INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS HONOURED AS GENERAL ASSEMBLY MARKS FIFTY-FIFTH ANNIVERSARY OF UNIVERSAL DECLARATION

10 December 2003
GA/10220

INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS HONOURED AS GENERAL ASSEMBLY MARKS FIFTY-FIFTH ANNIVERSARY OF UNIVERSAL DECLARATION

10/12/2003
Press ReleaseGA/10220

Fifty-eighth General Assembly

Plenary

73rd Meeting (AM & PM)

INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS HONOURED AS GENERAL ASSEMBLY

MARKS FIFTY-FIFTH ANNIVERSARY OF UNIVERSAL DECLARATION

Posthumous Award Presented to Widow of Slain High Commissioner for Human Rights

In observance of International Human Rights Day, the United Nations this morning honoured four tireless human rights supporters and two pioneering organizations, awarding its 2003 prizes in that field to an Argentine advocate for missing persons, a Chinese defender of the disabled, an American human rights educator, a taboo-breaking Jordanian family protection team, and an African women’s peace-building network.

The sombre highlight of the ceremony was the General Assembly’s special posthumous recognition of Sergio Vieira de Mello, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, who was killed with 22 other staff members in the 19 August terrorist bombing of the world body’s headquarters in Baghdad.  Mr. Vieira de Mello’s widow, Annie, was on hand to accept the award.

Awarded every five years for outstanding promotion and protection of civil liberties and fundamental freedoms, the United Nations Human Rights Prizes were presented today in commemoration of the fifty-fifth anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and the tenth anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, considered to be the foundations of the international regime created to safeguard and enhance human rights.

Among the other winners were:  Enriqueta Estela Barnes de Carlotto, President of the Association of Plaza de Mayo Grandmothers, established in 1977 in the wake of the disappearance of hundreds of children following Argentina’s military coup in 1976; and Deng Pufang of China, founder and now Director of the China Disabled Persons Federation.

Also honoured were Shulamith Koenig of the United States, Executive Director of the People’s Movement for Human Rights, which she founded in 1988 with the goal of creating a global human rights culture; and two ground-breaking organizations  -- Jordan's Family Protection Project Management Team, and West Africa’s Mano River Women's Peace Network.

Assembly President Julian Robert Hunte (Saint Lucia) opened the ceremony, noting that even as civil liberties and fundamental freedoms were celebrated today, countless human rights abuses would occur around the world.  Yet, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights remained a noble vision and beacon of hope,calling nations, societies and individuals to work towards a common goal so that all should enjoy their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

Building a universal culture of human rights must begin with children, he emphasized.  Human rights education must be an integral aspect of their learning, inculcating and reinforcing respect, tolerance and friendship for the realization and protection of human rights across the globe.

Representatives of nearly 30 delegations addressed the Assembly in the debate that followed the awards ceremony.  They included representatives of regional groups as well as India’s Minister of State for External Affairs and Kazakhstan’s human rights Ombudsman.  Supporting the central tenet of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights -- that all human beings were born free and equal in dignity and rights –- they noted that the agreements reached at Vienna 10 years ago reinforced that universal principle.  That process had led to the enjoyment of freedom and democracy by increasing numbers of people, while at both the national and international levels there had also been an increase in institutions for the promotion and safeguarding of human rights.

Speakers pointed out, however, that notwithstanding those achievements, human rights violations continued to occur.  There was a need for determination, courage and the ability to ensure respect for the existing obligations under human rights instruments.  Some delegates felt that the implementation of the Universal Declaration was most lacking in the areas of national efforts and international cooperation for economic, social and cultural rights.  Furthermore, human rights advocacy had been exaggeratedly dependent on aspects of promotion and protection, rather than the enjoyment of individual rights.  The obligation to respect human rights was unconditional, those speakers said, stressing among other things that the struggle against terrorism must respect human rights, fundamental freedoms and humanitarian law.

Several speakers from developing countries, meanwhile, expressed concern over the widening gap between the wealth of human rights legislation and efforts towards its actual implementation.  While Vienna had reaffirmed the right to development as a universal and inalienable right, little progress had been made in that regard.  The Commission on Human Rights Working Group on that issue had been plagued by controversy and politicization, said one delegate, urging that body’s membership to negotiate in good faith and in an open and friendly manner.  Other speakers emphasized the need to protect the rights of vulnerable groups, especially women, children and migrants, and to strengthen international cooperation as well as measures to address all forms of violence against women.

Addressing the Assembly today were the representatives of Peru (on behalf of the Rio Group), Chile (on behalf of the Community of Democracies), Italy (on behalf of the European Union), Austria, Ukraine, Kenya, Philippines, Brazil, Sudan, Cuba, Kazakhstan, Guyana, Eritrea, Lebanon, Ecuador, Iceland, Mongolia, Nigeria, Japan, Republic of Korea, Thailand, Liechtenstein, United States, Nepal and Canada (on behalf of Australia, Canada and New Zealand).

