Secretary-General, in Geneva, Stresses ‘Special Duty’ of Human Rights, Security Councils to End Conflict in Syria

3 March 2014

Secretary-General, in Geneva, Stresses ‘Special Duty’ of Human Rights, Security Councils to End Conflict in Syria

3 March 2014
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Secretary-General, in Geneva, Stresses ‘Special Duty’ of Human Rights,

Security Councils to End Conflict in Syria


Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks to the Human Rights Council in Geneva today:

It is a special pleasure and privilege to be with you.  By your membership on this Council, you have sworn to be in the vanguard of promoting and protecting human rights around the world.

Human rights are the birthright of all human beings.  Yet those universal rights are threatened through large-scale abuses that scar our moral landscape.  They are undermined by daily indignities that erode people’s confidence in their leaders and their faith in the future.

This Council is mandated to advance human rights every day and everywhere.  Through its increased dynamism, more frequent meetings and agile and innovative use of its unique special procedures, the Human Rights Council is helping the world become more vigilant in tracking the earliest signs of crisis.  Through the universal periodic review — which is now well into its second cycle — the Council is fostering an ever-growing richness in the dialogue with States about their human rights commitments.

This Council is uniquely aware of the heavy toll of human rights abuses and atrocities.  You read the Rapporteurs’ reports.  You hear the testimony of victims and witnesses.  You help translate those appeals into concrete action.

As we survey crises and challenges around the world, your work for accountability and an end to impunity are critical.  Conflicts from Syria to South Sudan and the Central African Republic are sad testaments to what can happen when perpetrators feel free to abuse without consequences.  I welcome the High Commissioner’s report on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka.

The Commission of Inquiry on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) gives voice to the suffering of the many victims of grave human rights violations and provides a road map for the country to adhere with universal human rights standards.  I once again urge the DPRK authorities to work with the international community to improve human rights and the living conditions of its people — and I reaffirm my commitment as Secretary-General of the United Nations to help the DPRK towards that end.

In Syria, all parties have committed violations of human rights of unimaginable scope and character.  Those States that are members of both the Human Rights Council and the Security Council have a special duty to end this bloody war and ensure robust accountability.  The besieging of communities, death by starvation and indiscriminate use of barrel bombs and other weapons of terror are unacceptable.  Those committing such acts are on notice:  This Council and the world are watching.

I also want to highlight for the Council the importance I attach to the Rights Up Front Action Plan that I launched last year.  It sends the message that human rights violations are signals to act early to prevent mass atrocities.  This initiative seeks to ensure that the United Nations system leverages the full breadth of its mandates to protect people at risk.

In November, I sent my renewed “Commitment” to all staff along with a clear message:  Human rights must be integral to all we do.  I also want to salute the essential role of civil society, including representatives of indigenous peoples and minorities, in enriching our human rights work.  As representatives of “We the Peoples”, civil society is our indispensable partner.  They must be able to carry out their vital work free of reprisals and free of intimidation.  No one should have to risk their life for standing up and speaking out on violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

This session takes place as Member States deepen their discussion on the post-2015 development agenda and as rising inequalities threaten respect for human rights in all parts of the world.  This is a critical time to promote the full integration of international human rights standards and principles into the new development framework.  We must work together so that human rights and the rule of law are essential components of the conversation on the goals — including the centrality of women’s empowerment, the rights of indigenous peoples, the rights of people with disabilities, fundamental sexual and reproductive rights, ending violence against women and other key issues.

There are many sound and practical proposals on the table, including those put forward by the High Commissioner.  I encourage this Council to establish close links with the Economic and Social Council and the newly established High Level Political Forum.  I also applaud the General Assembly’s call to integrate human rights learning and education into the post-2015 agenda.

This will be the final time I have the honour to address the Human Rights Council in the presence of High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.  High Commissioner Pillay has been a fearless defender of the most vulnerable.  She has been on the frontlines of crises.  She has been an outspoken advocate for LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] rights and an eloquent voice against racism, xenophobia and intolerance.  She has been creative, persistent and patient in our vital efforts to strengthen the treaty body system.

This is not a time for farewells — she will continue to lead the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for a number of months to come.  But I know you join me in this early tribute to express our appreciation, respect and deep gratitude to High Commissioner Navi Pillay.

As we build on our progress, I cannot help but reflect on the many places and people I have encountered in recent years.  I have walked with survivors of the death camps at Auschwitz and visited the killing fields of Cambodia.  I have wept with the survivors of the Rwanda genocide, widows in Srebrenica and the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.  I have spoken with the children in refugee camps that continue to swell with Syrians fleeing the nightmare in their country.

I am pained by their plight but also inspired by their resilience.  I know that their grief and their grievances — their appeals and their aspirations — can find expression and purpose in your work here.

Together, let us work to secure all human rights for all people.  Together, let us build a life of dignity for all.

I count on your commitment and your leadership.  Thank you.

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