Deputy Secretary-General Honours Recipients of 2013 United Nations Human Rights Prize at General Assembly Ceremony

10 December 2013
GA/11467

Deputy Secretary-General Honours Recipients of 2013 United Nations Human Rights Prize at General Assembly Ceremony

10 December 2013
General Assembly
GA/11467
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-eighth General Assembly

Plenary

64th Meeting (PM)


Deputy Secretary-General Honours Recipients of 2013 United Nations

 

Human Rights Prize at General Assembly Ceremony

 


The 2013 United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights was awarded today to five individuals and one judicial body at the General Assembly’s commemorative meeting to mark the sixty-fifth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


The 2013 recipients were Biram Dah Abeid, Hiljmnijeta Apuk, Liisa Kauppinen and Khadija Ryadi.  Malala Yousafzai received an award through a representative.  Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice also received a prize.


Presenting the prizes, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said that the walk on the road of respect for human rights should be a way of life.  Extolling the virtues of all human rights defenders, he honoured the legacy and life of Nelson Mandela.  “We are in this together and we can only succeed together if we are united in the pursuit of a life of dignity for all,” he said.


Michel Tommo Monthe, Vice-President of the General Assembly, speaking on behalf of General Assembly President John Ashe, said:  “We cannot stand by idly or look away when we see oppression and discrimination.”


Remigiusz Achilles Henczel, President of the Human Rights Council, said the achievements realized in the field of human rights would not have been possible were it not for the efforts of those who raised their voice to denounce abuses and injustice.


Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, said since the Declaration had been adopted, the human rights mechanism had grown stronger, as exemplified by the growing number of treaties and protocols, their ratification and special mandate holders.


Following the ceremony, regional groups congratulated recipients, highlighted progress and voiced concerns.


The representative of Barbados, speaking on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States, applauded the achievements of the recipients, including the Supreme Court of Justice of Mexico, as an institution from his region.  However, the Group remained concerned about a number of rights issues, including the situation of cholera in Haiti.  He also called on the United Nations for the proclamation of the International Decade of People of African Descent, as an essential step towards the goal of heightening awareness of prejudice, intolerance and racism.


The representative of Gambia, speaking on behalf of the African Group, was also concerned about a rise in racial discrimination.  Further, he said that despite progress made, too many people were still deprived of fundamental rights.  The representative of Slovenia, speaking on behalf of the Group of Eastern European States, echoed a common view, stressing that all people were entitled to the full enjoyment of their rights without discrimination.


The representative of Malta, speaking on behalf of the Group of Western European and other States, quoted Mr. Mandela, who had said “to deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”


“All of us must redouble our efforts to uphold all fundamental human rights equally to all people,” he said.


The representative of Syria, speaking on behalf of the Asia-Pacific Group, said he was unable to speak on the subject as the Group had not yet reached a consensus on a joint statement.


The General Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 11 December to consider reports and draft resolutions and decisions recommended by its Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization).  It will also consider a note by the Secretary-General on Global health and foreign policy.


Background


The General Assembly met today to consider its agenda item on Promotion and protection of human rights:  commemorative meeting to mark the sixty-fifth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


JAN ELIASSON, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said he wanted to share a brief story before addressing the Assembly.  Once, when he was speaking on the subject of human rights in his home country, Sweden, a librarian had approached him with a small booklet.  The woman had given him the gift, telling him she had purchased it on a visit to the United Nations in 1950.  Holding up the small book, Mr. Eliasson said the librarian told him that she had asked a “very nice woman” at the United Nations to sign it.  Inscribed inside was “With good wishes, Eleanor Roosevelt”, the former First Lady of the United States.


Since the adoption of the Declaration, there had been tremendous progress, including monitoring mechanisms and a growing presence of experts on the ground, he said.  Yet countless people did not enjoy human rights in the face of waves of brutality and armed conflict.  It was the United Nations Member States that held the responsibility to protect human rights, and more must be done to ensure that States upheld that responsibility.


People’s freedom was vital for the Organization’s strength, he said.  Human rights were the best early warning signal of a crisis to come.  Turning to the atrocities unfolding in the Central African Republic, he said the call for human rights today must echo loudly.