Also making a statement was the Observer for the Holy See. 

The General Assembly will reconvene at a time to be announced in the Journal.

Background

The General Assembly met today to commemorate the fifty-fifth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.  It was expected to hold a ceremony to award the United Nations Prizes in the Field of Human Rights for 2003.  In accordance with General Assembly resolution 2217 (XXI) of

19 December 1966, six prizes were to be awarded to individuals and organizations that had made outstanding contributions to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Statement by General Assembly President

JULIAN ROBERT HUNTE (Saint Lucia), President of the General Assembly, noted that even as human rights and fundamental freedoms were celebrated today, countless human rights abuses would occur around the world.  Yet, on this day in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights had proclaimed the rights of all humankind –- thus becoming the centrepiece of human rights endeavours.  Then as now, the Declaration constituted a noble vision and beacon of hope that called nations, societies and individuals to work towards the common goal that all should enjoy their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

Important progress had been made in the field of human rights, he said.  The inalienable right of all peoples and human beings to the full range of human rights, including freedom, equality, dignity, social justice, self-determination and the right to be democratically governed, was today unquestionable.  Those who violated such rights must know that they could not expect to do so with impunity.

To build a universal culture of human rights, he continued, one must begin with children.  Human rights education must be an integral aspect of children’s education, as it would inculcate and reinforce respect, tolerance and friendship for the realization and protection of human rights across the globe.  In addition, there must be a commitment to upholding the ideals of the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to implementing human rights instruments and standards through parliaments, courts and national human rights institutions.

Calling on those present to act decisively over the full range of issues impacting the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, he said that the United Nations –- and the international community as a whole –- was challenged to devise solutions to seemingly intractable conflicts and war; to strive for a more equitable global economic system in order to eradicate poverty and hunger; and to cooperate in confronting grave pandemics such as HIV/AIDS.

Presentation of 2003 Human Rights Awards

The Assembly then honoured the recipients of the United Nations Prizes in the Field of Human Rights for 2003:

-- Enriqueta Estela Barnes de Carlotto of Argentina, President of the Association of Plaza de Mayo Grandmothers, which was established in 1977 in response to the forced or involuntary disappearance of hundreds of children following Argentina’s military coup in 1976.  In addition to locating missing children –- many of whom had been kidnapped with their parents or born in clandestine detention centres –- Ms. Barnes de Carlotto and the Association have been advocating children’s rights at the national and international levels.

-- The Family Protection Project Management Team of Jordan, a groundbreaking initiative that has helped to lift the taboo on the subject of domestic violence and promote open debate on human rights, equity and gender.  The team of seven men and five women –- representing both governmental and non-governmental organizations, has been responsible for the development and implementation of the project, as well as the development of a social justice partnership model to address domestic violence in other countries.

-- Shulamith Koenig of the United States of America, Executive Director of the People’s Movement for Human Rights, which she founded in 1988 with the goal of creating a global human rights culture.  To that end, she worked tirelessly and successfully to make the United Nations declare a Decade for Human Rights Education, and has since supported the Decade by organizing workshops in over 60 countries to promote critical thinking about human rights education as a strategy for human, social and economic development.

-- The Mano River Women’s Peace Network of West Africa, a collective of women’s organizations from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, which was established three years ago in response to the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in that troubled region.  The network has brought a multidimensional and regional approach to the struggle for human rights, to restore peace and to ensure women’s voices are included at all levels in the decision-making process.  Along with a host of grassroots projects, the Network also acted as a mediator and signatory to the Liberian peace talks in August 2003.

-- Deng Pufang of China, founder and now Director of the China Disabled Persons Federation, which since 1988 has acted as an international advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities.  Mr. Deng’s work has significantly improved disabled persons’ living standards as well as their status in China.  His most significant achievements include the establishment of the China Welfare Fund for the Handicapped in 1984, which now assists over 15 million low-income disabled persons in China, and the enactment of a law aimed at promoting and protecting the rights of disabled persons.

The final award was given posthumously to the late Sergio Vieira de Mello, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Iraq.  Mr. Vieira de Mello and 22 of his colleagues were killed during a terrorist attack on the United Nations compound in Baghdad in August.  He had served the world body’s cause relentlessly for the past 30 years.  His widow, Annie Vieira de Mello, accepted the award.

Following the presentation of the awards, President Hunte welcomed the Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights, Bertrand Ramcharan, to New York for the commemoration.

Statements

OSWALDO DE RIVERO (Peru), speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, echoed the main tenet of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, saying that all human beings were born free and equal in dignity and rights.  Vienna had reinforced that universal principle and positive work had begun at all levels to promote and protect human rights for all, including the International Convention of Civil and Political Rights, among others.  Further, the General Assembly itself worked hard to give effect to human rights instruments and eradicate impunity, particularly with the creation and subsequent entry into force of the international war crimes tribunals and the International Criminal Court (ICC).  The wider Rio Group recognized that human rights must be addressed and respected free from discrimination and selectivity.

