5 September 2008


5 September 2008
Press Release
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Wrap-Up Press Conference for Sixty-First Annual DPI/NGO Conference, on theme

‘Reaffirming Human Rights for All:  The Universal Declaration at 60’


(Received from a UN Information Officer.)

PARIS, 5 September -- This morning Kiyo Akasaka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, addressed a press conference on the outcome of the sixty-first annual Department of Public Information /Non-Governmental Organization (DPI/NGO) Conference, convened for three days at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) headquarters in Paris to discuss human rights implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Mr. Akasaka was joined by Shamina de Gonzaga, Chair of the sixty-first Annual DPI/NGO Conference; Stéphane Hessel, Ambassador of France; and Pierre Sané, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences; who also made introductory statements before taking questions from journalists.

Mr. Akasaka underlined that this was the first time in 60 years that the Annual DPI/NGO Conference was being held outside of Headquarters in New York.  It was fitting that Paris had been chosen as the site for this sixty-first DPI/NGO Conference on implementing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, because it was in the French capital that the Declaration had been adopted in 1948.  Over the past three days, some 1,200 participants had engaged in enriching and animated round-table discussions, midday workshops and subsidiary breakout sessions, which had representatives of civil society share their experiences on the ground and present best practices in different areas of human rights protection.  The discussions had covered a diverse number of topics, including traditional human rights subjects such as extreme poverty and the rights of the disabled, minorities, homosexuals and the mentally ill, as well as more contemporary human rights questions, such as the problems posed by the use of the Internet in today’s society.

A number of different views, sometimes completely contradictory ones, had been expressed on all subjects, Mr. Akasaka said.  However, all had agreed that the number one enemy against all reform and progress in human rights was indifference.  All NGOs and civil society organizations had to undertake efforts to ensure that the principles enunciated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights became a daily reality for all the citizens of the Earth.

Shamina de Gonzaga, Chair of the sixty-first Annual DPI/NGO Conference, highlighted that this morning participants had heard a round-table debate on the issue of “Addressing Gross Human Rights Violations:  Prevention and Accountability”.  As the moderator of that round table, the Deputy Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court had said, “silence did not serve anyone”.  It was necessary that the United Nations helped the voices of victims to be heard.  It was true that, as independent organizations, the NGOs had a critical role to play, but that did not mean that they could work alone.  They needed to come together with the United Nations to ensure rights were upheld.  Another issue touched on today was the concept of the responsibility to protect.  NGOs and civil society had a large role to play in implementing that responsibility.  Another round table held this morning had focused on human rights education.

As for what United Nations-NGO partnership could achieve, Ms. de Gonzaga highlighted the recent adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons, which was a very good example of how the United Nations and civil society could work together to promote and protect human rights.

Stéphane Hessel, Ambassador of France, regretted that the Conference, which was of critical importance, had not attracted more attention from the French media.  What was happening here at UNESCO should truly be of interest to the French, because it was a forum for those who had dedicated their lives to the service of human rights and to the collective good.  Not all Governments were open to the promotion of the rights of their citizens, but, happily, there were human rights defenders, and national, regional and international organizations working to defend them.  Those organizations were there to prompt and to keep Governments in line.

Pierre Sané, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences, said UNESCO was pleased to be hosting this year’s DPI/NGO Conference for three reasons.  First, because it was in line with the United Nations yearlong campaign to commemorate human rights and the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  It helped to promote awareness of the rights enshrined in the Declaration, of which many individuals remained ignorant.  The planet had never been so rich, in terms of knowledge, material and communications.  The poorest half of the planet had to be integrated into that world, and made aware of its rights.  UNESCO was also pleased that NGOs could use this space to reflect and exchange ideas on the concepts set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Secondly, UNESCO was persuaded that the partnership between the United Nations and civil society was indispensable in carrying out its work.  Thirdly, it was an opportunity to make people aware of the human rights mandate of UNESCO, and its work in fighting racial discrimination, in ensuring equality between men and women, in fighting against poverty, in promoting cultural and educational rights, and in ensuring that all benefited from scientific and intellectual innovations.

These opening statements were followed by a question-and-answer session with the press.

Addressing a question on the partnership between the United Nations and non-governmental organizations, Under-Secretary-General Akasaka noted that the Conference itself had been organized in cooperation between the United Nations and NGOs for over 60 years now.  Furthermore, the United Nations worked closely, both in New York, Geneva and on the ground, with more than 2,300 NGOs accredited to UNESCO, and over 1,200 participants in the present Conference alone.

Shamina de Gonzaga, speaking also on the role of civil society and NGOs within the United Nations system, noted that, at the Conference, all the civil society actors had underscored the fundamental role NGOs played in carrying out the work of the United Nations.  This annual Conference had always functioned as a place where that dialogue could take place.

Responding as to why the reaffirmation of the Declaration had been chosen as the theme this year, Mr. Akasaka recalled that the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights had provided a good platform to discuss important human rights issues, such as poverty.  It also allowed them to promote human rights campaigns in priority areas, such as the Secretary-General’s campaign to combat violence against women and girls, or other campaigns in the areas of economic and cultural rights, such as the right to education, or to health.

Ambassador Hessel also noted that it was necessary to reaffirm the rights set out in the Declaration, because of emerging threats to human rights that had appeared in the world, in the context of the fight against terrorism, for example.  If they did not act now, that would give way to a whole propaganda that downplayed the importance of human rights.

A speaker raised the issue of a lack of paths for NGOs to participate in the work of the United Nations at Geneva as there was in New York.  He asked if such a platform could be established in connection with the Human Rights Council.  In reply, Mr. Akasaka noted that, in the 1990s, a number of international conferences, such as had been held in Copenhagen, Cairo, Beijing and Vienna, had provided a good platform for UN-NGO cooperation.  It was true that those large international conferences had become rarer today.  For its part, DPI was grateful that it had a close and longstanding NGO partnership via its annual conference.

Ms. De Gonzaga noted that there were a large number of NGOs in Geneva that had a long history of working with the United Nations.  In her opinion, it was up to the NGOs working in Geneva to brainstorm new ways of working with the United Nations there.

Mr. Hessel highlighted the importance for NGOs to organize themselves in groups that could lobby with one common voice on various issues.  That was a tendency that he had seen operating over the past few years, and one which he supported.  Responding on technical questions regarding the adoption of the Universal Declaration, Mr. Hessel noted that the Declaration, which was not a legally binding instrument, but which contained recommended norms, had been adopted in the presence of the then-50 Member States of the United Nations, with 6 States abstaining.

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