Respect for Human Rights Still Far from Universal, Secretary-General Says at Anniversary Event, While Hailing ‘Pioneers’ behind Declaration

SG/SM/19397-HR/5417-OBV/1849
6 December 2018

Respect for Human Rights Still Far from Universal, Secretary-General Says at Anniversary Event, While Hailing ‘Pioneers’ behind Declaration

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the opening of the exhibition on the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in New York today:

I am very honoured to be with you today.

Over the past seven decades, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has had a revolutionary impact.  The Declaration is universal not only in its very nature but also in its reach.  It has permeated policies and constitutions in all regions.  It has unleashed the power of women’s full participation and spurred the fight against discrimination and racism.  It has given rise to a rich body of legally binding international human rights treaties and it continues to be an inspiration to people around the world.

However, we still have a long way to go before respect for human rights is truly universal.  The words of the Declaration are not yet matched by facts on the ground.  In practice, people all over the world still endure constraints on ‑ or even total denial of ‑ their human rights.  Article 1 of the Universal Declaration says it so superbly:  “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”  The social, political, economic and cultural rights enshrined in this foundational document belong to everyone, everywhere ‑ independent of race, colour, gender, language, faith or opinion.

The ambitious task of drafting this landmark document was completed in just two years.  Determined to prevent the atrocities of the Second World War from ever happening again, the drafting committee ‑ comprised of representatives from Australia, Canada, Chile, China, France, Lebanon, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States ‑ worked with great efficiency and perseverance.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s leading role as the Chairperson of the drafting committee is well known.  At a time of increasing East-West tensions, Ms. Roosevelt managed to skilfully steer the drafting process toward its successful completion.  Other women, although not part of the official drafting committee, also played essential parts in shaping the document.

Some of them and their contributions are highlighted in this exhibition.  Hansa Mehta of India, for example, without whom we would likely be speaking of the Universal Declaration of “the Rights of Man” rather than of “Human Rights”.  Or Begum Shaista Ikramullah of Pakistan, who championed Article 16 on equal rights in marriage, to combat child marriage and forced marriage.

Or Minerva Bernardino of the Dominican Republic, who successfully argued for inclusion of “the equality of men and women” in the preamble of the Universal Declaration.  Ms. Bernardino, together with other Latin American women delegates ‑ Bertha Lutz of Brazil and Isabel de Vidal of Uruguay ‑ also played a crucial role a few years earlier in the drafting of the United Nations Charter, which became the first international agreement to recognize the equal rights of men and women, paving the way for the Universal Declaration.

At this pivotal moment in our struggle for gender equality and women’s empowerment worldwide, we want to pay tribute to those pioneers.  They are an inspiration to us all, especially to young women and men today.

Let us keep up the struggle.  Let us put the Universal Declaration’s powerful words into action.  The Sustainable Development Agenda – which aims to lift millions from poverty and enable them to exercise their inalienable rights – has human rights at its core and as its foundation.  Lasting peace and inclusive sustainable development can never be achieved without full respect for human rights.

So, ladies and gentlemen, on this anniversary, let us not only reflect on the enduring importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, let us also speak out and stand up for human rights everywhere.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.