The Rio Group was working to ensure that it complied with its obligations under the various United Nations human rights treaties and conventions, he said.  To that end, its members had focused on democracy as a central tool through which human, economic and social rights and fundamental freedoms could be protected and promoted.  And while the Group realized that great progress had been made worldwide, it also understood that much remained to be done in order to ensure that human rights were protected for all.  Respect for democracy and increased international cooperation were the keys, for many of the world’s people were still deprived of their civil and political rights.  Labour rights, the right to development –- not merely economic growth but a change in the standard of living for all –- must also be protected.  To that end, the Rio Group attached great importance to the eradication of poverty and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

HERALDO MUNOZ (Chile), speaking on behalf of the Community of Democracies, said the grouping had been launched at a ministerial conference held in Warsaw, Poland, in June 2000.  Through it, more than 100 countries had pledged to uphold the democratic principles outlined in the Warsaw Declaration.  At the second ministerial conference, held in November 2002, the Seoul Plan of Action had been adopted, through which the Community’s members reaffirmed their commitment to promote, protect and respect human rights as essential elements of democracy.  And at a third ministerial meeting, held at United Nations Headquarters in September 2003, the Community had stressed its adherence to the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the fundamental principles of international law, and emphasized the interdependence between peace, development, human rights and democracy.

It was in recognizing the universality of the principles of the Universal Declaration, he added, that the Community committed itself to the continuous promotion of democracy, domestically, regionally and globally.  Thus, welcoming again the Secretary-General’s decision to appoint a high-level panel, among other ongoing efforts to reform the multilateral system, the Community remained committed to collaborating on democracy-related issues with the United Nations system in its entirety, as well as other international and regional organizations.

MARCELLO SPATAFORA (Italy), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the Universal Declaration of Human Rights –- undoubtedly one of the most influential documents in history -– had placed human rights at the centre of the framework of principles and obligations that shaped relations within the international community.  It had stimulated intensive legislative activity at both the national and international levels and resulted in a complex legal and institutional system of bodies, conventions and international instruments of various legal values.  That process had led to the enjoyment of freedom and democracy by increased numbers of people, while at both the national and international levels, there had also been an increase in institutions for the promotion and safeguarding of human rights.

Moreover, he said, one of the most significant human rights achievements over the past 55 years had been the legitimization of the concept that human rights -– civil and political, as well as economic, social and cultural –- were universal and indivisible.  In that context, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action had reaffirmed and renewed all efforts to strengthen and implement the body of human rights instruments built upon the Universal Declaration.

Those achievements notwithstanding, violations of human rights continued to take place everywhere, he noted.  There was a need for determination, courage and the ability to ensure respect for the existing body of specific obligations under human rights instruments.  The obligation to respect human rights was unconditional –- efforts to combat terrorism must respect human rights, fundamental freedoms and humanitarian law.  The European Union reiterated its commitment to strengthening the international system for the promotion and protection of human rights and to cooperating with international human rights mechanisms.  The United Nations should continue to play a central role as a forum for dialogue, improved international standards and scrutinizing the human rights performance of Member States.

GERHARD PFANZELTER (Austria), associating himself with the European Union statement, said his country had hosted the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights.  The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, adopted 10 years ago, marked the beginning of a new era of international, regional and national cooperation aimed at strengthening and implementing human rights instruments constructed on the foundation of the Universal Declaration.  The validity and pertinence of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action remained undiminished.

He said a symposium held on 24 November in Vienna had adopted a “Vienna Declaration on the Role of Judges in the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms”, containing specific recommendations for governments, international organizations and non-governmental organizations, as well as a number of concrete proposals with regard to conflict and post-conflict situations.  It addressed the need for training judges and for transparency in the selection of judges.  It also recommended the establishment of a consolidated international database on case law and court rulings relevant to human rights, and another for information exchange on projects and concrete action undertaken in that field.

VALERIY KUCHINSKY (Ukraine) recalled the tragic death of Mr. Vieira de Mello, as well as those of the hundreds of thousands of human rights defenders and millions of others who had suffered gross human rights violations, and noted that often, humanity’s bravest lessons were learned following great tragedies.  Indeed, the Universal Declaration had taken shape in a world that had been ravaged by the horrors of totalitarianism, fascism, the Holocaust and the great famine that engulfed Ukraine in 1932-1933.  That tragedy, a result of Joseph Stalin’s policy of forced collectivization, had left the country’s people politically, socially and psychologically traumatized.

