Ban urges UN rights council to rise above partisan posturing and review

12 December 2008The United Nations Human Rights Council marked the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in a special session today, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling on it to rise above “partisan posturing and regional divides” and review the record of every State. “We have come a long way since the Declaration”s adoption. But the reality is that we have not lived up to its vision – at least not yet,” Mr. Ban told the Council in Geneva. “Abject poverty, shameful discrimination and horrific violence continue to plague millions of people. As we mark this milestone, we must also acknowledge the savage inhumanity that too many people in our world must endure. There is no time to rest.“This Council can have a tremendous impact. But you, its members, must rise above partisan posturing and regional divides. One way to do this is with continued vigilance in carrying out the Universal Periodic Review, which assesses the human rights records of all States. The Council must address human rights abuses wherever they occur.”With children reading out articles of the Declaration in their national languages, Council President Martin Ihoeghian Uhomoibhi said 60 years on, the text continued to be a living and relevant document for all, carrying its fundamental message to people everywhere in the world. Noting that the Declaration was born following the utter devastation of the Second World War, Mr. Ban stressed that the General Assembly was still adding to the human rights edifice with such texts as the recently adopted Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the treaty against enforced disappearances and the covenant enshrining the rights of the disabled.“The world did not adopt such an impressive list of human rights instruments just to put them on a shelf somewhere at the United Nations,” he said. “These should be living documents that can be wielded by experts who scrutinize country reports or assess individual complaints.”UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay also stressed that the Declaration gave impulse to a wide and growing legal architecture as well as advocacy vehicles. Today, the principles it embodied had found an echo in the constitutions and laws of more than 90 countries, and dedicated international, regional and national mechanisms, including her Office and the Council, she said.Mr. Ban praised the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the media in helping to uphold human rights. “Courageous journalists have risked and lost their lives to report on threats against others. This anniversary is a milestone for them, too – a day on which to stress again the need for media to be free to do their job, and free of harassment, intimidation and worse,” he added.Speaking to the press later, Mr. Ban said that it is necessary and desirable that the United States takes part as a member of the Human Rights Council. “I would expect and hope that the next Administration will seriously and positively consider my call on this matter.”He also noted his recent conversations with President-elect Barack Obama and other US officials, saying that he expects the new Administration to be much more actively engaged with the UN on climate change, the anti-poverty targets with a 2015 deadline known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and other issues on the world body”s agenda.In his message to the commemorative meeting, UN International Labour Organization (ILO) Director-General Juan Somavia said the Declaration placed respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms squarely in the context of the fight against poverty and the promotion of social progress. But its goals and aspirations still remained distant and unrealized for millions of working women and men worldwide, he stressed. The current economic turmoil required all the more a focus on ensuring respect for human rights.In another message to the session, the Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said fatality figures for the occupied Palestinian territory had surely to make the world question its commitment to upholding the right to life, the most fundamental of all rights. More than 500 Palestinians had been killed this year as a result of the conflict and 11 Israelis had lost their lives this year, she noted.The right to freedom of movement enshrined in the Universal Declaration also remained a distant hope for many Palestinians. With an estimated 10,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons, the declaration that everyone had the right to liberty and security of person and that no one should be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment had a sad resonance today, she added.In Gaza, more than half of the population now lived below the deep poverty line. This was a humanitarian crisis, but one that was deliberately imposed by political actors. Overarching all these rights was the right of self-determination, a right of which Palestinians had been deprived through 60 years of exile and dispossessions, she declared. The chasm between word and deed was a matter of puzzlement to many Palestinians.“But this can be reversed and protection is the place to start,” she said. “Let us make the protection of Palestinian rights the byword of all our interventions. Let us make the vision of the signatories of the Universal Declaration a reality continued failure to do so is to our universal shame.”In New York renowned pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim, a UN Messenger of Peace who will perform in a commemorative concert in the General Assembly on Monday with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra composed of Arab and Israeli youth, told a news conference that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could only be solved when each side accepted the rights of the other.“And our very modest project of the West-Eastern Divan is precisely that. It is not a political project, it is a human project that brings together people that already have something in common,” he said, noting that the performers would be Egyptian, Iranian, Israeli and Syrian.

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