– As delivered –

Statement by H.E. Mrs. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly

18 December 2018

Mr. António Guterres, Secretary General

Ms. Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,


First, I would like to thank the delegation of Cuba who, representing the Non-Aligned Movement, facilitated the Resolution that summoned this meeting.

In this session we will commemorate seventy years of one of the most important contributions of the General Assembly to humanity: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a treasure of multilateralism and an irrefutable proof of the impact of our work in the peoples and the life of each and every person in the world.

This historical document has been the legacy of a generation who, after suffering the tragedies of two world wars, understood that: “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world” for everyone.

I wish to emphasize the role of Eleanor Roosevelt, Hansa Mehta, Minerva Bernardino and so many other visionary women in the construction of a more inclusive and egalitarian Declaration. That Declaration has been an inspiration for the fight of thousands of women around the world: indigenous women, Afro-descendant women, women with disabilities and all diverse women.

Today, we recall an extraordinary achievement which, undeterred by time, continues to be the strongest foundation to promote and defend human rights and we pay tribute to the persons who made such significant contributions to make human dignity the basis of our coexistence in the world.

This is also an opportunity to celebrate twenty five years of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action which clearly established the universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated nature of human rights and that also created the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, currently led by an extraordinary Latin American woman: Michelle Bachelet.


Allow me to make three remarks:

First, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not only reflect a collective aspiration to establish a world order based on human dignity, but it has in fact transformed the world: it has made it better.

Its thirty articles contain universal ideals and commitments -like the right to life, freedom, justice, the right to education, health, housing, food and work- which have been sources of inspiration for almost every international instrument and have allowed developing the nine core human rights treaties and their optional protocols.

The Declaration has also marked the history of our countries. Its precepts have been gradually included in national legal systems, thus ensuring implementation mechanisms. Today, upholding human rights is an essential condition for all government systems and to fulfill the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development.

We can even say that the Sustainable Development Goals are goals that fully guarantee human rights.

The above leads me to my second remark:

We must avoid setbacks in the agreements that we have already established and we must avoid the politicization human rights.

In times of crisis, of instability, in which the international system that we have worked so hard to build faces multiple challenges, we are compelled -more than ever- to fulfill the principles of the Universal Declaration.

If we do not turn the Universal Declaration into a reality, if we allow restricting or lessening human rights, humanity could once again face fear, division and, inevitably, conflict. The same phantoms that we wanted to banish seventy years ago.

Let us renew our commitment to the Universal Declaration; it is the best tribute that we can pay to it. Let us prove that the greatest ideal of justice, equality and freedom is not a utopia; that human beings are capable of coexisting in peace; and that the Declaration is as valid today as it was in 1948 when it was proclaimed.

María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés

President of the UN General Assembly


Human rights are for everyone. Selective interpretations and those that relativize their validity in accordance with geopolitical or economic interests set the stage to weaken them and the perception that not all violations or abuses matter or that the fight for justice and freedom is not the same for all peoples.

And my third and last remark is that the fight for human rights is permanent, it must be a part of our daily efforts. I decided to distribute a special edition of the Universal

Declaration to always have at our side during our deliberations.

We still have a lot to do.

There are still millions of human beings that are not free or equal and that have not yet been liberated from fear and want: poverty, hunger and inequality continue to affect all countries and regions; torture and modern slavery have not been eradicated yet; racism, discrimination and exclusion are still part of our reality; and the rights of women and girls are still being violated systematically.

The Universal Declaration must continue to guide our efforts to build a more peaceful, egalitarian and humane world.

Fortunately, the “Global Compact a Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration” that the General Assembly will endorse tomorrow is proof that the majority of Member States maintain that commitment. And what better than today, December 18, the International Migrants Day, to reaffirm that, regardless of their migration status, migrant persons cannot be deprived of the fundamental rights that the Universal Declaration grants them.


The international community cannot forget the road that it has traveled to reach the Universal Declaration.

One of the sentences in its preamble tells us to bear in mind that: “disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind.”

More than ever, multilateralism needs to go back to its roots, feed on the aspirations and ideals of the men and women who, that overcoming their differences, worked to give a legacy to future generations: hope. The hope to create a world in which wars can be averted and in which the value of life is respected above any other material or geo-political consideration.

Let us renew our commitment to the Universal Declaration; it is the best tribute that we can pay to it. Let us prove that the greatest ideal of justice, equality and freedom is not a utopia; that human beings are capable of coexisting in peace; and that the Declaration is as valid today as it was in 1948 when it was proclaimed.

Thank you.