He went on to express gratitude to all governments and Member States that had signed a joint statement this year, on the seventieth anniversary of the Holomodor, which served as the first-ever international recognition of those tragic events and deplored the acts and policies that had brought about the starvation and death of millions of people.  Past history reminded everyone that human rights were integral to the promotion of peace and security, sustainable development and social equity.  Unfortunately, torture, violence against ethnic and religious groups, arbitrary arrests, forced expulsions and other rights violations continued.  It was the responsibility of the United Nations to promote and strengthen adherence to core human rights conventions and treaties throughout the wider international community, in order that they might be translated into a reality for all the world’s peoples.

DIGVIJAY SINGH, Minister of State for External Affairs of India, said the consensus at the conclusion of the 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights had signalled the development of the Universal Declaration in a programmatic and action-oriented manner.  In many respects, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action represented the broadest political consensus achieved in the area of human rights after the adoption of the Universal Declaration.  Moreover, the recognition that democracy, development and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms were interdependent and mutually reinforcing had provided the foundation for a genuinely holistic conception of human rights.

However, among the areas in which the implementation of the Universal Declaration were most lacking, he added, was that of national effort and international cooperation for economic, social and cultural rights.  Furthermore, human rights advocacy had been exaggeratedly dependent on aspects of promotion and protection, rather than the enjoyment of rights; how individuals acquired and enjoyed basic human rights was not addressed.  The need to move away from selectivity, double standards and partial approaches also presented a challenge.

For its part, India advocated an approach based on dialogue, consultation and cooperation, which could lead to genuine improvements in the enjoyment of human rights, he said.  Thus, the importance of national capacity-building, including through technological cooperation and the establishment of national legislation and administrative regulations and machinery, as well as national human rights institutions must be stressed.  Regarding the misunderstood link between the promotion of human rights and combating terrorism, he said his country felt that terrorism challenged core human rights tenets.  A selective response to terrorism was itself a challenge to the universality of human rights.

MICHAEL OYUGI (Kenya) said reasonable progress had been made in implementing the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.  One achievement was the elevation of economic, social and cultural rights to the same level as civil and political rights.  The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action reaffirmed the right to development as a universal and inalienable right and an integral part of fundamental human rights.  However, little progress had been made in that regard.  As the Working Group on the Right to Development of the Commission on Human Rights had been plagued by controversy, politicization and polarization, he urged all members of the Working Group to negotiate in good faith and in an open and friendly manner.  He also urged the Working Group to give serious consideration to the elaboration of an international instrument on the right to development.

He said his Government, which had taken over the reigns of power in a peaceful and democratic transition in December 2002, had embarked on a platform of promotion and protection of human rights, strengthening democracy and the rule of law, and accelerating the fight against corruption.  It had also launched a broad consultative constitutional reform process designed to enhance the dignity of every citizen.  The process also sought to strengthen the Bill of Rights to include economic, social and cultural rights.

LAURO BAJA JR. (Philippines), stressing the need to protect the rights of vulnerable groups, especially women, children and migrants, said his country would continue to support efforts by the United Nations to advance the status of women and mainstream the gender perspective through the Beijing Platform for Action and initiatives made at the Beijing +5 Review.  The international community must strengthen international cooperation and measures to address all forms of violence against women, including the trafficking of women.

The global community must also renew its commitment to provide a better future for every child, and support the Convention on the Rights of the Child, he continued.  One of the most serious violations of those rights was child trafficking, since it caused psychosocial damage to both child and family.  States should work against child trafficking, which led to illegal adoption, child labour, slavery or prostitution.

GILBERTO VERGNE SABOIA (Brazil) said the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action had captured the need for an integrated, comprehensive framework of standards and mechanisms to combat violations of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights.  The creation of the post of High Commissioner for Human Rights immediately after the Vienna Conference had begun that integrated approach and had combined human rights with social, economic and environmental issues in global conferences held in following years.  In addition, conferences devoted to economic issues had been urged to consider the social consequences of globalization and trade liberalization.  Another vital step in promoting human rights had been the establishment of the International Criminal Court with its mandate to bring people responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes to justice.

Despite those encouraging signs, the current world situation gave rise to concern, he said.  The International Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held two years ago in Durban, South Africa, had taken place under tense political and ideological conditions, which had almost prevented the consensus adoption of a Declaration.  Days after the Durban Conference ended, the 11 September terrorist attacks had occurred in the United States.  Terrorism, and the need for international and national cooperation in preventing such heinous acts, should be given a higher profile.  However, the purposes of democratic nations would be defeated if, in the name of that goal, States derogated essential rights and diminished the central role of judicial guarantees and norm.

MOHAMED OSMAN AKASHA (Sudan) said his country believed firmly in the universality, interdependence and indivisibility of human rights and held that the international community was legally bound to follow up human rights situations throughout the world without discrimination.  The fifty-fifth anniversary of the Universal Declaration and the tenth anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action had come at a time when there was a pressing need to reiterate the importance of human rights.  Among other things, the right to development was essential to developing countries and should be accorded further attention by the international community.

He said the real and decisive test of commitment to human rights resided in a State’s willingness to ensure the human rights and fundamental freedoms of its citizens without derogating from specific cultures or trying to impose other cultures.  Achieving that would assure one’s own country that all States were committed to upholding human rights.

