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Human Rights

23. Promoting Human Rights

A mother holding her childSince the General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the United Nations has helped to enact dozens of legally binding agreements on political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights. By investigating individual complaints, the UN human rights bodies have focused world attention on cases of torture, disappearance, arbitrary detention and other violations, and have generated international pressure on Governments to improve their human rights records.

24. Fostering Democracy

The United Nations promotes and strengthens democratic institutions and practices around the world, including by helping people in many countries to participate in free and fair elections. The UN has provided electoral assistance to more than 100 countries, often at decisive moments in their history. In the 1990s, the UN organized or observed landmark elections in Cambodia, El Salvador, South Africa, Mozambique and Timor-Leste. More recently, the UN has provided crucial assistance in elections in Afghanistan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Nepal, Sierra Leone and Sudan.

25. Promoting Self-determination and Independence

When the United Nations was established in 1945, 750 million people— almost a third of the world population—lived in non-self-governing territories dependent on colonial powers. The UN played a role in bringing about the independence of more than 80 countries that are now sovereign nations.

26. Ending Apartheid in South Africa

By imposing measures ranging from an arms embargo to a convention against segregated sporting events, the United Nations was a major factor in bringing about the downfall of the apartheid system. In 1994, elections in which all South Africans were allowed to participate on an equal basis led to the establishment of a multiracial Government.

27. Promoting Women's Rights

A long-term objective of the United Nations has been to improve the lives of women and empower them to have greater control over their lives. The UN organized the first-ever World Conference on Women (Mexico City, 1975), which, together with two World Conferences during the UN Decade for Women (1976-1985) and the World Conference in Beijing (1995), set the agenda for advancing women's rights and promoting gender equality. The 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, ratified by 188 countries, has helped to promote the rights of women worldwide.

28. Promoting Decent Work

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has established standards and fundamental principles and rights for work, including freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining and the abolition of forced labour, child labour and workplace discrimination. Employment promotion, social protection for all and strong social dialogue between employers’ and workers’ organizations and Governments are at the core of ILO activities.

29. Promoting Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression

To allow all people to obtain information that is free of censorship and culturally diverse, UNESCO has helped to develop and strengthen the media and supported independent newspapers and broadcasters. UNESCO also serves as a watchdog for press freedom, and publicly denounces serious violations like the assassination and detention of journalists.

30. Promoting the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The United Nations has been at the forefront of the fight for full equality for persons with disabilities, promoting their participation in social, economic and political life. The UN has shown that persons with disabilities are a resource for society, and has negotiated the first-ever treaty to advance their rights and dignity worldwide: the 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which has been ratified by 150 countries.

31. Improving the Plight of Indigenous People

An indigenous woman holding her babyThe United Nations has brought to the fore injustices against the 370 million to 500 million indigenous people who live in some 90 countries and who are among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in the world. The 16-member Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues works to improve the situation of indigenous peoples all over the world in development, culture, human rights, the environment, education and health. The Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples makes proposals on improving indigenous rights.