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70 years on, landmark UN human rights document as important as ever

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights reaches its 70th anniversary on Monday, a chance to highlight the many important breakthroughs brought about by the landmark UN document, and to remind the world that the human rights of millions are still being violated on a daily basis.

Thanks to the Declaration, and States’ commitments to its principles, the dignity of millions has been uplifted, untold human suffering prevented and the foundations for a most just world have been laid.

High Commissioner hails continued relevance of Declaration

Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement released on Wednesday that the document has gone from being an “aspirational treatise” to a set of standards that has “permeated virtually every area of international law.”

The Declaration has shown itself to be as relevant today, as it has always been, and is applicable to situations and scenarios that could not have been foreseen at its inception, such as the need to govern artificial intelligence and the digital world, and to counter the effects of climate change on people.

Ms. Bachelet said the she remains convinced that the human rights ideal, laid down in the Declaration, has been one of the most constructive advances of ideas in human history, as well as one of the most successful.

The human rights chief pointed out that women played a prominent role in drafting the document: Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the drafting committee, and women from Denmark, Pakistan, the Communist bloc and other countries around the world also made crucial contributions. Consequently, the document is, for its time, remarkably free from sexist language, almost always referring to “everyone,” “all” or “no one” throughout its 30 Articles.

Human rights violations perpetrated ‘on a daily basis’

Celebrating the resilience of the human rights system, and the contributions of the Declaration to advancing human progress, peace and development, a team of independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, in a statement published on Friday, echoed Ms. Bachelet’s comments, noting that the “protection provided by the international human rights system has increased including by addressing new and emerging human rights issues and demonstrating its capacity to evolve and respond to people’s needs and expectations.”

However, the experts detailed some of the many violations of international law and human dignity that are perpetrated on a daily basis in many countries: “Recent memory is replete with multiple examples of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Impunity reigns supreme in many countries undergoing conflicts or political upheavals, encouraged by narrow national objectives, geopolitics and political impasse at the United Nations Security Council.”

They also said that the upsurge of nationalism and xenophobia seen in countries of asylum, at a time of rising forced-migration, is “reversing the gains of international humanitarian cooperation of the last 70 years.”

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day.

In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, the UN is urging people everywhere to “Stand Up for Human Rights”: www.standup4humanrights.org.

 

This story was originally posted on UN News

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Human rights ‘success stories’ shared at the UN to serve as example, and inspire others

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is 70 this year and since then, it’s helped improve the rights of vulnerable women, children and men worldwide. The “Good Human Rights Stories” initiative was launched by 14 countries and the European Union to highlight the strengthening of rights, and inspire nations worldwide to follow suit. 

At a high-level event held in that spirit on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, in New York, on Thursday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, drove home that point: “We should never forget the profound progress that has been made over the decades – and, indeed, that is happening as we speak.”

“Progress in one corner of the world plants a seed of hope in another,” he stated, referencing his own personal story. “I grew up under the Salazar dictatorship in Portugal and did not know democracy until I was twenty-four years old…But it was the human rights struggles and stories of others around the world that inspired and moved us to believe in change at home.”

Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who also delivered opening remarks cited recent human rights advancements across the world including in India, the Horn of Africa, South Africa, Georgia, Liberia, Tunisia and Chile.

“In many countries, things are moving in the right direction, sometimes not quickly enough, sometimes it’s not perfect, but nevertheless, they are moving and the broader impact is clear,” she said. 

The event went on to showcase several initiatives and progress made to strengthen human rights in various countries, including the promotion of diversity in Indonesia, the role played by civil society in Korea, new legislation for gender equality in Tunisia, and prison reform in Georgia, to name a few. 

On Wednesday, the UN held another high-level event marking the 70th anniversary of the UDHR, to highlight how making the text a reality, can be a powerful tool for nations across the world to prevent conflict and poverty.

 

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THE SECRETARY-GENERAL REMARKS AT HUMAN RIGHTS DAY EVENT New York, 11 December 2017

I am very pleased to be with you today to begin a year-long celebration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Over seven decades, this mighty document has helped to profoundly change our world.

It establishes the equality and dignity of every human being.  

It stipulates that every government has a duty to enable all people to enjoy their inalienable rights and freedoms.

And it establishes that these rights are universal.

Wherever we live, whatever our circumstances or our place in society, our gender or sexual orientation, our race or religion or belief, we are all equal in human rights and in dignity.

