Secretary-General’s remarks at a Human Rights Day Event in New York City

By | 11 December 2012

New York – It is a pleasure to join you to mark Human Rights Day.  I thank the Ford Foundation for hosting us.  Let me offer a special welcome to the panellists. 

What an inspiring group.

They are young – but they already have a long list of achievements.

They are passionate.

I look forward to hearing their thoughts tonight.

But of course, the whole world has already heard a great deal from them and their peers – the largest generation of youth the world has ever known.

Mr. Maher, you helped turn the tide of history in Egypt and across the Arab world.

Mr. Heimans, Ms. Wanja, Mr. Torrilus – each of you, in your own way, is part of the great global groundswell for a new era of democracy, decent jobs, justice and accountability.

You are making your voices count.

You are giving life to our message for this year’s Human Rights Day.

Mr. Šimonović, I know you visited Mali recently, and heard first-hand reports about some of the appalling human rights abuses being committed there, including summary executions, rape and forced child recruitment.

I myself have just returned from a visit to camps in Jordan and Turkey where Syrian refugees are coping with several harsh realities at once: displacement, deepening winter weather, fear for families left behind and for their very future.

I was moved by their stories.  Their voices count, too.

The United Nations continues its humanitarian and diplomatic efforts to end the crisis in Syria.

The scale and nature of the violence are becoming ever more shocking.  The fighting threatens to take on even greater sectarian dimensions, and we need to do everything we can to prevent the situation from degenerating.

All sides must scrupulously uphold the principles of protection, dignity and humanity that underpin international humanitarian and human rights law. There must be accountability for the appalling rights violations that continue to be carried out by all parties.

That is what Syrians must do.  But the international community must also unite in support of these principles. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other instruments, including the Genocide Convention, require international cooperation for the prevention of violations that could ultimately constitute mass atrocity crimes.  With this in mind, I urge the international community to exert immediate and sustained pressure on all the parties to the conflict.

There is no military solution to this emergency.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In Syria and elsewhere, from conflict areas to factory floors, from public squares to the private recesses of biased minds, we must each do our part to stand up for universal rights.

Making voices count means speaking out.

But it also means listening.

That has been my constant refrain – for the Arab world and beyond.  Leaders and people in power have an obligation to listen — really listen — to their people’s legitimate aspirations.

Everyone has the right to be heard and to shape the decisions that affect their lives and their communities.

Women have the right to vote almost everywhere, but remain hugely under-represented in parliaments and peace processes, in senior government posts and corporate boardrooms.

Indigenous people, minorities, people with disabilities or those with a different sexual orientation – all frequently face discrimination.

We are also seeing alarming threats to hard-won gains in democratic governance.

In some countries, civil society groups face growing pressures and restrictions on their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

We should all be troubled by such backsliding.

Even in societies with good track records, there is room for improvement.

International law is clear:  No matter who you are, or where you live, your voice counts.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There are many ways to make our voices count. One is through music.

In a few moments, you will see a new music video called “A Better Place”.

It is the product of collaboration between the United Nations MDG Achievement Fund – a global initiative in support of the Millennium Development Goals — and Playing for Change, a movement of musicians from around the world.

Their message is clear: to achieve the MDGs, the world needs equality, justice, freedom and human rights.

It is fitting that this video is being launched on Human Rights Day.

I invite you to visit the “Better Place” website to add your voice to this cause.

And I look forward to working with all of you to build a better world for all.

Thank you.

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