For information only - not an official document.
       8 December 2000
High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Message for Human Rights Day

NEW YORK, 7 December (UN Headquarters) -- Each year on Human Rights Day we remember all those who are working at local, national, regional and international level for human rights.  The size of the human rights community is growing steadily and now encompasses people from all walks of life.   This year saw the appointment of the first ever Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders, a welcome recognition of the vital role which human rights defenders play, of their courage, and of the risks many take. 

The hope that a new century would mean a radical new start in instilling respect for human rights has not as yet been fulfilled.  Seeing first hand the human rights situation this year in Chechnya, East Timor, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Colombia has brought home to me forcefully the challenges we face.

The strongest and most troubling impression I came away with from my recent visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories was of two people, linked by history and geography but currently separated by a wide and growing gap in their perceptions of each other.  What I heard was essentially two different narratives with one side preoccupied - understandably - by security concerns and the other suffering the daily humiliation of the petty discriminations and powerlessness of occupation now aggravated by excessive use of force against them.  I have recommended the introduction of some form of international monitoring presence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories to help break the daily cycle of violence - with funerals on both sides - and encourage the resumption of dialogue.

I am convinced that the way to a peaceful, stable future for the Middle East is that all involved conform to the requirements of international human rights and humanitarian law. But that raises the essence of the challenge in every region of the world: to embed a culture of human rights through human rights education and training, to support capacity building directed to rule of law and justice systems, to ensure implementation at national level of the international human rights norms and standards.  Far more priority needs to be given to this, including more resources and better co-ordination of efforts between the UN agencies and programmes and regional organizations.  Above all, we need to put more emphasis on preventing human rights violations before they occur. 

The Millennium Summit Declaration  called for “a just and lasting peace all over the world in accordance with the objectives and principles of the UN Charter”.   I strongly believe that instilling respect for human rights is the surest foundation for achieving that goal.   A practical measure we can all take is to step up the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.  These are factors which lie at the root of many conflicts.   We have a unique opportunity to re-vitalize the struggle against racism and xenophobia as we prepare for the World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa next September.  Let us make use of this occasion to make a real difference in attitudes and strategies to combat racism.  That would be a practical contribution to building lasting peace and a true culture of human rights.

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