Statement by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director UN Women, on Human Rights Day, 10 December 2018
On 10 December 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It guaranteed fundamental rights and freedoms for all people, “without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
In the 70 years since, despite differences in culture, language, religion and politics, together we have striven to uphold a global order based on solidarity, respect for our shared humanity and commitment to the public good.
Alarmingly, however, we see around the world the growth and legitimization of a world order that puts these basic human rights in danger; one that silences dissent and stifles debate; that rejects multilateralism and global institutions of cooperation and solidarity; and that puts in jeopardy the international norms and standards of human rights, equality, justice and wellbeing.
This version of world order thrives on patriarchal structures that subordinate women and minorities, that mute voices, trivialize opposing views, and has no place for those that are struggling on the margins of our society. Instead, it views these groups as the “disorderly” and less valuable elements of society – migrants, refugees, indigenous peoples, or anyone who defies traditional social norms. It is exclusive instead of inclusive. It focuses on wrongs instead of rights.
On this Human Rights Day and in this 70th anniversary year, let us recall that all UN Member States are obliged to implement and defend fundamental human rights, the dignity and worth of all people, the equal rights of men and women, and to establish conditions that maintain justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law.
All of us in society have a role to play in standing up for universal human rights, calling out abuses and holding our leaders to account to the values that they have pledged to uphold. It is up to us all to defend and sustain the values upon which the United Nations was founded; to support, strengthen and integrate the vital work of solidarity movements; and to amplify the voices of women and girls in the world who are speaking out and speaking up.
Today, let us re-affirm our commitment to a world in which human rights, and women’s rights, underpin justice, solidarity, harmony and prosperity for all.Read more »
Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet
Geneva (6 December 2018) – On 10 December, we mark the 70th anniversary of that extraordinary document, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
It is, I firmly believe, as relevant today as it was when it was adopted 70 years ago.
Arguably even more so, as over the passing decades, it has passed from being an aspirational treatise into a set of standards that has permeated virtually every area of international law.
It has withstood the tests of the passing years, and the advent of dramatic new technologies and social, political and economic developments that its drafters could not have foreseen.
Its precepts are so fundamental that they can be applied to every new dilemma.
The Universal Declaration gives us the principles we need to govern artificial intelligence and the digital world.
It lays out a framework of responses that can be used to counter the effects of climate change on people, if not on the planet.
It provides us with the basis for ensuring equal rights for groups, such as LGBTI people, whom few would even dare name in 1948.
Everyone is entitled to all the freedoms listed in the Universal Declaration “without distinction of any kind such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
The last words of that sentence – “other status” – have frequently been cited to expand the list of people specifically protected. Not just LGBTI people, but also persons with disabilities – who now have a Convention of their own, adopted in 2006. Elderly people, who may get one as well. Indigenous peoples. Minorities of all sorts.
Gender is a concept that is addressed in almost every clause of the Declaration. For its time, the document was remarkably lacking in sexist language. The document refers to “everyone,” “all” or “no one” throughout its 30 Articles.
This trailblazing usage reflects the fact that, for the first time in the history of international law-making, women played a prominent role in drafting the Universal Declaration.
The role of Eleanor Roosevelt, who chaired the drafting committee is well known. Less well known is the fact that women from Denmark, Pakistan, the Communist bloc and other countries around the world also made crucial contributions.
Indeed it is thanks primarily to the Indian drafter Hansa Mehta, that the French phrase “all men are born free and equal,” taken from the Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen, became in the Universal Declaration “all human beings are born free and equal.”
A simple but – in terms of women’s rights and of minority rights – revolutionary phrase.
Hansa Mehta objected to Eleanor Roosevelt’s assertion that “men” was understood to include women – the widely-accepted idea at that time. She argued that countries could use this wording to restrict the rights of women, rather than expand them.
Born out of the devastation of two World Wars, the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the Holocaust, the Universal Declaration is geared to prevent similar disasters, and the tyranny and violations which caused them. It sets out ways to prevent us from continuing to harm each other, and aims to provide us with “freedom from fear and want.”