ORLANDO REQUEIJO GUAL (Cuba) said that despite its many limitations, the Universal Declaration had been a milestone in that it defined human dignity and human rights for every human being.  At the same time, however, that important instrument did not respond to the demands and needs of all the world’s people –- namely self-determination and development for poor people and nations -- without which, no human rights could be truly guaranteed.  The Declaration had been an abstract ideal of rights, which did not address realities beyond the conceptual stage.  It stressed State rights and duties, while generally ignoring the necessity of protecting and promoting the rights of individuals.  That dichotomy still existed today.  In fact, the international community was further than ever from ensuring the rights of the 10 children worldwide who died of malnutrition every few seconds, the 876 million illiterate adults, and the 1.2 billion people living on less than a dollar a day.

He went on to say that the international community’s subsequent adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action had been an attempt to close some of the gaps in global human rights law, namely by addressing issues of respect for diversity, strengthening cooperation, and the right to development.  Today’s debate should have provided an opportunity for a comprehensive review of Vienna and a debate on ways to breathe new life into the outcomes of that conference, but sadly, it had not been.  Many of the core elements of the Vienna action plan remained unimplemented and, far from streamlining the United Nations rights machinery, implementation and monitoring was becoming more complex, and, worse, more politicized.  Unilateral interpretations of human rights abounded and economic, social and cultural rights continued to be relegated to a lesser role, despite what had been agreed at Vienna.

Calling for the full and unconditional implementation of the right to development, he said developed countries must stop trying to place unrealistic conditions on the achievement of that right, particularly as Vienna had called for industrialized countries to cooperate with the developing world on trade rules, legislation and poverty eradication.  What was needed was renewed and genuine political will and mutual respect between the North and South.  In a globalized world, individualism could not be promoted over the solidarity of all mankind.

BOLAT BAIKADAMOV, Ombudsman, Republic of Kazakhstan, said the General Assembly’s decision to commemorate the fifty-fifth anniversary of the Universal Declaration showed the increasing value placed upon human rights today.  For his own country’s part, upon independence 12 years ago, Kazakhstan had faced many challenges with regard to economic, social and political transformation, as well as ensuring respect for human rights, among others things.  From its first days of independence, international human rights documents had provided a crucial order to protect against discrimination.  The principles contained in the Universal Declaration had been enshrined in the country’s constitution.

Having opened itself to contact with the outside world, Kazakhstan felt that the rule of law, predictable legislation and stable political and economic rule were indispensable, he said.  The country had already acceded to most international human rights conventions.  It had also struggled constantly to improve its national human rights legislation and to streamline it with international standards.  Among other advances, measures had been taken to protect the rights of the child and other socially vulnerable segments of the population, to ensure the independence of judges, to improve the prison system and to involve civil-society institutions in setting and implementing state policy.

GEORGE TALBOT (Guyana) said the universal acclaim that had met the Universal Declaration should be attributed to its remarkable success in codifying a core of values, collectively assented to by the nations of the world as a common benchmark of attainment, and to its success in transcending religious, cultural and political traditions and orientations to unite peoples and nations.  There was a collective responsibility to uphold the hard-earned stature of the Universal Declaration in the international sphere, including through collaboration at all levels to consolidate concrete achievements.

The tension between ensuring a safer world and the enjoyment of freedom had preoccupied recent interests and energies, he noted.  Terrorism, manifested on a hitherto unprecedented scale, had impacted indelibly upon the global conscience and threatened to relegate the horrors of underdevelopment, poverty and disease to the seemingly commonplace.  For that reason, it was important to devise solutions that were amenable to specific focus, as well as overall progress.

There had been heartening signs recently, such as the commitment to global development undertaken at the Millennium and Monterrey Summits, he added.  In marking Human Rights Day 2003, the world stood at a juncture -– the realization of significant progress was within the collective reach.  That promise must not be dissipated by equivocation or procrastination in the face of the formidable challenges facing the world.  Guyana had benefited from the collective efforts of its Government, working with opposition parties, civil society representatives and the international community, to expand the regime of rights and freedoms and to strengthen the machinery of recourse and safeguarding those rights.

AMARE TEKLE (Eritrea) said the Universal Declaration and other international human rights instruments had become an inspiration to the vast majority of humanity, as well as a potent force in world affairs.  The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which had affirmed the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of human rights, had also established guidelines for the creation of a global culture of human rights and the observance of norms and standards set by the Universal Declaration.  Yet, while there had been successes in the past   55 years –- due to the immense sacrifices made by men and women of many nations, religions and cultures –- the same period had been ravaged by horrific wars and conflicts, as well as outrageous violations of human rights.  Thus, as Human Rights Day was celebrated, it was appropriate to pay tribute to human rights heroes and martyrs.

