IN LECTURE SERIES SECRETARY-GENERAL INTRODUCES SPEAKERS ON TOPIC: ‘WHO IS AFRAID OF HUMAN RIGHTS’

25 May 2004
SG/SM/9331-HR/4766

IN LECTURE SERIES SECRETARY-GENERAL INTRODUCES SPEAKERS ON TOPIC: ‘WHO IS AFRAID OF HUMAN RIGHTS’

25/05/2004
Press ReleaseSG/SM/9331 HR/4766

In lecture series secretary-general introduces speakers

on topic:  ‘who is afraid of human rights’

Following is the text of remarks, as delivered by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, introducing Ambassador Al-Hajjaji, Professor Mazrui and Dr. Schulz in the Secretary-General’s lecture series on the topic:  “Who Is Afraid of Human Rights?”:

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  I am delighted to welcome you to another lecture in this series, which will mark its second birthday next month.

Human rights issues appear all too frequently in the headlines.  Recently, to take just two disturbing examples, we have seen pictures of prisoner abuse in Iraq and heard of reports of civilians under attack in Sudan’s Darfur region.  And those are just the headlines.  Every day, around the world, millions of people see their human rights denied or violated without even making the news.

More than half a century after the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is very easy to feel disillusioned, and for millions around the world to wonder if the Declaration’s words will ever be more than just that:  words on a page.

Why do human rights abuses continue?  Who is behind them?  Who encourages and who tolerates them?  All these questions point to the one that forms the title of today’s lecture:  Who is afraid of human rights?  This is the title of our lecture today.

Actually we shall have three short lectures followed by a discussion, since we have three very knowledgeable and experienced speakers.  They have come from different walks of life but all have a distinguished record of commitment to human rights.

Ambassador Najat Al-Hajjaji was the chair of the 2003 session of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.  Because of her diplomatic background -- she is Libya’s Permanent Representative to the UN Office in Geneva -- I have asked her to focus her presentation on “The politics of protecting human rights”.

And then there is Professor Ali Mazrui who is Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities and Director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at the State University of New York in Binghamton.  I have asked him to bring in the cultural dimension by responding to the question: “Are human rights universal?”

And, finally, Dr. Bill Schulz who is the Executive Director of Amnesty International USA. He is also an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister.  He will talk to us about the vital role that international civil society has to play in protecting human rights.

It is an honour and a pleasure to have them with us.  I suggest we start with Professor Mazrui, followed by Ambassador Al-Hajjaji and then Dr. Schulz.  I have asked each of the speakers to keep their opening comments within 15 minutes, so as to leave time for discussions or questions and comments that you may have.  And I would want you to introduce yourself when you ask your questions at the end. 

I now give the floor to Professor Mazrui.  Ali, you have the floor.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.