8 December 2017
GENEVA (Issued as received) - On this day in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Its timing so close after the end of World War II was no coincidence. Rather, it reflected the conviction that human dignity is at the heart of our societies and that respect for human rights is essential to the prevention of conflict and the promotion of human development.
Sadly, the international community has often fallen short of its commitment to human rights. Several crises have shaken humanity in the last 70 years. Conflicts, poverty, corruption, inequality, violence, discrimination, exclusion and climate change continuously wreak havoc on individuals and societies throughout the world. Too often human rights are ignored when addressing these crises and solutions have rarely been sustainable or satisfactory for all concerned. Too often, governments fail to address the underlying human rights grievances that cause war and impede sustainable development. Too often, governments respond to these crises by restricting fundamental freedoms and the space for civil society – measures that only compound the crisis.
At a time when the world faces old and new challenges with far-reaching consequences, when human rights and the foundations of the human rights protection system are under serious threats, we, the independent Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups that comprise the Special Procedures* of the United Nations Human Rights Council take this occasion to emphasize the centrality of respect for social, economic, cultural, civil and political rights of individuals and all peoples in the pursuit of peace, security and sustainable development.
Our starting point is recognition of the three pillars upon which the United Nations is built: peace and security, development, and human rights. There is no hierarchy among them, but often, they have been put in competition. Some regimes have suggested that individual rights must take a back seat to security and development. Others have argued that prioritising accountability and remedy for human rights violations can be an impediment to peace. Many states have chosen to pursue the false notion that in the fight against terrorism, we must sacrifice rights to achieve security.
For much of its history, the UN has focused its efforts in the realm of peace and security on keeping and enforcing peace in the world’s hotspots. These efforts have met with varying degrees of success. More recently, member States have recognized the wisdom of efforts to prevent conflict, rather than merely to end it; to build the conditions for peace and security, rather than merely to keep and enforce it; and to focus development on sustainability, rather than simply on growth. International financial institutions as well as businesses should also put human rights at the centre of their policies.
We welcome the UN’s new and increased focus on conflict prevention and peacebuilding. Likewise, we welcome the focus on sustainability of development, rather than development, per se. We will remain vigilant about how this shift increases respect for human rights in the quest for peace, security and human development.
We salute the role that civil society actors can play in this context and call on all concerned, in particular the UN and States to preserve and enhance the space for engagement and cooperation with civil society actors.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights began the modern era of international legal protections for the rights of individuals. Today, a growing web of international human rights treaties and mechanisms obligates States to respect, protect and fulfil human rights of all people, without discrimination.
We call upon the international community to continue its exploration of means and methods to prevent human rights violations that so often impede sustainable development and trigger conflict. Whether it is done through the efforts of the UN Secretariat, the Security Council or other mechanisms of the international community, Special Procedures mandate holders stand ready to make their contribution to help forge a common vision that human rights are the fertile ground on which fair, peaceful and democratic societies can be built.
* “Special procedures” is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic human rights issues in all parts of the world. Currently, there are 44 thematic mandates and 12 mandates related to countries and territories, with 80 active mandate holders. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights provides these mechanisms with support for the fulfilment of their mandates. Learn more, go to:
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