For information only - not an official document.
Press Release No:  UNIS/SG/2533
Release Date:  4 April 2000
 Secretary-General, in Address to Commission on Human Rights,
Underscores Need to Bridge Gap Between Rights, Realities

  NEW YORK, 3 April (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the address of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Commission on Human Rights, to be delivered in Geneva on 4 April:

 It is a pleasure to join you once again at your annual session. I have always considered this Commission to be among the most important organs of the United Nations –- but never more so than today. As you will recall from my address last year, I believe we are living in the age of human rights –- an age where the awareness of the rights of every individual has done more to bring down barriers and boundaries than any force of arms, or of commerce or trade. It is by acknowledging our common human rights that we acknowledge our common humanity.

 This year, I wish to build on the promise of this age by affirming the place of human rights in the international rule of law and underscoring how we all -– international organizations, member States and non-governmental organizations -– can do more and do better to bridge the gap between rights and realities. The universal demand for a world of law and of dignity and rights, of equality and non-discrimination, of peace and of justice -– can no longer be ignored. The question today is how best to bring it about. 

 The peoples of the world who today are in distress, in need or under oppression and subjected to violations of their human rights need action -– genuine, effective and lasting action in defence of their rights and liberties. It is up to their governments, to us and to all who care about human dignity to answer this call without delay. We all have the power to bring human rights one step closer to the ideal set forth by the founders of our United Nations. 

 The great human rights instruments which form the basis of your work provide a guide for our efforts, and a standard by which we can measure the record of any and every State in meeting its commitments to its citizens, and to the world. Allow me to underline this point. No State, whether developed or developing, can claim that its work is done; every State can help our common efforts to implement human rights provisions more effectively and more comprehensively. That is why I believe each annual meeting of the Human Rights Commission brings us one step further –- in revealing the progress made thus far, as well as the work that remains to be done.

 We can renew our efforts, above all, by ensuring that human rights are established as an essential component of the rule of law in international affairs. Once and for all, we must make clear that the rights for which we fight are not the rights of States or factions, but the rights of the individual human being to live in dignity and freedom.

 We have much to build on in this pursuit. Let us remember, first of all, that one of the purposes of the United Nations, accepted by every Member State under Article 1 of the Charter, is to promote and encourage "respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion". The language could hardly be clearer or more emphatic. And its implications for Member States are spelled out in detail in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in the conventions and covenants to which almost all Member States have subscribed.

 Without doubt, these undertakings impose a heavy responsibility on every government. But that responsibility should also be seen as a privilege. By implementing it, a government can unleash the full potential of its people in every sphere of life, from the economic, social and cultural to the civil and political. This is the promise of human rights -- to endow every man and woman with the ability to make the most of their potential and create for themselves and their communities a better world.

 International human rights law makes clear that every government must be able to show that it has in place a system for protecting human rights. I believe there has been progress in the work of governments to ensure that their constitution and laws are in conformity with those norms, and that their courts apply international human rights norms. But I believe still more can be done. No government can rest, and no people should remain satisfied, until this aim is achieved.

 The obligation of governments is made still weightier by the fact that the defence of human rights is universal in nature. Violations of human rights are no longer considered an internal matter. International human rights law is emphatic that when human rights are being violated the international community has a right and a duty to respond, and to come to the assistance of the victims. 

 This Commission led the way in the historic struggle against gross violations of human rights. I call upon you today to be steadfast in continuing to stand up against violations of human rights wherever they may occur in the world. As you may recall, this was the theme of my address to this Commission last year. Nothing that has happened since gives me any reason to doubt the importance of pursuing this noble cause still further.

 Indeed, events during the last year have only confirmed my belief that there can be no turning back from the principle that human rights are sacred, regardless of frontiers. Increasingly, it is recognized that national constitutional or legal provisions cannot override a State's international legal obligations –- least of all in the area of human rights, where the fate of entire groups of the population may be at stake. On the contrary, by ratifying an international agreement, a State accepts the obligation to bring its national laws into line with the international norm.

 At this year’s Commission, I urge you to give new momentum to our common struggle to place development at the service of human rights, and human rights at the service of development. Now, more than ever, we recognize that one cannot thrive without the other. Just as development is a human right, so are human rights at the core of meaningful development.

 Where dissent is forbidden, where expression is curtailed, where the flow of ideas and the exchange of views are limited by force, human well-being and prosperity are threatened and conflict made more likely. The fact is that economic success and development depend in large measure on the quality of governance enjoyed by a country and its people. 
 The rule of law; transparency and accountability in the management of public affairs; respect for human rights; and the full participation of all citizens in the decisions of government -– these are all essential conditions of the kind of growth and prosperity that make development possible. These are the lessons of the past half-century, and they impose on all of us an obligation to protect each human right by protecting them all.

 At this first Human Rights Commission of the twenty-first century, let me conclude by recalling the words of the President of the General Assembly when the Covenants were adopted in 1966. Abdul Rahman Pazhwak of Afghanistan said on that occasion that if the United Nations could be said to have any ideology, it must be, surpassing all others, the ideology of human rights.

 In that spirit, let me appeal, once again, to States that have not yet done so to ratify the two Covenants and the principal international human rights instruments, so that the universal realization of human rights can be given practical expression. 

 But universal ratification is only one step on the road. What we must aim for is universal implementation. In other words, we must achieve concrete progress in the lives of those who need our help the most -– those who still suffer from the denial of their most basic rights. Let their hopes and aspirations be your inspiration in the work that lies ahead.

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