Former Senator Timothy Wirth, Dr. Vartan Gregorian, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Colleagues and Friends,
I thank the Carnegie Corporation for bringing us together, and for its long-standing support of the United Nations.
I would also like to express my appreciation to all of you for the very kind words we have just heard.
Human rights are the third pillar of the United Nations – but sometimes they are seen by leaders as the third rail, too threatening and controversial to be touched.
Throughout my time in office, I tried to highlight the centrality of human rights. At every turn, our progress would not have been possible without the strong voice and activism of all of you -- think tanks, NGOs and concerned citizens. Thank you for a decade of effort.Thank you for speaking tonight about our work on humanitarian law, atrocity prevention, the death penalty, women’s empowerment, LGBT rights, the Human Rights up Front initiative and much else.
I may be leaving office, but our work is never done. Looking forward, I would like to highlight four directions that I hope my successor and all Member States will pursue.
First, we must stop the dangerous erosion in respect for international human rights and humanitarian law.
States and non-State actors are deliberately and increasingly violating the most fundamental rules of international law, too often with complete impunity.
Compounding the problem, we see some leaders stoking animosity towards the values that bind us and the institutions designed to uphold them.
The United Nations, the International Criminal Court and other bodies might not be perfect. But they remain indispensable arenas to address key questions of human rights, international law, and accountability for crimes and violations.
Second, we need to protect and support UN mechanisms, including the Universal Periodic Review and Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, as well as the Office of the High Commissioner.
Too often, States seek to avoid independent and impartial scrutiny of their human rights track record. Or they claim to accept recommendations but fail to actually implement them. Perhaps most disturbing, we see too many States taking reprisals against people who provide information to UN human rights bodies. This must stop.
Third, human rights priorities must continue to be weaved into the work of every UN entity.
The Human Rights Up Front action plan is fundamentally about improving how the United Nations thinks and acts on the prevention and protection responsibilities of the Charter. It makes clear that all parts of the UN are always required to react in line with human rights. It also makes clear that we must respond swiftly and appropriately to warning signals of escalating human rights crises, and not wait for atrocities to occur.
Fourth, we are committed to involving more actors.
States are primarily responsible for upholding human rights, but we should also keep building strong coalitions with businesses, civil society groups and individuals.
The cause of human rights benefits from advocacy and activism around the world. However, in too many places the space for civil society and independent media is shrinking. An alarming number of Governments have adopted restrictions that limit the ability of NGOs to work or receive funding, and that infringe on the freedoms of thought and expression. We see harsh crackdowns, detentions, and sweeping definitions of national security that criminalize or cast suspicion on the activities of civil society and the press.
The Office of the High Commissioner will be launching a new global campaign on 10 December, Stand Up for Human Rights. We have also recently launched the “Together” campaign to fight the xenophobia faced by so many refugees and migrants.
Everyone has a role to play in this work.
Human rights protect us, including during wartime. They are the path to durable peace and to post-conflict justice and reconciliation. They are our best tools for countering terrorism and violent extremism. And they are the basis of stable, resilient, inclusive societies in which all people enjoy dignity and opportunity. This is why human rights figure prominently in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Thank you again for your commitment to the United Nations. As I prepare to make way for my successor, I am confident that human rights will be a high priority for Antonio Guterres. He is well known to you all and I have no doubt that he will be your strong ally.
Thank you again.