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Rede von Günter Nooke bei der Gedenksitzung aus Anlass des 60. Jahrestages der Allgemeinen Erklärung der Menschenrechte (englisch)

12.12.2008 - Rede

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Mr Secretary-General,
Madame High Commissioner,
Mr President,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a success story and we therefore have every reason to commemorate its 60th anniversary today. In 1948, visionary people, appalled at the most severe human rights violations, most of which committed by my own country, gathered in Paris to draft and adopt this Magna Carta of international human rights protection. A number of conventions and protocols have since been added, making it a solid normative framework for the protection of human rights.

But we cannot shy away from the fact that, 60 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration, the most fundamental human rights continue to be violated on a large scale and in many parts of the world. It is not the normative framework which is missing, but its implementation. Hence, our thoughts today should also be with the victims and the many women and men in civil society who oftentimes risk their lives to defend and protect them.

Mr President,

Last year, in June 2007, we applauded Bishop Desmond Tutu when he addressed this Council. A few days ago he called for the resignation of President Mugabe in Zimbabwe, by force if need be. If someone like Bishop Tutu says this, it reveals the true magnitude of the crisis in Zimbabwe and the challenges for our human rights policy to protect the human rights of millions of women, men and children in that country.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Cultures may differ, religions may differ, but human rights are either universal or they are not human rights at all!

Article 2 of the Universal Declaration is very clear when it states that “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

It is this very article of the Universal Declaration which obliges us to reject any attempt to undermine the principle of universality of human rights, be it under the pretext of cultural diversity, difference in religion or other.

And it is this very article of the Universal Declaration which teaches us that human rights do not pertain to collective entities, but to each and every human being individually. It is thus to be regretted, without meaning to downplay the issue, that in the past years much focus was put on the question of defamation of religions and little on the individual right to freedom of religion and belief, including the right to change it, as enshrined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

But similar tendencies are to be observed also in the current debate about human rights protection in the fight against terrorism, a debate that is very lively also in my own country. It is my view that an alleged collective human right to security, with society as a whole as its bearer, should never be admitted as a human rights based concept overriding individual rights of liberty and justice.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Two days ago, all 192 UN member states unanimously vowed to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, and to step up their efforts to promote and protect universal human rights. This Council has a special responsibility to fulfil this promise!

Convening a special session on the situation in Eastern Congo two weeks ago signalled the willingness of this Council to live up to its task by addressing also country specific situations if the situation requires so.

Thank you, Mr President.

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