Please allow me on behalf of the NHRC Bangladesh to express to you heartiest congratulations on International Human Rights Day. Sixty five years ago, on this day, December 10, 1948, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Since then, December 10 is being celebrated worldwide as the Human Rights Day. For us, this day bears special significance –our dear motherland –The People’s Republic of Bangladesh is a direct product of one of the basic human rights i.e. the right of nations and peoples to self determination. We have reaped this harvest of human rights in the month of human rights –which coincides with our month of victory. Human rights day and the victory day are thus intertwined. So we have a wonderful feeling in our hearts, fanfare and merriment echo in every soul!
The theme of this year Human Rights Day is ‘Working for your Rights’. For effective protection of human rights it is not sufficient that a citizen is merely rights-conscious. S/he as well needs to be aware of duties-must never be negligent of or reluctant to perform his obligations. It has been proved time and again that if a person discharges his or her duties properly he need not worry for his rights because rights are then automatically realised.
We dream of establishing a society which will be based on a strong and effective human rights culture. For this to come to reality, we need to appreciate the multifaceted nature of the notion of human rights. In other words, it signifies that for better promotion and protection of human rights mere protection/realisation of civil and political rights are not adequate. Such rights need to be accompanied by ever increasing ambit of and access to economic, social and cultural rights of individuals.
Many human rights advocates believe that in a developing country like Bangladesh, economic, social and cultural rights heed primacy over civil and political rights. However, it needs no exaggeration to state that even in a situation of heightened realisation and protection of rights to food, shelter, education, medical care etc. if minimum standard of protection of civil and political rights is not ensured, an individual’s situation may be compared to a ‘bird in a golden cage’.
This may be one of the main reasons why the contemporary notion of ‘human rights’ evolves around ‘human dignity’. Every human being, merely for being born as a human, is entitled to ‘dignity’. Violation or infringement of human dignity, however negligible or meagre it may appear to be, is tantamount to violation of human rights.
‘Human dignity’ is the sum total of various kinds of rights and freedoms. To this, we should add the state of surrounding environment that provides a sense of security. Back in 1941, in his historic Four Freedoms Speech, the then President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that ‘Freedom from fear’ is a human right and must be ensured by all states for their citizens. So, today when we proclaim the theme ‘ Working for your Rights’ –we automatically assume the responsibility to ensure that all our citizens irrespective of caste, creed, religion, faith, belief or philosophy are able to lead a life without fear of any kind.
Violence, unlawful coercion, terrorism spread fathomless fear in the society, cripples normal life of citizens and thus infringes ‘human dignity’. This must not be given any space in our societal life.
Moreover, if we truly believe in human rights we must acknowledge the indispensability of prosecuting the perpetrators of human rights. If the culprits are not taken to book, human rights culture cannot spread its wings!
In order to realise the theme of this year’s Human Rights Day –:’working for your Rights’, we must repose complete faith in the age old wisdom-’We are for each other’.
Let us dedicate our efforts to realising this truth, let us express our free allegiance and respect for human rights for all, everywhere, equally. This may be the key to realising the dream of the Father of the nation, and the ultimate goal of the whole nation –Sonar Bangla or the Golden Bangladesh!
This year, as you know, marks 20 years since a historic document, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, was adopted, leading to the creation of my office – the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
During the Human Rights Day event, we will take stock of where we are today in the implementation of its promises, but also try to look forward over the next 20 years. Hopefully what we have done so far will enable us to face the challenges we will face in the future.
The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action crystallised the principle that human rights are universal. It committed States to the promotion and protection of all human rights for all people, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems.
In the past two decades, much has been achieved, indeed more than people perhaps realise. The fundamentals for protecting and promoting human rights are largely in place – the firm foundation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which is the basis for a strong and growing body of international human rights law and standards, as well as the institutions to interpret the laws, monitor compliance and apply these laws to new and emerging human rights issues.
Today, human rights are increasingly permeating all corners of the work of the United Nations, and that is fundamentally changing the way the UN works with national authorities and the international community. The key now is to implement the laws and standards to make enjoyment of human rights a reality on the ground. Unfortunately, too often, the political will, and the human and financial resources, to achieve this are lacking.
The 20 years since Vienna have seen many setbacks and a number of tragic failures to prevent atrocities and safeguard human rights. In several instances where deplorable, large-scale violations of international human rights law were occurring, the international community was too slow, too divided, too short-sighted – or just plain inadequate in its response to the warnings of human rights defenders and the cries of victims.
We can and we must do better.
The Vienna Declaration should be viewed as a blueprint for a magnificent construction that is still only half built. It should be viewed as a living document that can and should continue to guide our actions and goals.
In any vision for the future, the evolving role of information technology, which is transforming the way we do human rights work, must be taken into account. The World Wide Web, social media and IT innovations are dramatically improving real-time communications and information-sharing. They are also magnifying the voice of human rights defenders, shining a light on abuses, and mobilising support for various causes in many parts of the world.
It is essential that the space for human rights defenders is doggedly defended, both online and offline. It is also crucial that this space includes those who are frequently excluded from the political and even economic life, of a State. Women continue to suffer discrimination, violence and persecution. So too do ethnic, racial and religious minorities, and migrants, as well as individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This shows how far we still have to go.
On this Human Rights Day, I urge members States to focus on the many recommendations they receive from the UN system and to ensure effective and inclusive participation in drawing up national action plans to bring about real change. A huge amount of work remains to be done to transform human rights from abstract promises to genuine improvement in the daily lives of all people, especially those who are currently marginalised or excluded.
On our part, the UN Human Rights Office will continue to ensure that we work with national authorities to prevent human rights breaches from occurring. We will continue to be vocal about human rights violations and bring them to the attention of the international community when this is warranted.
The vision and goals we formulated 20 years ago in Vienna are still valid – and still worth fighting for now, over the next 20 years, and beyond.