Fundamental freedoms ‘inalienable and inherent – now and always,’ UN says on Human Rights Day

Migrants and refugees from countries including Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, as well as regions of the Balkans and Africa at an emergency shelter at Olympia Stadium in Berlin, Germany. Photo: UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson VII

10 December 2015 – Marking this year’s Human Rights Day amid extraordinary global challenges, the United Nations is calling on the world to recognize and guarantee fundamental freedoms – long recognized “as the birthright of all people” – freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom of speech and freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

“In a year that marks the 70th anniversary of the United Nations, we can draw inspiration from the history of the modern human rights movement, which emerged from the Second World War,” said Mr. Ban in a message to mark Human Rights Day, celebrated annually on 10 December.

Mr. Ban hailed the four basic freedoms identified by former United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt – freedom of expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear, and stressed that today's extraordinary challenges can be seen and addressed “through the lens of [those] four freedoms.”

The Secretary-General highlighted the condition of millions of people, who are denied freedom of expression and are living under threat and urged to defend, preserve and expand democratic practices and space for civil society for lasting stability.

Mr. Ban also noted that across the globe, terrorists have “hijacked religion, betraying its spirit by killing in its name,” or targeting minorities and exploring fears for political gain, thereby denying people their freedom of worship.

“In response, we must promote respect for diversity based on the fundamental equality of all people and the right to freedom of religion,” stressed the Secretary-General.

Speaking about freedom from want, UN chief said much of humankind is plagued by deprivation and called on world leaders to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with the aim of ending poverty and enabling all people to live in dignity on a peaceful, healthy planet.

Mr. Ban also said that millions of refugees and internally displaced persons are a tragic product of the failure to fulfil the freedom from fear, adding that not since the Second World War have so many people been forced to flee their homes.

“They run from war, violence and injustice across continents and oceans, often risking their lives. In response, we must not close but open doors and guarantee the right of all to seek asylum, without any discrimination. Migrants seeking an escape from poverty and hopelessness should also enjoy their fundamental human rights,” said the Secretary-General.

Lastly, reaffirming UN’s commitment to protecting human rights as the foundation of the Organization’s work, Mr. Ban highlighted the features of the Human Rights Up Front initiative, which aims to prevent and respond to large-scale violations.

Echoing those sentiments, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein added that “freedom is the ideal that underpins what we now recognize as international human rights law, the norms and regulations that protect and guarantee our rights.”

In a video message, Mr. Zeid noted that Human Rights Day 2015 marks the launch of a year-long campaign to celebrate the 50th anniversary of two of the oldest international human rights treaties – the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

“These two documents, along with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, form the ‘International Bill of Human Rights,’ which together set out the civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights which are the birth right of all human beings,” said Mr. Zeid.

He also stressed that freedoms set out in these documents are universal, applicable to everyone, everywhere and noted that traditional practices, cultural norms, cannot justify taking them away.

“The world has changed since the UN General Assembly adopted the Two Covenants in 1966.

The Covenants, together with the other human rights treaties, have played an important role in securing better respect and recognition during the past five, at times turbulent, decades,” added Mr. Zeid.

At the same time, the UN rights chief noted that the drafters of the Covenants could have had little idea of issues such as digital privacy, counter-terrorism measures and climate change, but respect for freedom continues to be the foundation for peace, security and development for all.

Lastly, echoing the theme of this year’s Day, he urged everyone to join the celebration of freedom, to help “spread the message the world over that our rights, our freedoms are inalienable and inherent – now, and always.”

Speaking later in the day at a flower laying ceremony at Four Freedoms Park in New York, Mr. Zeid paid respects to President Roosevelt (FDR) and his wife Eleanor, recalling their significant contribution to human rights.

“In the months and years after FDR’s death, States shaped the United Nations, and wrote binding laws and agreed to be governed by them, so that they would form a web of protection from the threats of violence and deprivation,” said Mr. Zeid.

He also noted the growing turmoil across the globe, particularly in the Middle East and parts of Africa, where the region faces massive emergencies, are also generating an exodus of suffering amongst people who are not free of fear or of want.

Mr. Zeid added that new “nightmarish” violent groups are seeking to exterminate all those who dissent from their harsh and narrow world view.

“When humanity ceases to protect human rights, the system built to ward off chaos and violence begins to crumble; the chain of human security is broken; and selfishness, violence and conflict are unleashed in more and more ways in more and more places,” said Mr. Zeid.

Lastly, he stressed that it is imperative to translate FDR’s call for freedom from want into a reality, the absence of which was defined by the Secretary-General as ‘the silent crises – grinding poverty, hunger, inequality, discrimination and other threats to people’s lives and dignity.’

“Such extreme inequalities are unjust, divisive and socially corrosive. They breed economic instability, social unrest and can – and do –lead to conflict. This suffering is not inevitable: it is a product of the choices we make,” said Mr. Zeid urging all Member States to successfully implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to save and improve millions of lives.

Later in the day, the Secretary-General addressed an award ceremony organized by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) called the Momentum for Change awards.

“Today, as never before, we see momentum for change coming from every sector of society,” he said. “The 16 award winners this year are focusing on some of the most important elements of climate action. From solar-powered solutions for households in sub-Saharan Africa, to communications tools that help rural farmers and Pacific Island nations better predict and adapt to climate change, they are achieving results."

Mr. Ban added that these initiatives were launched by individuals who were inspired to turn the challenges posed by climate change into opportunities for new ways of building a more sustainable future.


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Message of High Commissioner Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein. Credit: OHCR


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