On 11 December 2017, Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General, launched a year-long campaign to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights alongside Mr Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, H.E. Ms Zohour Alaoui, President of the UNESCO General Conference, and Mr Robert Badinter, former Minister of Justice and former President of the Constitutional Court of France.
“This is an appropriate occasion for reaffirming alongside the High Commissioner, the centrality of human rights protection in the history and the mandate of UNESCO,” said the Director-General. It is also an occasion for “measuring the progress made and the challenges to be addressed.” Among those challenges the Director-General placed emphasis on four: the risks deriving from the ignorance and disregard of human rights; the dramatic consequences of terrorism and the rise of violent extremism; the resurgence of cultural relativism; and the regress of multilateralism. All these realities “call for new ways of defending and articulating human rights, (…) for stronger monitoring, (…) stronger alliances” and “for new rights, pushing forward the frontiers of dignity.”
In his keynote address, the High Commissioner noted that despite the positive balance of impact over the years, we are at a critical juncture. Our commonly agreed principles are under growing pressure, the pillar of justice undermined and the sense of shame in the face of human rights violations depleted. We must stand up for human rights, using our own know-how for building the path to security and peace.
The President of UNESCO’s General Conference stated that we cannot be satisfied with the progress made in the face of such challenges as the plight of refugees, the women victims of rape or modern forms of slavery and servitude. “There is no universality of human rights in all this,” she said. Mindful of the complementarities, she expressed the wish for a stronger cooperation and interaction between UNESCO and OHCHR.
For Robert Badinter, UNESCO, the home of just causes, has a responsibility to act, building on the inexhaustible moral force of the Universal Declaration, against the degradation of the environment, the abhorrent violations of the dignity and physical integrity of women and girls and the discrimination and exclusion suffered by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. Within the context of such efforts, it is fundamental to protect human rights defenders because “they are the salt of the earth,” he said. “Today, the Declaration remains the moral horizon of our time.”
UNESCO is keen that the opportunity of the year-long mobilization across the organization and the entire UN – can prompt more coherent and comprehensive action, allowing us to better respond, in close collaboration with the full constellation of actors promoting human rights, to the development needs on the ground of our Member States.