The walk on the road of respect for human rights should be a way of life.  Nelson Mandela’s life personified that respect, he said.  “We are in this together and we can only succeed together if we are united in the pursuit of a life of dignity for all,” he said.


MICHEL TOMMO MONTHE ( Cameroon), Vice-President of the General Assembly, then delivered a speech on behalf of General Assembly President John Ashe ( Antigua and Barbuda), who was currently in South Africa to attend Nelson Mandela’s memorial service.


At the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the far-reaching consequences of drafting such a document could not be underestimated.  The Guinness Book of World Records described it as the most translated document, with versions in 416 languages and dialects.  It had transcended borders, stood the test of time and remained a testament of the hope, vision and courage of those who worked on its drafting and adoption.


However, the real power of such a document was in its implementation.  “When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is tarnished or when its principles are not upheld and implemented, we who comprise this Assembly of Nations are all diminished,” he stated.


Yet violations of the Declaration were rampant, he said, noting that far too many people around the world faced injustices, including discrimination, hunger, slavery, and lack of health care.  “We cannot stand by idly or look away when we see oppression and discrimination,” he said.  “We need to persevere and overcome.”


In 1993, the World Conference on Human Rights adopted the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action by consensus, marking a collective decision to renew and strengthen the international community’s commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights.  It also established the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, he said, commending the Office for providing a forum for the voices of victims and survivors.


Over the last six decades, the world had seen many champions of human rights, he said, acknowledging the legacy of Nelson Mandela.  He noted that Mr. Mandela and Winnie Mandela were recipients of the very human rights prize being awarded today.


“Mandela taught us that there can be no true development unless all people have access to equal human rights, democracy, dignity and freedom,” he said.  “Today, we salute all those who have worked and sacrificed for these ideals.”


The winners of the 2013 United Nations prize in the field of human rights had all made outstanding contributions, helping to identify where action was needed, ensuring that victims’ voices were heard and fighting against impunity, he said, thanking all recipients for their service to humanity.


REMIGIUSZ ACHILLES HENCZEL, President of the Human Rights Council, remembered Nelson Mandela as a champion of human rights.  He had devoted a significant portion of his life to bringing a message of freedom, democracy, equality, racial harmony and human dignity to the world.


Turning to the sixty-fifth anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which coincided with the twentieth anniversary of the Vienna Declaration establishing the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), he said that the two documents constituted a milestone in the struggle for the full realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms of all.  The achievements realized in the field of human rights would not have been possible were it not for the efforts of those who raised their voice to denounce abuses and injustice.  In that regard, he called to preserve a safe space for the effective participation of civil society at the national and international level.  Faced with a fast-changing world with multifaceted and complex crises affecting human rights everywhere, he added that real development and security would be enjoyed when they would go hand in hand with human rights.


IVAN ŠIMONOVIĆ, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, said that Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, was looking forward to the commemoration, but that “she had to be with Mandela one last time”.  The anniversary invited them to reflect on progress made, the challenges ahead and the way forward.  Since the adoption of the Vienna Declaration establishing the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, he noted that the human rights mechanism had grown stronger, as exemplified by the growing number of treaties and protocols, their ratification and special mandate holders.  The Human Rights Council and its Universal Peer Review had gathered strength and the international justice system had expanded together with a stronger and more effective civil society.


Since the Declaration had been written, he said, human rights violations continued to be recorded.  That included displacements during conflicts, discrimination and violence against women, and viewing migrants as second class citizens.  However, the Declaration remained relevant, he added, especially in light of the many complex challenges facing the world.  The interdependence of peace and security and human rights had become unmistakably evident, as evidenced by the recent food, financial and fuel crisis, coupled with insecurity in North Africa and the Middle East.  The winners of the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights for 2013 embodied the importance of promoting and protecting human rights.


Awards


The Assembly then commenced the ceremony for the award of the United Nations Prizes in the Field of Human Rights for 2013.  The award was presented to the recipients in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.


The first recipient was Biram Dah Abeid, a son of freed slaves, who was engaged in an advocacy campaign to eradicate slavery.  In 2008, he founded the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement, which sought to draw attention to the issue and to help take specific cases before courts of law.


