Despite Development Progress, Efforts Must Centre on Human Rights to Make Deeper Impact Worldwide, Secretary-General Tells General Assembly at High-Level Debate

12 July 2016
Seventieth Session, Thematic Debate, AM & PM Meetings

Despite Development Progress, Efforts Must Centre on Human Rights to Make Deeper Impact Worldwide, Secretary-General Tells General Assembly at High-Level Debate

Human rights offered States a clear path towards stability and prosperity, the General Assembly heard today at the opening of a two-day high-level thematic debate, with officials examining the United Nation’s shortcomings and its response to global trends.

During the debate, held under the theme “UN@70 — Human rights at the centre of the global agenda”, ministers, Government representatives and high-level officials outlined the ways to further strengthen the Organization’s role in human rights, to respond to global trends and to ensure greater impact on situations all around the world.

Delivering opening remarks, Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said much of the world was benefiting from enormous progress in their economic, social, cultural, civil and political situations.  For many, that meant greater opportunities and protections that extended life spans, improved standards of living and gave hope of a better future.  However, at the same time, racism and homelessness were rising in Europe, organized violence had taken root in part of Latin America, deadly conflict continued in the Middle East and economic and social marginalization had affected millions of people in Asia.

“Some Governments are sharply restricting people’s ability to exercise their rights, attacking fundamental freedoms and dismantling judicial institutions that limit executive power,” he said, expressing concern over that the respect for international human rights and humanitarian law was being eroded, as the world faced the highest number of displaced people since the Second World War.

Describing human rights as the most powerful driver of peace and development, Mr. Ban called upon Governments to meet their responsibilities.  For its part, the United Nations had launched the Human Rights up Front initiative as a way to ensure that related concerns were prioritized.

Agreeing, General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft (Denmark) said human rights were far from being respected.  Drawing attention to recent violence and terrorist acts, he said such incidents had undermined global values such as tolerance, equality, dignity, pluralism and liberty.  Consequently, faith in public institutions and in politics, the rule of law, open and just societies were dangerously low.

“Feelings of alienation and marginalization were leading towards extremism and violence,” he said, adding that “intolerance, xenophobia and injustice had become worryingly common place in many countries”.

The 2030 Agenda, he went on to say, had provided the international community with hope that it could counter such trends and transform the world for the better.  However, if today’s leaders did not reignite their commitment to human rights, reject the rhetoric of division and hate, and address the drivers of today’s tensions, then that hope would give way to despair, he said, urging all to stop that from happening.

In addition to Member States’ efforts, the international community must ensure that the United Nations, 70 years after its founding, continued to be a bulwark against threats to human rights.  Describing the debate as an opportunity to examine the current situation, including the Organization’s shortcomings and how the emphasis on human rights had affected the United Nation’s overall approach.

Queen Mathilde of Belgium, a Sustainable Development Goals advocate, acknowledging the strong connection between the three founding pillars of the United Nations system, said the right to development had been proclaimed by the Organization 30 years ago.  While welcoming the positive steps taken by the global community, she said the path towards lasting peace was a long and hard one.  In that regard, it was critical to combine efforts of all actors, including Governments, international organizations, civil society, academia, private sector and local communities.

Describing culture as a driver of development, she stressed that, in order to move forward, the international community must continue its fight against discrimination and must provide equal opportunities for women and girls, and ensure the protection of fundamental freedoms.

Also participating as a keynote speaker, Agnes Laina Ntikaampi, Executive Director and Founder of Il’laramatak Community Concerns, said it was time to take stock, look back and see where the international community had come from and where it was headed.  The rights Member States had referred to were a dream yet to come true, she said, noting that abuses had continued unabated.

The implementation of the 2030 Agenda and developing innovative national strategies were challenging, she continued, calling upon all to avoid the pitfalls some of the international community had experienced with the Millennium Development Goals.  In addition, climate change and conflicts over scarce resources would continue to be part of the greatest concerns in the achievement of human rights, she said.  Against a backdrop of crises of refugees and asylum seekers and unprecedented human displacement, Governments must strengthen their efforts towards accountability and take urgent measures to, among other things, prevent extrajudicial killings, police brutality and other rights violations.

Some of those views echoed through the plenary segment.  Speaking on behalf of the Human Security Network, the representative of Slovenia said a prevention-oriented approach was needed to address the underlying causes of threats that endangered peace, stability and development.  Besides mediation and crisis diplomacy, particular attention must be given to strengthening institutions to ensure respect for the rule of law, democratic transitions and lasting peace.

Speakers shared their perspectives and suggested approaches to reach those and other ends.  The representative of Argentina suggested a multistakeholder approach based on the principle of inclusivity because that would enable the participation of all, including women, youth and historically marginalized people. 

While doing so, it was critical to ensure the involvement of civil society organizations without fear of retaliation or consequence.

Canada’s representative underscored the need to be cooperative and respect diversity.  That meant being open to scrutiny and constructive criticism by actively participating in the Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review process and cooperating with Special Rapporteurs.

While reaffirming commitments to the indivisibility and interdependency of human rights, the representative of Tunisia, speaking on behalf of the Group of African States, expressed concern about the selectivity and double standards based on religion and culture.  Describing the universal periodic review as the main mechanism to address human rights concerns, he stressed the need to increase voluntary funds for the successful implementation of recommendations and the development of national capacities.

Also today, the Assembly held three interactive discussions respectively on “combating discrimination and inequalities”; “strengthening governance, the rule of law and access to justice”; and “enabling active participation in society”.

Making statements today during the plenary session were ministers, representatives and high-level officials of Luxembourg, Sweden, Senegal, Guatemala, Hungary, Belarus, Turkey, Ireland, United Arab Emirates, Finland, Spain, Republic of Korea and Venezuela.

The General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 13 July.

For information media. Not an official record.