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MARKING THE SEVENTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF THE UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS, HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE OPENS ITS ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-SECOND SESSION JOINTLY WITH COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS

12 March 2018

The Human Rights Committee this morning opened its one hundred and twenty-second session at the Palais Wilson in Geneva, hearing a video message by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, and an address by Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The session was opened jointly with the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to mark the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The opening session was co-chaired by Yuji Iwasawa, Chair of the Human Rights Committee, and Maria Virginia Bras Gomes, Chair of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, following which the Human Rights Committee adopted agenda and programme of work for its session.

At the beginning of the joint session, Ms. Bras Gomes delivered the initial statement in which she said that a vision of a world where everyone lived free from fear and free from want and the aspiration of universality of all human rights required a new sense of urgency, in a world marred by growing fractures and the inequality within and between countries.  The principles, values and aspirations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, further materialized in the two International Covenants and the core human rights treaties, must guide States in guaranteeing what was unchangeable under all circumstances and that was perhaps more valuable than seventy years ago – the human dignity.

In his video address, High Commissioner Zeid stressed that it was the universality of human rights that had given the Universal Declaration of Human Rights such a deep resonance since 1948.  No other document in history had been translated in so many languages and in every one of them it brought people hope; it was called the closest the humanity had gotten to a global constitution.  Recognizing that the division of rights into two Covenants was a response to the political pressures of the Cold War era, High Commissioner stressed that it did not correspond to any sound logic because civil and political rights, economic, social and cultural rights, and the right to development built upon each other and advanced together. The joint celebration of this unity of vision was a strong message of a shared determination to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, concluded the High Commissioner.

Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that in 2018 it was necessary to recall – and to affirm – that the Declaration had derived from cultures and traditions the world over, and it embodied the diverse legal and religious traditions.  It was a phoenix rising from the rubble and ruination of the cruellest that human kind could do to each other, and a text and an intent that would stand the test of time, she said.  Human rights demanded that Governments served the people not dominated them, that economic systems enabled dignity not exploitation, that decision-making systems were participatory not exclusionary, that accountability was not a fiend of impunity.

The seventieth anniversary was an occasion to celebrate the impact of the two iconic Committees, said Ms. Gilmore, noting that they had helped formulate national constitutions and national laws; abolish the death penalty and abandon the austerity measures; lead to the development of new human rights treaties and tackled the contemporary challenges that required universal solutions rooted in the indivisibility of rights; and had given States the tools they needed to uphold the human rights of their people.  But this was also a reminder of just how far the humanity still had to travel, she said.  Calling on the two Committees to show leadership and courage, Deputy High Commissioner urged all to stand up for human rights – universal, indivisible interdependent, and inalienable, for the sake of each and every one and to the exclusion of none.

Addressing the gathering on behalf of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Mohamed Ezzeldin Abdel-Moneim, Committee Vice-Chair, remarked that the two Covenants made one bird, and the two Committees were wings without which the bird could not fly.  On behalf of the Human Rights Committee, Ivana Jelic, Committee Vice-Chair, stressed that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a cornerstone for all human rights instruments, which had a special significance particularly in countries in transition. 

Heisoo Shin, Vice-Chair of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, paid special tribute to the countless human rights defenders who had brought progress in human rights and who were responsible for the rights people enjoyed today.  Yuval Shany, Vice-Chair of the Human Rights Committee, took stock of the progress made by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, noting that it had given to the international human rights law and international human rights movements a sense of direction and a grand vision.  Zdzislaw Kedzia, Vice-Chair of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, stressed that the impact of commemoration must be measured by the contribution to the future, and stressed the importance of prevention of human rights violations that was embedded in the Declaration.  Margo Waterval, Rapporteur of the Human Rights Committee, highlighted the importance of educating people on human rights and the critical importance of the follow up to Committee’s concluding observations.

In the final remarks, Yuji Iwasawa, Chair of the Human Rights Committee, underlined that this joint session was a step forward in unifying efforts and strengthening cooperation between the two Covenants.  Hopefully, it would mark a beginning in the work of the two Committees towards fortifying the commitment to the Declaration and the rights they were seeking to protect.  Today, it was ever important to stand up and speak up for the rights of others, said Mr. Iwasawa, noting that the voices would be louder if the two Committees spoke together.

Following the joint session with the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Human Rights Committee adopted the agenda of the session and heard a presentation of the report of the Working Group on communications which had met from 5 to 9 March 2018 and had considered 35 communications, of which five had been found inadmissible.  The Woking Group proposed 22 views where it had found violations and three views with no violations, and five communications had been declared inadmissible.

The Human Rights Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. today 12 March to consider the fourth periodic report of Guatemala (CCPR/C/GTM/4).