Following was Hiljmnijeta Apuk, an activist for the rights of the disabled for more than 30 years, who had coordinated in Kosovo an awareness campaign for the employment possibilities of persons with disabilities.


Liisa Kauppinen, an advocate for the human rights of deaf people since 1970, had effectively secured the inclusion of reference to sign language, Deaf Culture, Deaf Community and the identify of deaf people within the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006.


Khadija Ryadi had been at the forefront of several human rights causes since 1983, including full equality between men and women, self-determination and freedom of expression regardless of their sexual orientation.


Malala Yousafzai, who received the award through a representative, had been speaking out on girls’ crucial right to education, women’s empowerment and the links between the two.  Despite an assassination attempt in 2012, she continued to speak out on behalf of the rights of girls and women.


The final recipient would be the Mexican Supreme Court of Justice, which provided legal protections for constitutional rights of Mexican citizens and residents.  As a result, accomplishing considerable progress in promoting human rights through its interpretation and enforcement of México’s Constitution and its obligations under international law.


Statements


MAMADOU TANGARA (Gambia), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the continent’s commitments had been demonstrated through African Union achievements, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, adopted in 1981.  All human rights were universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated.  However, the Group was concerned by the increasing trend aiming to create new rights, unrecognized in international human rights instruments.  Progress in that field should be achieved through cooperation, dialogue and mutual respect.


Despite progress made, too many people were deprived of their fundamental rights, he noted.  Highlighting the Group’s concerns, he said development needed to be recognized as an essential part of human rights, the alarming rise in racial discrimination must be addressed and particular attention should be devoted to enhancing the capacity-building of developing countries, at their request, in the field of human rights.


BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria), speaking on behalf of the Asia-Pacific Group, said he was unable to deliver a statement on behalf of the Group as there was no consensus on a joint statement.


ANDREJ LOGAR (Slovenia), speaking on behalf of the Group of Eastern European States, welcomed the commemorative meeting to mark the sixty-fifth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  He stressed that all people were entitled to the full enjoyment of their rights without discrimination and that it was the States obligation to promote those rights.  He also stressed that all human rights were indivisible, interdependent and interrelated.


Recalling the twentieth anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and the establishment of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), he said that its everyday work was of particular essence in the universal promotion and protection of human rights.  He acknowledged the role of the Treaty Bodies, as well as the winners of the 2013 United Nations Human Rights Prize award, thanking them for their work and efforts in that field.


JOSEPH GODDARD (Barbados), speaking on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States, said that the recognition, observance, protection and promotion of human rights remained just as much a priority today as they did in 1948 when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted.  He hailed recent initiatives undertaken during the sixty-eighth session of the Assembly, including a debate on upholding the right to privacy in the digital age.  He also recalled the resolution on the Right to Truth presented in the Third Committee, as that right and the preservation of memory played a decisive role in the prevention and repetition of injustice.


Turning to regional issues, he expressed concern over the negative impact of the cholera epidemic in Haiti, calling on the international community to support the Haitian Government to realize the right of its people to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health.  He also called on the United Nations for the proclamation of the International Decade of People of African Descent, as an essential step towards the goal of raising awareness of prejudice, intolerance and racism.  In conclusion, he applauded the achievements of the recipients of the United Nations Human Rights prize, particularly the Supreme Court of Justice of Mexico, as it was an institution from his region.


CHRISTOPHER GRIMA ( Malta), speaking for the Western European and other States Group, said the Declaration still formed an important basis of both international human rights law and the work of the United Nations in advancing the cause of peace, security and prosperity of all, without discrimination.  The Declaration reflected the common aspirations of all humankind for human rights and fundamental freedoms for which all Governments should be held accountable.


During the past decades, the Declaration had demonstrated a great ability to unite the world’s people, he said.  While commemorating Human Rights Day, the world must turn its attention to those deprived of their rights.  “All of us must redouble our efforts to uphold all fundamental human rights equally to all people,” he said.  Quoting the late Nelson Mandela, he concluded by saying:  “to deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”


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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.