Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s remarks at the General Assembly commemorative event to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the two International Human Rights Covenants, in New York today:
I am honoured to join all of you to mark a truly momentous occasion and to convey a message of support from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Half a century ago, the General Assembly adopted the two International Human Rights Covenants, completing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to form the International Bill of Human Rights. This marked the beginning of a global constitution of human rights protection.
The adoption galvanized the consensus view that the protection and realization of human rights is fundamental to building resilient, inclusive and peaceful societies. The Covenants have inspired international human rights instruments and influenced national constitutions the world over. They have guided national and regional courts and provided a normative foundation for the work of national independent human rights institutions. They have confirmed a common universal language of human rights — at the heart of which remains the right to life. The abolition of the death penalty has advanced significantly. But, we must step up our efforts towards ending this inhumane practice of executions once and for all.
On another level, the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights remind States which are parties to the two Covenants that they have to account publicly for their human rights performance. The Committees are crucial for the support and guidance of States in their implementation of human rights. They also help victims in many countries to seek remedies when rights are breached.
Our aim must be the universal ratification of the Covenants, including the right of petition under their Optional Protocols and their full and effective realization for all people. Regrettably, excellencies, dear delegates, serious human rights violations remain a huge challenge. And here I think of all human rights — political, civil, economic, social and cultural.
I think of protecting civil liberties in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism; I think of preventing famine; I think of upholding social protection, even in troubled economic times; I think of respecting religious freedom, tolerance and freedom from discrimination for all, including migrants; I think of shielding everyone from all forms of violence, especially women and children; I think of creating space for free speech, for free media and for human rights defenders to act without intimidation.
In a world of wide-spread suffering, war, poverty and discrimination, the fiftieth anniversary is an appropriate moment to rally around the Covenants’ principles and vision. The Covenants remind us how the carnage stemming from conflict and blatant disrespect for human rights and humanitarian law is utterly inexcusable. They admonish us never to accept extreme poverty, intolerance, inequality and injustices. More than ever, we have the knowledge and the tools — and even resources. The 2030 sustainable development agenda provides us with a global blueprint to implement the Covenants in a broader and deeper sense.
The Covenants, in turn, support stronger accountability of the Sustainable Development Goals. In parallel, the United Nations Human Rights Up Front Initiative aims to enhance the United Nations system’s ability to prevent and respond in a timely fashion to serious human rights violations before they turn into mass atrocities, as we have seen in so many cases.
All human rights are universal, interrelated, interdependent and inalienable — they form the bedrock of a humane world. Let us reaffirm this vision and turn it into realities in all corners of the world. Let us pledge strengthened political commitment to the Covenants — to guarantee freedom from fear and freedom from want and to protect human rights for all.