On 12 December 2008, the Human Rights Council marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with a Commemorative session held in Geneva.
The Human Rights Council opened the Commemorative session with children reading out the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration in different languages.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and many high-level dignitaries representing member States of the Human Rights Council addressed the session, offering a platform to present national, regional and international initiatives launched on the occasion of the anniversary.
In his address, UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon said, “We have come a long way […] but the reality is that we have not lived up to its vision – at least not yet.”
“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.”
In her address to the Council, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navi Pillay said, “The recent food emergencies, the degradation of the natural environment, the current financial crisis and the unrest that they engender all underscore that those who are at the frontlines of hardship are also most likely to be the victims of the ripple effects of human rights violations.”
Ms Pillay said an evaluation of the Universal Declaration finds it “as relevant today as it was 60 years ago.”
However she said, “Let us never forget that tens of millions of people around the world are still unaware that they have rights they can demand, and that their governments are accountable to them, and to a wide-ranging body of rights-based national and international law […] it is essential that we keep up the momentum, and thereby enable more and more people to realize their rights.”
Ms Pillay said, “Crucial to the realization of all human rights for all people is the involvement of civil society, including non-governmental organizations and a free press.”
President of the Human Rights Council, Dr. Martin I. Uhomoibhi said, “One of the fundamental challenges we face today is awareness raising, that is how to make sure people, ordinary people, know their rights, so that they can claim them.”
And he underlined “The local level, is where we must concentrate our efforts to make human rights a “living reality”.
Nelson Mandela also sent a special message on the occasion of the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, read out by one of the student of the International School of Geneva.
In his message, Mandela recalled ten years ago, when the Declaration reached 50, “we told the United Nations General Assembly that the challenge posed by the next 50 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights consisted in whether humanity, especially those occupying positions of leadership, would have the courage to build a human world consistent with the articles of the historic Declaration.
“Today this pressing challenge remains more relevant than ever.
“Human rights are in our hands. Our generation, and the men and women who drafted the Declaration 60 years ago, have done our part. Now it is in your hands to ensure that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights becomes a reality to all.”
Finally, since the adoption of the Declaration much had been accomplished: some small steps, major victories. The Declaration has unequivocally shown the way forward, but we must continue to pursue this path without hesitation if we want to ensure that – as expressed by H.E. Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, “Every human being has the right to an integral development ant ‘the sacred right’ to live in peace”.
By Floriana Polito, International Delegate at the UN in Geneva