Let me emphasise this point: human rights are not bound by any single tradition, culture or belief.

When the world’s nations adopted the Universal Declaration in 1948, they acknowledged the diversity of cultures and political systems.

But they also affirmed the Declaration as a “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”.

And it is by this essential yardstick that history will judge the leaders of nations and the United Nations itself.

Have we, through our actions and our advocacy, advanced respect for human dignity, equality and rights?

Have we created equitable and inclusive societies, based on justice and fair opportunities and services for all?

Have we advanced freedom from want and fear?

As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights enters its 70th year, we can take stock of some of the achievements it has enabled.

Over seven decades, humanity has achieved considerable progress.

People around the world have gained progressively greater freedoms and equality.

They have been empowered to oppose discrimination, fight for protections, and gain greater access to justice, health, education and development opportunities.

Conditions of profound economic misery and exploitation have been improved.

Women’s rights have advanced, along with the rights of the child, the rights of victims of racial and religious discrimination, the rights of people with disabilities and a multitude of economic, social and cultural rights.

Oppressive dictatorships have been replaced by participatory systems of governance.

Perpetrators of horrific human rights violations – including sexual violence and genocide – have been prosecuted by international tribunals.

So, there is much to celebrate, and many to thank.

We have to thank a generation of world leaders, who emerged from a world war convinced that only justice would build peace among and within nations.

And we have to thank activists and human rights defenders – hundreds of thousands of ordinary people around the world who have mobilized to defend fundamental rights with immense courage, often in the face of extreme danger.

But as well as celebrating, we must also take stock of where we have fallen short.

In practice, recognition of the inherent dignity and equal rights of human beings is still far from universal.

Millions of people continue to suffer human rights violations and abuses around the world.

And human rights defenders still face persecution, reprisals are rising and the space for civil society action is shrinking in very many nations.  

But the founders of the United Nations were right.

Lasting peace and security can never be achieved in any country without respect for human rights.

The Sustainable Development Agenda – which aims to lift millions from poverty and enable them to access their economic and social rights -- is deeply rooted in respect for human rights.

So, Excellencies and ladies and gentlemen, we are here today not just to mark another anniversary and then go about our usual business.

We are here to reflect on the core and enduring importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to engage those around us to put its powerful words into practice.

We are here to affirm the existential commitment of the whole UN system to ensure that the central focus of all our policies is the advancement of human dignity, equality and rights.

And we are here to speak out and take a stand for human rights.

All of us have a role to play -- at work, in the street, in our daily lives.

As Secretary-General, I take the pledge that we are all being asked to take today by the UN Human Rights Office – the pledge is the following:

“I will respect your rights regardless of who you are.

I will uphold your rights even when I disagree with you.

When anyone’s human rights are denied, everyone’s rights are undermined, so I will stand up.

I will raise my voice.  I will take action.  I will use my rights to stand up for your rights.”

As Secretary-General, I am committed and will remain engaged in human rights, including by speaking out for those in need, promoting justice for all, and by ensuring that human rights are integrated throughout the work of the United Nations.

This is the path to a world of peace, dignity and opportunity for all.

Thank you very much.

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Human Rights Day: UN to launch campaign for 70th anniversary of Universal Declaration

The United Nations will on Sunday kick off in Paris, France, a year-long campaign to honor the foundational human rights document, which next year marks its 70th anniversary.

Since the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, “human rightshave been one of the three pillars of the United Nations, along with peace and development,” said Secretary-General António Guterres in his message for Human Rights Day, annually observed on 10 December.

Mr. Guterres noted that while human rights abuses did not end when the Universal Declaration was adopted, the instrument has helped countless people to gain greater freedom and security, and has also helped to prevent violations, obtain justice for wrongs, and strengthen national and international human rights laws and safeguards.

“Despite these advances, the fundamental principles of the Universal Declaration are being tested in all regions,” he said, citing rising hostility towards human rights and those who defend them by people who want to profit from exploitation and division.

“We see hatred, intolerance, atrocities and other crimes. These actions imperil us all,”

Antonio Guterres
United Nations Secretary-General

The year-long campaign will start at Palais de Chaillot in Paris on Sunday, with an event also to be held on Monday at UN Headquarters in New York. UN Information Centres around the world will also launch commemorative activities.

[ read the full story on UN News Centre ]

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