United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Geneva, Switzerland, in the morning of Friday, 12 December, from Poznan, Poland, to attend the Human Rights Council’s commemorative session on the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
He first held a press conference at Palais des Nations, where he briefed correspondents on the Poznan Conference. “Parties,” he said, “have committed themselves to reaching an agreement by the end of 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark. That gives us just one year to negotiate one of the most complex multilateral treaties ever.” Stressing that agreement on a climate deal cannot await resolution of the economic crisis, he added: “We can grow and be green at the same time.”
Turning to human rights, he underscored the importance of the right to development. “The current crises involving food, fuel, development and climate are having the worst impact on those least able to bear such burdens. And they are placing our development objectives in jeopardy. This is every bit a matter of human rights as protecting civilians on the battlefield.”
Speaking of the situation in Zimbabwe, the Secretary-General declared: “Political leaders are trustees of their peoples. They remain in office only to ensure the safety and well-being of their populations. […] I am deeply disturbed at the deteriorating humanitarian situation there, for which the leadership of Zimbabwe cannot evade responsibility.” He also answered a number of questions on climate change, the financial crisis, issues of trade and development, as well as regional conflicts in the Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
He later attended a luncheon meeting on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights co-hosted by the Swiss Government and the Nigerian presidency of the 2008 Human Rights Council, before addressing the high-level commemorative session, chaired by Ambassador Martin Ihoeghian Uhomoibhi, President of the Human Rights Council.
Under the famous ceiling by Spanish artist Miquel Barceló, the Secretary-General stressed the universality of human rights, and their indivisibility, embodied in the Declaration. “It enshrines the interdependence of security, development and respect for human rights. And it places a moral obligation on States not to pick and choose among rights and freedoms, but to uphold them all,” he said. He praised the human rights defenders who have made the Declaration a dynamic force: “Today is a day to pay tribute to all the activists who refused to be silenced by their tormentors. Who knew that right must triumph over might. Who were inspired by the Declaration into elaborating specific laws that now protect countless people around the world.” (See Press Release SG/SM/11999)
“We have come a long way since the Declaration’s adoption,” he said, “but the reality is that we have not lived up to its vision -- at least not yet. Abject poverty, shameful discrimination and horrific violence continue to plague millions of people. […] There is no time to rest.”
Upon leaving the newly refurbished Human Rights Council and Alliance of Civilizations Room, the Secretary-General stopped for a moment of remembrance at the memorial to the Algiers bombing of 11 December 2007, and laid a wreath in front of the encased remnants of the United Nations flag from the office in Algiers.
The Secretary-General also held that day a number of bilateral meetings, with the Minister for External Relations of Brazil, Celso Luiz Nunes Amorim, with the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg, Jean Asselborn, and with the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Bahrain, Nizar Sadeq al-Baharna.
Later that evening he was the guest at the Escalade festivities in the old city of Geneva, an annual festival celebrating the defeat of troops sent by the Duke of Savoy to conquer the City-State of Geneva on 11 December 1602. He was also the guest of honour at a diner with ACANU, the United Nations Press Corps Association in Geneva, and met briefly with United Nations staff.
The next morning, the Secretary-General met with the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Algeria, Mourad Medelci, before departing for New York.