New York, 11 December 2017
I am very pleased to be with you today to begin a year-long celebration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Over seven decades, this mighty document has helped to profoundly change our world.
It establishes the equality and dignity of every human being.
It stipulates that every government has a duty to enable all people to enjoy their inalienable rights and freedoms.
And it establishes that these rights are universal.
Wherever we live, whatever our circumstances or our place in society, our gender or sexual orientation, our race or religion or belief, we are all equal in human rights and in dignity.
Let me emphasise this point: human rights are not bound by any single tradition, culture or belief.
When the world’s nations adopted the Universal Declaration in 1948, they acknowledged the diversity of cultures and political systems.
But they also affirmed the Declaration as a “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”.
And it is by this essential yardstick that history will judge the leaders of nations and the United Nations itself.
Have we, through our actions and our advocacy, advanced respect for human dignity, equality and rights?
Have we created equitable and inclusive societies, based on justice and fair opportunities and services for all?
Have we advanced freedom from want and fear?
As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights enters its 70th year, we can take stock of some of the achievements it has enabled.
Over seven decades, humanity has achieved considerable progress.
People around the world have gained progressively greater freedoms and equality.
They have been empowered to oppose discrimination, fight for protections, and gain greater access to justice, health, education and development opportunities.
Conditions of profound economic misery and exploitation have been improved.
Women’s rights have advanced, along with the rights of the child, the rights of victims of racial and religious discrimination, the rights of people with disabilities and a multitude of economic, social and cultural rights.
Oppressive dictatorships have been replaced by participatory systems of governance.
Perpetrators of horrific human rights violations – including sexual violence and genocide – have been prosecuted by international tribunals.
So, there is much to celebrate, and many to thank.
We have to thank a generation of world leaders, who emerged from a world war convinced that only justice would build peace among and within nations.
And we have to thank activists and human rights defenders – hundreds of thousands of ordinary people around the world who have mobilized to defend fundamental rights with immense courage, often in the face of extreme danger.
But as well as celebrating, we must also take stock of where we have fallen short.
In practice, recognition of the inherent dignity and equal rights of human beings is still far from universal.
Millions of people continue to suffer human rights violations and abuses around the world.
And human rights defenders still face persecution, reprisals are rising and the space for civil society action is shrinking in very many nations.
But the founders of the United Nations were right.
Lasting peace and security can never be achieved in any country without respect for human rights.
The Sustainable Development Agenda – which aims to lift millions from poverty and enable them to access their economic and social rights — is deeply rooted in respect for human rights.
So, Excellencies and ladies and gentlemen, we are here today not just to mark another anniversary and then go about our usual business.
We are here to reflect on the core and enduring importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to engage those around us to put its powerful words into practice.
We are here to affirm the existential commitment of the whole UN system to ensure that the central focus of all our policies is the advancement of human dignity, equality and rights.
And we are here to speak out and take a stand for human rights.
All of us have a role to play — at work, in the street, in our daily lives.
As Secretary-General, I take the pledge that we are all being asked to take today by the UN Human Rights Office – the pledge is the following:
“I will respect your rights regardless of who you are.
I will uphold your rights even when I disagree with you.
When anyone’s human rights are denied, everyone’s rights are undermined, so I will stand up.
I will raise my voice. I will take action. I will use my rights to stand up for your rights.”
As Secretary-General, I am committed and will remain engaged in human rights, including by speaking out for those in need, promoting justice for all, and by ensuring that human rights are integrated throughout the work of the United Nations.
This is the path to a world of peace, dignity and opportunity for all.
Thank you very much.