Eritrea could speak with bitter experience of human rights violations, he continued.  In 1950, the country had been denied its right to self-determination then denied its right to its own identity in 1961.  Now, it feared being defrauded of its sovereignty and territorial integrity by the unfair and unjust insistence on entering into a dialogue before demarcation, the intent and purpose of which was to subvert the final and binding decision of the Arbitration Commission and to violate treaty arrangements signed under the aegis of the United Nations.  Any such dialogue before demarcation was but a manoeuvre to appease Ethiopia.

The world continued to face numerous challenges, including questions of sovereignty and human rights, relativism and human rights, and transnational corporations and human rights, he said.  Tension also existed between first- and second-generation rights, despite the recognition of their interrelated nature at Vienna.  Moreover, humanity must confront the threat that globalization posed to human rights.  As it engaged the new century, humanity must take stock of its successes and failures and work for the future to achieve peace, human security and development and globality.

HOUSSAM DIAB (Lebanon) described the Universal Declaration as a refuge for the weak and vulnerable, saying that new and emerging democracies continued to embrace its principles, while people living under occupation looked to it as a primary source of inspiration in their struggle for self-determination and independence.  Many of the other challenges identified by the Assembly at the Declaration’s 1948 adoption still existed today.  Governments continued to torture and murder individuals because of their beliefs, opinions, ethnicity or their struggle for freedom.  They also continued to deprive millions of people of their fundamental rights, justifying their oppressive policies in their own self-interest.

He went on to say that even with all the legal human rights instruments and guidelines set out in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, there was a need to improve the coordination of the manifold rights-based mechanisms and institutions in order to streamline the law-making process and avoid inconsistencies.  Indeed, in many instances, compulsory measures aimed at protecting human rights at the national, regional and international levels often boiled down to mere reporting systems.  They lacked teeth, and the sheer number of human rights agreements and instruments tended to further undermine effective implementation.  Such problems could be rectified and human rights safeguards more effectively protected by focusing on common values and interests, upholding the rule of law and avoiding abuse of the instruments in order to pursue political, economic or military objectives.

LUIS GALLEGOS (Ecuador) said the discussion provided an opportunity for States to renew their commitment to the work that remained to be done in ensuring the human rights of all.  Although the efforts of the international community had aimed to ensure that the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration were reflected in an impressive number of international instruments, full enjoyment of human rights continued to be but a promise for many.

Among recently concluded instruments, he said, the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families had been drafted and all Member States had been encouraged to sign and ratify it.  Moreover, a convention on the rights of disabled persons should also be drafted.  A world society that did not promote the inclusion of all human beings would never be comprehensive, inclusive and complete.  Discrimination on any grounds was unjustifiable; and the international community should end such behaviour.

Ecuador had contributed much to the development of international human rights law, he said, adding that it had been the first country in its region to accede to them all.  Finally, the holding of the fifty-fifth anniversary of the Universal Declaration and the tenth anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action provided an opportunity to take stock of the past, reflect on how to meet the challenges faced by the world today, and to look to the future.

HJALMAR W. HANNESSON (Iceland) said that, despite enormous progress in setting out obligations in the field of human rights, progress towards achieving them had been very slow.  A worrying setback had been the stalling of the Cancun process to create a trading system that was fair to all.  Many countries were committed to revitalizing those discussions.  The Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden had started talks in Geneva with several African States to share ideas on ways to push that process forward.  It was important to bear in mind that human rights, development and security were intricately related, although, as the Vienna Declaration pointed out, poverty could not be an excuse for breaking human rights.

At Vienna, he recalled, it had been acknowledged that the aim of terrorism was, among other things, the destruction of human rights.  Since then, terrorism had emerged as a major threat to global security.  Any measures taken to combat terrorism must conform to country obligations under international law, especially international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law.  The upholding of the rights of war victims must be assisted by humanitarian organizations.  Attacks on their members were unacceptable.  It was important to remember that all parties to armed conflicts had rights under the Geneva Conventions and international human rights law.  Iceland called for an arms trade treaty to prevent arms from being exported to destinations where they were likely to be used to commit grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. 

CHOISUREN BAATAR (Mongolia) said that while Member States had continued their efforts to protect human rights and strengthen the rule of law, much more should be done to ensure that the goals of the Universal Declaration were attained.  At a meeting of the Fifth International Conference of New or Restored Democracies, held in Mongolia in September 2003, participants had recognized the democracy, development and respect for human rights were interdependent.  The meeting’s outcome documents had focused on a number of measures for human rights protection, and Mongolia was confident that follow-up activities would contribute greatly to the cause of strengthening and consolidating democratic processes and protecting human rights around the world.

He went on to say that Mongolia, like many other countries had undertaken an intensive process of legislative change in order to ensure that national laws were consistent with international standards.  The country’s new constitution, adopted in 1992, had integrated global human rights standards and had since become the touchstone for the promotion and protection of fundamental freedoms.  But the Mongolian Government was aware that greater efforts were needed in order to ensure the fundamental rights of all its citizens.  It was therefore committed to fulfilling human rights and improving the country’s living standards through increased support for democratic processes and socio-economic development.