It sets limits on the powerful, and inspires hope among the powerless.
Over the seven decades since its adoption, the Universal Declaration has underpinned countless beneficial changes in the lives of millions of people across the world, permeating some 90 national Constitutions and numerous national, regional and international laws and institutions.
But, 70 years after its adoption, the work the Universal Declaration lays down for us to do is far from over. And it never will be.
In 30 crystal-clear articles, the Universal Declaration shows us the measures which will end extreme poverty, and provide food, housing, health, education, jobs and opportunities for everyone.
It lights the path to a world without wars and Holocausts, without torture or famine or injustice. A world where misery is minimized and no one is too rich or powerful to evade justice.
A world where every human has the same worth as every other human, not just at birth but for the duration of their entire lives.
The drafters wanted to prevent another war by tackling the root causes, by setting down the rights everyone on the planet could expect and demand simply because they exist – and to spell out in no uncertain terms what cannot be done to human beings.
The poor, the hungry, the displaced and the marginalized – drafters aimed to establish systems to support and protect them.
The right to food and to development is crucial. But this has to be achieved without discrimination on the basis of race, gender or other status. You cannot say to your people – I will feed you, but I won’t let you speak or enjoy your religion or culture.
The rights to land and adequate housing are absolutely basic – and yet in some countries, austerity measures are eroding those very rights for the most vulnerable.
Climate change can undermine the right to life, to food, to shelter and to health. These are all related – and the Universal Declaration and international human rights conventions provide a roadmap to their achievement.
I am convinced that the human rights ideal, laid down in this Declaration, has been one of the most constructive advances of ideas in human history – as well as one of the most successful.
But today, that progress is under threat.
We are born ‘free and equal,’ but millions of people on this planet do not stay free and equal. Their dignity is trampled and their rights are violated on a daily basis.
In many countries, the fundamental recognition that all human beings are equal, and have inherent rights, is under attack. The institutions so painstakingly set up by States to achieve common solutions to common problems are being undermined.
And the comprehensive web of international, regional and national laws and treaties that gave teeth to the vision of the Universal Declaration is also being chipped away by governments and politicians increasingly focused on narrow, nationalist interests.
We all need to stand up more energetically for the rights it showed us everyone should have – not just ourselves, but all our fellow human beings – and which we are at constant risk of eroding through our own, and our leaders’ forgetfulness, neglect or wanton disregard.
I will end, where the Universal Declaration begins, with the powerful promise – and warning – contained in the first lines of its Preamble:
“…Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.
“…Disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief, and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.
“…It is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse as a last resort to rebellion against tyranny and oppression that human rights should be protected by the rule of law.”
And we would do well to pay more attention to the final words of that same Preamble:
“…every individual and every organ of society keeping this Declaration constantly in mind shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.”
We have come a long way down this path since 1948. We have taken many of progressive measures prescribed by the Universal Declaration at the national and international levels.
But we still have a long way to go, and too many of our leaders seem to have forgotten these powerful and prophetic words. We need to rectify that, not just today, not just on the 70th anniversary next Monday, but every day, every year.
Human rights defenders the world over are on the frontlines of defending the Universal Declaration through their work, their dedication and their sacrifice. No matter where we live or what our circumstances are, most of us do have the power to make a difference – to make our homes, communities, countries, and our world better – or worse – for others. Each of us needs to do our part to breathe life into the beautiful dream of the Universal Declaration.
For this was the gift of our ancestors, to help us avoid ever having to go through what they went through.
Statement originally published on OHCHR – 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human RightsRead more »
UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, is about to start her first official visit to Pakistan, from 5 to 7 December, as part of her travels during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.
The visit will aim to bolster the gender equality agenda in a country where violent extremism, honour killing, rape, child marriage and other forms of gender-based violence has posed persistent obstacles for sustainable development and the empowerment of women and girls.
Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka’s first stop will be an event to mark the 16 Days campaign in the district capital, Mithi, one of Pakistan’s most impoverished districts. During a dialogue with over 300 residents, community leaders, government officials, civil society representatives and members of the local press, the Executive Director will call upon the entire community to end child marriages and voice their commitment to improve the lives of girls and young women.
An interactive session on preventing and addressing sexual harassment will also take place with students of the Habib University, a top-ranked university in Karachi. The dialogue will build on this year’s UN theme for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and the 16 Days Campaign: “Orange the World: #HearMeToo”, aiming to amplify the voices of survivors and activists around the world.
A Women’s Protection Unit for victims of violence and sexual abuse in Karachi, supported by UN Women, will also be launched in the context of the visit. The Protection Unit will offer female victims access to expert advice, support and counselling, as well as practical help to navigate the criminal justice system. This will be first of five new Women Protection Units to open in Pakistan under the project “Prevention and Protection of Women from Violence Through Access to Justice, Services and Safe Spaces”.
During her stay, the Executive Director will also discuss full, equal and effective participation and leadership of women at all levels of decision-making with the Women Parliamentary Caucus in Islamabad; and will participate in a roundtable on gender parity in the private sector with CEOs from the largest corporations of Pakistan.Read more »
Statement from Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women
We still do not know the true extent of violence against women, as the fear of reprisals, impact of not being believed, and the stigma borne by the survivor—not the perpetrator—have silenced the voices of millions of survivors of violence and masked the true extent of women’s continued horrific experiences.
In the recent past, grassroots activists and survivors, as well as global movements such as “#MeToo”, “#TimesUp”, “#BalanceTonPorc”, “#NiUnaMenos”, “HollaBack!” and “#TotalShutdown” have converted isolation into global sisterhood. They are making offenders accountable, exposing the prevalence of violence from high office to factory floor. Today’s global movements are setting collective demands for accountability and action and calling for the end of impunity, to ensure the human rights of all women and girls.
This year’s United Nations theme for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is “Orange the World: #HearMeToo”. It aims to honour and further amplify voices, whether a housewife at home, a schoolgirl abused by her teacher, an office secretary, a sportswoman, or a boy who is an intern in a business, bringing them together across locations and sectors in a global movement of solidarity. It is a call to listen to and believe survivors, to end the culture of silencing and to put the survivors at the centre of the response. The focus must change from questioning the credibility of the victim to pursuing the accountability of the perpetrator.
Those who have spoken out have helped us understand better just how much sexual harassment has been normalized and even justified as an inevitable part of a woman’s life. Its ubiquity, including within the United Nations system, has helped it seem a minor, everyday inconvenience that can be ignored or tolerated, with only the really horrific events being worthy of the difficulty of reporting. This is a vicious cycle that has to stop.
#HearMeToo is therefore also a strong call to law enforcement. It is deeply wrong that the vast majority of perpetrators of violence against women and girls face no consequences. Only a minority of cases are ever reported to the police; an even smaller percentage result in charges, and in only a fraction of those cases is there a conviction. Police and judicial institutions must take reports seriously, and prioritize the safety and well-being of survivors, for example by making more female officers available for women reporting violence.
Laws must recognize that sexual harassment is a form of discrimination against women and a human rights violation, both expressing and re-generating inequality, that occurs in many arenas of life, from schools to workplaces, in public spaces and online. If laws protect both formal and informal workplaces, the most vulnerable workers, like those dependent on tips from customers for their income, will have a better chance to speak out against abuse and be heard. Employers themselves in every country can make vital impacts by independently enforcing standards of behaviour that reinforce gender equality and zero tolerance for any form of abuse.
UN Women is at the forefront of efforts to end all forms of violence against women and girls through the work we do, from our UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women that benefited over 6 million individuals last year, to the 500-million-Euro EU-UN Spotlight initiative, which is the largest ever single investment in the elimination of violence against women and girls worldwide, to our work on safe cities and safe public spaces. In addition, we are working within UN Women and the UN system as a whole to address sexual harassment and the abuse of power within our own workplaces.
This year, together with you, we aim to support all those whose voices are still not yet being heard.Read more »