Statement: Speaking out and speaking up for fundamental rights and freedoms

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.