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Human Rights Day – A reminder of our obligations

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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed sixty-six years ago is as relevant as it ever was. Today, we must continue to build the mechanisms that will afford everyone their human rights.


Human Rights Day is a time for us to acknowledge and to celebrate the fact that human rights belong to every one of us. No matter where we live, which religion we follow, whatever our sex, age or colour – we are all entitled to the same human rights.

The theme for this year’s Human Rights Day is, Human Rights 365. It encompasses the idea that every day is Human Rights Day. That each one of us, everywhere and at all times, is entitled to the full range of human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights signed on 10 December 1948.

Eleanor Roosevelt holding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Photo: UN Photo

Now in 2014, sixty-six years on and with so much violence and injustice prevalent in the Middle East, Ukraine, Northern Africa and the world at large, we might all be forgiven for thinking that we still have a long way to go to realise the ambition of human rights for all.

To my mind, we cannot have human rights without development and security: the three go hand-in-hand. The existence of widespread poverty inhibits the full and effective enjoyment of human rights universally. To be poor is to be vulnerable and at risk of exploitation and violence. All peoples should have the right to their economic, social and cultural development.

Meanwhile, the current tide of terrorism and extremism is a very real threat to international peace, security and our human rights. By using tactics like torture, murder, physical abuse and by detaining people against their will with impunity, terrorists are violating the most basic of human rights.

So we must do two things. We need to help governments, the private sector and civil society to develop and support robust institutions to provide law and order to ensure due process of law and eradicate terrorism. And we must help governments exercise ethical and transformative leadership. Leaders play a role in protecting and safeguarding human rights, including providing a comprehensive education programme, which will ensure our next generations have the capacity for tolerance of all, regardless of their colour, race, religion or sex.

Now more than ever, we need to safeguard the human rights and principles that were upheld in 1948 with the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But we cannot do this unless we promote development and ensure the security and protection of the most vulnerable.

It is a good time for us to remember on this anniversary, that human rights and fundamental freedoms are the birth right of all human beings. And that their protection and promotion is not just the responsibility of Governments everywhere but the responsibility of each and every one of us.

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