration as a key component of international law and the basis of its own constitution.  He expressed support for the international programme of human rights learning, as well as the contribution human rights learning made to realizing those rights.


In line with the international programme of human rights education, Kazakhstan had designed and conducted a number of events to advance knowledge of human rights mechanisms, he said.  It had also adopted a national human rights learning plan, which aimed to establish a culture of respect for human rights among all, allowing them to properly enjoy their own rights. Kazakhstan’s adoption of the international framework for human rights education 1995-2004 had allowed it to develop comprehensive and sustainable strategies for human rights learning at the national level.  Currently, Kazakhstan had adopted a basic document of human rights learning for 2009-2012 and would, among other things, regularly use the media to provide information to the public on the protection of human rights.


He went on to say that the national Human Rights Commission, under Kazakhstan’s president, had also set up, with United Nations support, a digital library of legal documents on human rights. Civil service standards were also based on the principles of human rights, allowing human rights to be protected at the national level.  His delegation believed it was vital to involve more children in this process and, to this end, legal topics were being included in lessons, among other things.  As a co-sponsor of the Third Committee resolution, Kazakhstan expressed total support for the draft declaration on human rights learning and looked forward to the participation of all parties in developing that declaration and in its eventual implementation.


ABDULLAH HUSSAIN HAROON ( Pakistan) said that today should be an important day, but with the lack of Permanent Representatives in the room, the United Nations might not be sending the best message the rest of the world, especially those that were suffering from the inability to exercise those rights.  Indeed, those that often saw themselves as the arbiters of human rights, by their absence might more rightly be called the “pallbearers” of those fundamental rights. He went on to say that, despite efforts over the past six decades to promote universal respect for human rights, regrettably there had been gaps between rhetoric and implementation of those rights.


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights stressed that everyone had the “right to education […] to the full development of human personality and to strengthen the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”  With that in mind, he said that one sure way to fill gaps in human rights was to promote broader implementation through enhanced learning and education.  Indeed, Pakistan recognized the important role education could play in that regard and acknowledged the contributions of the various initiatives that had been launched during the International Year. Believing that all human rights were universal, the Government of Pakistan had, over the past year, organized a series of activities to create awareness on the importance of the promotion of human rights among all segments of society.


Pakistan had decided that its initiatives should be launched under the motto “Human Rights and Peace,” adding the element of peace, which had so captured the country’s collective imagination of late.  He said different events would be taking place over the next eight days to commemorate Human Rights Day, organized by the Ministry of Human Rights and in consultation with Pakistan’s vibrant media and civil society, which were now playing a critical role in fostering a culture of transparency and accountability.  Pakistan’s Constitution was built on the principle of equal rights and equal treatment of all its citizens. It guaranteed freedom of thought, expression, belief and faith and directed the State to take appropriate measures to ensure that women participated in all spheres of life and community activities.


He said that the Assembly, though today’s meeting seemed to “lack the vibrancy” of past meetings on human rights, needed to reaffirm its commitment to take up the challenges of ensuring the protection and promotion of fundamental rights for all.  The democratic Government of Pakistan had and would continue to do all it could towards that end, as well as to uphold its international human rights treaty obligations.  “We urge the international community to do so as well,” he said. 


At the regional level, Thailand, as Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) chair, was working closely with fellow ASEAN Member States to advance human rights in the region, including the historic establishment of an ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights in October this year, the first of its kind in the region.  He said the Commission would work to enhance public awareness of dissemination of information, among other activities, adding that both Thailand and ASEAN were fully committed to ensuring the effective functioning of that Commission for the benefit of all peoples in the Group’s Member States.


PETER MAURER (Switzerland), speaking also on behalf of the members of the cross-regional Platform for Human Rights Education -- Costa Rica, Italy, Morocco, the Philippines, Senegal and Slovenia -- said the Platform supported two main objectives: the World Programme for Human Rights Education and the draft United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training, both of which were promoted through regular Human Rights Council resolutions.  The World Programme provided a set of collective goals to help States promote human rights education. Its first phase, from 2005 to 2009, focused on such education at the primary and secondary levels. Its second phase, starting 1 January, would focus on higher education and teacher training.


A United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training would send a clear message on the importance of such concepts, he said, providing a definition of principles and responsibilities related to human rights education.  A general understanding of the need for such a Declaration was reached at an international seminar in Marrakech, Morocco in July.  Through Human Rights Council resolutions 6/10 and 10/28, the Council’s Advisory Committee had been given the mandate to prepare a draft Declaration, which the Council would consider in March during a high-level discussion on the matter.  The Declaration would deliver the message that such education was not only “nice to have”, but needed to prevent rights violations and to improve countries’ human rights records.  It would promote dialogue, raise awareness and address gaps in the international framework on human rights education in a non-binding manner.  In closing, he said the members of the Platform would continue to strongly support promotion of human rights education.


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For information media • not an official record