18 December 2018

Human Rights Defenders Give Voice to Voiceless, Shield Powerless against Injustice, Says Secretary-General at Award Ceremony

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the General Assembly’s United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights award ceremony, in New York today:

As we celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is important to recognize the human rights defenders working to uphold the Declaration and make human rights a reality for all.

Today we recognize the outstanding contributions of three individuals and one organization chosen as the recipients of the 2018 United Nations Human Rights Prize given every five years since 1968.

I want to pay tribute to Rebeca Gyumi from [the United Republic of] Tanzania, an activist for education rights for girls; to the late human rights lawyer, Asma Jahangir, from Pakistan; to Joênia Batista de Carvalho, Brazil’s first indigenous woman lawyer; and to Front Line Defenders from Ireland, working to protect human rights defenders at risk.

Their work, and that of other human rights defenders around the world, is essential for our collective efforts to sustain peace and ensure inclusive sustainable development and respect for human rights for all.

Often their work is dangerous.  We regularly hear of abuses against human rights defenders — murder, disappearances, torture, arbitrary imprisonment and other attempts to silence them.  Yet, these courageous individuals and groups remain committed to shining a light on the dark corners of the globe, wherever human rights violations occur.

Human rights defenders give voice to the voiceless and shield the powerless against injustice.

They stand for all rights — economic, civil, political, social and cultural.  They support the rule of law or work peacefully to change laws so women and girls, indigenous communities, minorities and other marginalized groups may exercise their rights.  They work to empower people through education, and they help to protect other human rights defenders from harassment, intimidation or arrest.

We salute them all.  Tonight’s awardees share this honorary prize with other notable defenders who have received it during the past 50 years.

As the President of the General Assembly has said, they include Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, Malala Yusafzai and this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winners, Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad, as well as organizations such as Amnesty International and the International Committee of the Red Cross.  You join a prestigious list and I congratulate you.

The international community is grateful for your efforts to promote all human rights for all people.  Thank you for your essential role in advancing peace, sustainable development and human dignity in our world.

For information media. Not an official record.