Joint Opening Session with the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

MARIA VIRGINIA BRAS GOMES, Committee Chairperson, in her opening remarks, affirmed that all human beings were born free and equal in dignity, and a vision of a world where everyone lived free from fear and free from want.  This aspiration of universality of all human rights required a new sense of urgency, she said.  The world was a more rights-respecting now than it had been seventy years ago when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights had been adopted, but it was also a world of growing fractures: material and other forms of deprivation persisted amid the affluence of the twenty-first century; inequality within and between countries continued to grow; the benefits of development were not being equally shared; conflicts destroyed lives and hopes for a better world; climate change affected the most vulnerable the most; while migrants and refugees and all those seeking a safe heaven and better opportunities for their children were faced with closed or closing borders.  The principles, values and aspirations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, further materialized in the two International Covenants and the core human rights treaties, must guide States in guaranteeing what was unchangeable under all circumstances, and that was perhaps more valuable than seventy years ago, the human dignity.

ZEID RA’AD AL HUSSEIN, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, stressed in a video statement, that the universality of human rights was what bind humanity together, with all its differences; in the conviction that all human life was valuable, everyone was equal in the rights and dignity.  It was this universality what had given the Universal Declaration of Human Rights such a deep resonance since 1948.  No other document in history had been translated in so many languages and in every one of them it brought people hope; it was called the closest the humanity had gotten to a global constitution.  The Vienna Declaration took this notion of universality a step further by acknowledging the inseparability of human rights: all States recognized that all human rights were indivisible, interdependent and interrelated.  The division of rights into two Covenants was a response of the Cold War era political pressures and did not correspond to any sound logic: civil and political rights, economic, social and cultural rights, and the right to development built upon each other and advanced together.  Even if a person’s right to speak out and protest were recognized, she was not truly free if she was constrained by lack of education or inadequate living conditions; and even a wealthy person was not living well if he lived in fear of arbitrary detention by his Government.  The joint celebration of this unity of vision was a strong message of a shared determination to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, concluded the High Commissioner.

KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in her statement, that seven decades had passed, and still the Universal Declaration of Human Rights rang out true, strong and clarion in a recognition that all were born equal in dignity and rights.  In 2018, it was necessary to recall and to affirm that the Declaration had derived from cultures and traditions the world over and embodied the diverse legal and religious traditions: it had blended with Africa’s traditions of interdependence and collective responsibility, weaving in ideals derived from Qur’anic references to the universal dignity of humankind, to justice and responsibility to future generations.  It was a phoenix rising from the rubble and ruination of the cruellest that human kind could do to each other, and a text and an intent that would stand the test of time.  Because of the critical contributions to the drafting of the Declaration by delegates from China, India, Pakistan, Russia, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, and Latin American countries, on fundamental issues including gender equality, equality in marriage, child marriage, international application rights, racial equality, and many others, this “consensus on the supreme values of the human person” had been agreed.  It was humbling to ask whether such a document could be drafted by such Member States today, remarked Ms. Gilmore.

Many countries also saw the Declaration’s principles as a powerful support for their liberation movements fighting to end colonialist exploitation around the world, and they were right because human rights were not an instrument of, or for, domination by any power.  To the contrary, they endorsed as fundamental the freedom of people everywhere, and defined the substance of free individuals as the building blocks of humane human society.  Human rights demanded that Governments served the people not dominated them, that economic systems enabled dignity not exploitation, that decision-making systems were participatory not exclusionary, that accountability was not a fiend of impunity.

The seventieth anniversary was an occasion to celebrate the impact of the two iconic Committees which had helped formulate national constitutions and national laws; abolish the death penalty and abandon the austerity measures; lead to the development of new human rights treaties and found protection and remedy for justice and injustice imposed on many; tackled the contemporary challenges that required universal solutions rooted in the indivisibility of rights; and had given States the tools they needed to uphold the human rights of their people.

This was indeed a year for milestones, reflected the Deputy High Commissioner: one hundred years ago women’s suffrage had advanced irreversibly and Nelson Mandela had been born; fifty years ago Martin Luther King had been assassinated; twenty-five years ago the Vienna Declaration had established the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; and the Rome Statute for accountability of the gravest of human rights violations had been adopted twenty years ago as had been the declaration protecting human rights defenders.  All those were a reminder of just how far the world had come, and in this journey, the two Committees had played a critical part.  But this was also a reminder of just how far the humanity still had to travel.  Calling on the two Committees to show leadership and courage, Deputy High Commissioner urged all to stand up for human rights – universal, indivisible interdependent, and inalienable, for the sake of each and every one and to the exclusion of none.

YUJI IWASAWA, Chair of the Human Rights Committee, delivering the final and closing remarks, underlined that this joint session was not only an occasion to celebrate the impact of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but a step forward in unifying efforts and strengthening cooperation between the two Covenants.  Hopefully, it would mark a beginning in the work of the two Committees towards fortifying the commitment to the Declaration and the rights they were seeking to protect.  Today, it was ever important to stand up and speak up for the rights of others, said Mr. Iwasawa, noting that the voices would be louder if the two Committees spoke together.

For use of the information media; not an official record CCPR/18/01E

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