4 December 2003





NEW YORK, 3 December (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s message on Human Rights Day, 10 December:



The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has served as a beacon of hope for our world for 55 years. So have the brave men and women who defend human rights in every country. Today, I wish to pay tribute to their commitment and their courage.


I do so less than four months after the United Nations lost its chief human rights defender -– Sergio Vieira de Mello, the High Commissioner for Human Rights -– who died along with 21 other dedicated servants of peace and human rights in the attack on United Nations headquarters in Baghdad. His death was a bitter blow to the cause of human rights.


Human rights defenders stand in the front lines of protection, casting the bright light of human rights into the darkest corners of tyranny and abuse. They work to safeguard the rule of law, to reduce violence, poverty and discrimination, and to build structures for freer, more equitable and more democratic societies. It is to them that many victims of human rights violations turn in their hour of need.


A few human rights defenders receive recognition -– for instance, the outstanding individuals and organizations who today will receive the 2003 United Nations Prizes in the Field of Human Rights; and Ms. Shirin Ebadi, who today will receive the Nobel Peace Prize for her courageous efforts to promote human rights. Yet most defenders of human rights receive little recognition or appreciation -– and many continue to be attacked, harassed, or persecuted for doing their vital work.


The defence of human rights is not simply the responsibility of such brave people. It is the responsibility of us all. We must all be human rights defenders. And a good place to start is to defend those who champion human rights.


I therefore salute each and every human rights defender, wherever you are. You each play an important role in building a world that lives up to the promise of the Universal Declaration -– a world that respects the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family. Your work is an inspiration to us all. And you are not alone.






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