F. E. IDOKO (Nigeria) said his country appreciated the difficulties and dangers that human rights defenders grappled with in the course of their duties and their concerns over States that, under cover of security and internal legislation, deliberately frustrated their work.  Member States were urged to accord human rights defenders access and cooperation in carrying out their functions, as well as to go the extra mile to allay fears and suspicions.  Nigeria also identified with the anxieties expressed about the negative effects of globalization, particularly on developing economies in Africa. Empirical evidence suggested that globalization had not adequately addressed the human element and interdependency.  It had, therefore, by extension, failed to take account of the right to employment.

He said that the Nigerian people today enjoyed every form of freedom, including freedom of expression and freedom of the press, the freedom to pursue legitimate economic and social activities and the security of life and property. The introduction of Sharia law should be seen as an expression of the rights of affected States to exercise the level of autonomy guaranteed in the constitution. There were provisions to ensure the protection of accused persons, including protection against unjust or arbitrary punishment, and the accused retained the right to appeal to a higher court.  For example, Amina Lawal had not been stoned to death because the Sharia court of appeals had overturned the verdict of the lower court.  Since the introduction of Sharia law, no Nigerian had been stoned to death.

Nigeria’s faith in freedom and democracy, and its commitment to human rights, explained its granting of political asylum to former President Charles Taylor of Liberia, he added.  That asylum had been granted purely as a humanitarian gesture to end the carnage in Liberia.  With regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Nigeria felt compelled to highlight the plight of Liberian children and ordinary people and to affirm that the answer to their situation lay in dialogue and compromise, not in hatred and destruction. 

TOSHIRO OZAWA (Japan) said that while the world had witnessed significant progress since the adoption of the Universal Declaration  55 years ago, grave human rights violations continued to take place in many parts of the world.  Fundamental human rights were not acquired as a matter of course but were promoted only through tireless efforts by States, individuals and civil society.

Japan attached great importance to the role of the United Nations in establishing the universal standards in the field of human rights, he said.  While each State had the primary responsibility for guaranteeing the human rights of its people, the human rights situation in any individual State should be a legitimate concern of the international community as a whole.  Dialogue and cooperation were necessary to improve human rights situations everywhere.  Respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms was indispensable to the realization of world peace and prosperity.

KIM SAM-HOON (Republic of Korea) echoed the sentiments of other speakers in saying that while efforts to protect and promote human rights had advanced significantly during the past half century, the international community had yet to reach the goal of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as set out in the United Nations Charter.  In the face of globalization, ongoing conflict, political oppression, poverty and the spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases, large portions of humanity continued to be denied human dignity and fundamental rights.  And at the same time, the early years of the new century had been plagued by terrorist attacks, which posed a new set of challenges to international efforts to protect and promote human rights.

The new century was no time to slacken off”, he said.  Rather, commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights must be reaffirmed at all levels.  And while renewed efforts must reflect the realities of the day, they must also keep to certain basic tenets, including ensuring the indivisibility of human rights, the promotion of democracy, and the further enhancement of human rights standards that had been achieved thus far.  Whether dealing with women’s rights, children’s rights, the elimination of discrimination or other issues, the international community must take steps to look forward rather than backwards.

PRAVIT CHAIMONGKOL (Thailand) said that actions to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms must be taken at all levels, in a holistic manner, and through concerted efforts by various stakeholders, including governments, the United Nations, multilateral organizations and non-governmental organizations.  While governments clearly had the primary responsibility for promoting and protecting human rights, national human rights institutions and civil society could play an important role in broadening awareness and enhancing transparency and accountability in the observance of governments’ obligations under both domestic laws and international instruments.

Noting that Thailand was a State party to five key international instruments, he said its government had made incessant efforts in promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms, strengthening democracy, the rule of law and good governance.  It would continue to do so based on its conviction that human rights, democracy and development were interrelated and mutually reinforcing.

At the international level, he continued, the United Nations remained a key factor in the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide.  It was incumbent upon Member States to do all they could to strengthen the sanctity and efficacy of what they had agreed upon, including the various human rights resolutions.  In order for those efforts to be effective, it was imperative that respect for human rights be cultivated among individuals at the grassroots level.  The culture of human rights must be nurtured within communities, both at home and in schools.  Recognizing that, Thailand had adopted a National Plan on Human Rights Education, which provided for the mainstreaming of human rights into the work of public agencies and into all levels of the education system.

CHRISTIAN WENAWESER (Liechtenstein) said the two landmark texts –- the Universal Declaration and the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action –- were inextricably linked by their establishment and reaffirmation of the principle of the universality of human rights.  Yet, as the rights provided for in the Universal Declaration had not been granted to every individual worldwide, the main task was to tackle the gap between universal human rights standards, as established in the Universal Declaration and other legal instruments, and their implementation.

Ten years ago on the eve of the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, much the same had likely been said, he noted.  Back then, the world had already been falling short of established standards.  And while the Vienna Declaration had addressed the challenge in a creative way and gathered new will for implementation, 10 years on one had still not lived up to the principles contained therein.

Enhancing the implementation of one human right had a positive impact on the enjoyment of others, he reaffirmed.  Yet much of the spirit of Vienna had been replaced by a relapse into procedural battles, the shortsighted pursuit of national interests and a lack of genuine dialogue.  The clear connection between human rights and democracy and development must be recalled, and the need to strike a balance between legitimate security instruments and respect for human rights must be emphasized.  Human rights were not a luxury to be dispensed with in difficult times, but an indispensable element of the foundation, that the Organization had created in the pursuit of common goals.  Compromising on human rights was tantamount to setting back the advancement of overall and long-term goals.

SICHAN SIV (United States) noted that there had been great advances in the field of human rights since 1948.  However, further concerted work was needed to combat human rights violations.  The United States remained committed to the idea that active support for human rights must be at the top of the international agenda.  The defence of liberty was both an expression of the country’s ideals and a source of strength that it had drawn upon throughout its history.

He said the United States would continue to work for the protection of human dignity, to advance the rule of law and government accountability, and to promote freedom of speech and religion, equal justice, respect for women, and religious and ethnic tolerance.  While respecting other nations’ traditions, the United States would advance the principles of respect for democracy and human rights, to which people everywhere aspired.  It would continue to work with governments and people worldwide, including through the United Nations system, to protect and ensure the human rights of all.

MURARI RAJ SHARMA (Nepal) said that while human dignity and liberty were invaluable in their own right, at the same time they were invaluable in order for humankind to achieve full development.  While the painstaking efforts of the United Nations to promote, protect and monitor the human rights of all had been successful, millions of people had yet to see the light of human rights shine in their lives.  Violence and terrorism, poverty and disease constrained their ability to do so.  The challenge for the international community was to ensure fundamental freedoms for those who did not have any, and to expand the scope of the rights for those that enjoyed but a few.  There was a need, in that regard, to enhance partnerships between governments, non-governmental organizations private industry and inter-governmental human rights institutions.  There was also a need to avoid the politicization of human rights issues.

Nepal wholeheartedly believed in the promotion of human rights as the foundation for freedom, justice and peace, he said.  It had an abiding commitment to the promotion of civil liberties and its constitution guaranteed fundamental freedoms without distinction as to race, language or religion.  The independence of the judiciary and the rule of law were also integral parts of the constitution.  But despite all that, and at a time when Nepal was experiencing general stability and socio-economic growth, self- proclaimed Maoists had caused a major setback to the country’s progress.  The insurgents had brought untold suffering to people throughout the country.  The Government was therefore struggling to attend to the needs of the societies still living in areas that were affected by the insurgency, as well as to meet the country’s wider development goals.

GILBERT LAURIN (Canada), speaking on behalf of Australia, New Zealand and Canada, said it was fitting to pay tribute to all those who had died defending human rights around the world, including peacekeepers, humanitarian workers, military personnel, members of civil society, government representatives, journalists and many others.  Human Rights Day commemorated the great legacy of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, as well as the six major conventions elaborated since then, which formed the core of international human rights law.

Recalling that the 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights had been the occasion to reaffirm a commitment to the promotion and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as to their universal, interdependent, interrelated and indivisible nature, he said the advancement of human rights was a guiding principle for Australia, New Zealand and Canada.  The standards laid down in the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration should be applied uniformly around the world.

Human Rights Day was also a reminder of the work that remained to be done in ensuring respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, he said.  Most importantly, it was an occasion for Member States to renew their commitment to fulfil their obligations.  All must continue to be vigilant, to spare no effort, and to ensure that common efforts to combat terrorism respected human rights and fundamental freedoms.

CELESTINO MIGLIORE, Observer for the Holy See, said the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was one of the most precious and important documents in human history.  Its impact was evident in the many resolutions promulgated by the General Assembly and in national constitutions and other basic laws drafted over the past several decades.  Sadly, however, fundamental human rights were still the object of severe and constant violations.

Noting the growing trend to take a selective approach to human rights, he said his delegation wished to uphold the original vision of the Declaration, a vision in which political and civil rights were indispensable for social and economic justice.  In the present era of rapid globalization, the international community must keep striving to bring together the two halves of the divided soul of the human rights project -- its affirmation of freedom and its insistence on one human family for which all bore a common responsibility.  At the source of war, terrorism and other threats to human survival and the dignity of the human person lay a denial of universal rights cast by human beings themselves.  The Holy See urged the international community to abide by the noble principles contained in the Declaration to achieve a free, just and peaceful society.

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For information media. Not an official record.