HRC52 - UN SG António Guterres Opening Statement - 27Feb23
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Statements | OHCHR , UNOG

HRC52 - UN SG António Guterres Opening Statement - 27 Feb. 2023

(All-English and all-French versions will be posted here:






Geneva, 27 February 2023 

As delivered 



The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted 75 years ago.   


The Declaration described, for the first time, entitlements that apply to everyone, everywhere, always.  


The most translated document in the world, its English version is just 1300 words long.  


But all human life is there.   


The Universal Declaration sets out the rights to life, liberty and security; to equality before the law; to freedom of expression; to seek asylum; to work, to healthcare and education, and more.    

But as we mark its 75th anniversary, the Universal Declaration is under assault from all sides.  


The Russian invasion of Ukraine has triggered the most massive violations of human rights we are living today.  


It has unleashed widespread death, destruction and displacement. 


Attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure have caused many casualties and terrible suffering. 


The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has documented dozens of cases of conflict-related sexual violence against men, women and girls. 


And serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law against prisoners of war – and hundreds of cases of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions of civilians – were also documented. 


Unfortunately, the Universal Declaration of Human rights, which should be our common blueprint, is too often misused and abused.  


It is exploited for political gain; and it is ignored – often by the very same people.  


Some governments chip away at it. Others use a wrecking ball.  


And today’s public disregard and private disdain for human rights are a wake-up call.  


This is a moment to stand on the right side of history.  


A moment to stand up for the human rights of everyone, everywhere.  


We must revitalize the Universal Declaration and ensure its full implementation to face the new challenges of today and tomorrow.  


My Call to Action for Human Rights, launched three years ago in this chamber, is the blueprint.  

Human rights are not a luxury that can be left until we find a solution to the world’s other problems.  


They are the solution to many of the world’s other problems. 


From the climate emergency to the misuse of technology, the answers to today’s crises are found in human rights.  


Human rights are innate to being human.  


The Hindu Vedas, the Ancient Chinese Analects of Confucius, the Bible and the Koran all set out very similar duties and rights.  


The Declaration on the Rights of Man and the Citizen, a cornerstone of the French Revolution in 1789, set out rights to liberty, property, to freedom of speech, the press and religion.  


But these rights extended exclusively to men who were citizens – not to women, slaves, or minorities. When a French women’s rights activist published a parody of the men-only revolution, she was tried and executed for treason.  


Less than ninety years [later], in 1875, my maternal grandfather was born.  


He was an important role model and an inspiration throughout my life --a man who told me so much about his experiences that they became part of my own memories.  


When he was born, the colonial project, based on massive human rights violations, was flourishing across Africa, Asia and the Americas.   


Slavery – the utter denial of human rights – had recently been abolished in the United States – but would continue elsewhere and in other forms for many years.  


Women everywhere were subjugated by men.  


Although my grandfather’s life began in an era of human rights horrors, we saw incredible progress.  


Slavery was formally abolished; most colonies won independence; women secured the right to vote. There was widespread recognition of civil and political rights, including to free speech and association.  


At the start of the twentieth century, the harmful impact of industrialization brought attention to social and economic rights.   


Civil society and the Trade Union movement led the fight for the rights to education, healthcare, social security and decent working conditions for everybody.  


Half a century later, from the carnage of two world wars and the appalling crimes of the Holocaust, a transformative moment saw the birth of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 


The Universal Declaration sets out the rights inherent to all people for all time – an unparalleled achievement.  


And thanks to the efforts of the Indian women’s rights activist, Hansa Mehta, the equal rights of women and men were explicit from the start: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” 


My grandfather’s generation benefited from a century of progress on human rights that went hand-in-hand with remarkable leaps in human development.  


In 1900, some 80 percent of people around the world lived in poverty. That figure had fallen to less than 10 percent by 2015.  


The average person lived 32 years. Today, it’s more than 70.  


Seven out of every ten people were illiterate. Now it’s less than two. 


Instead of continuing this progress, we have now gone into reverse.  


Extreme poverty and hunger are rising for the first time in decades.  


Nearly half of the world’s population, 3.5 billion people, live in climate hotspots. These vast areas are fast becoming human rights disaster zones where floods, droughts and storms mean people are 15 times more likely to die of climate impacts.   


A record one hundred million people have been forced to flee by violence, conflict and human rights violations.  


Just yesterday, yet another horrific shipwreck in the Mediterranean claimed the lives of scores of people seeking a better future for themselves and their children.  


Refugee and migrant rights are human rights.  


They must be respected without discrimination.  


While criminal gangs control migration routes, people will continue to perish. We need safe, orderly, legal routes for migrants and refugees.  


And we must do everything possible to prevent the loss of life by providing search and rescue and medical care – as a humanitarian imperative, and as a moral and legal obligation.  


Every day brings new evidence of human rights violations, from summary executions and torture to enforced disappearance and sexual violence.     


Around the world, antisemitism, anti-Muslim bigotry, the persecution of Christians, racism and white supremacist ideology are on the march.   


Religious, linguistic and ethnic minorities, LGBTQI+, and other minority communities are targeted for harassment and hatred.  


Women’s sexual and reproductive rights are denied; and gender-based discrimination and violence are rampant.  


Freedom of expression is in freefall and the number of media workers killed around the world last year rose by a horrific 50 percent.  


Inequalities of all kinds are dividing societies ever more deeply.  


Social cohesion and trust are draining away through the yawning gap between the haves and have-nots.  


The pandemic left us with a pandemic of abuses of civil and political rights.  


And it laid bare routine violations of economic and social rights, including the exploitation of women’s unpaid care work.   


Looking forward gives rise to even greater alarm.   


Unless humanity kicks its addiction to fossil fuels now, critical climate tipping points will crush the human rights of generations to come.   


The misuse of new technologies could threaten human rights on a scale we can’t even imagine.   

Future generations could inherit a world with no protection from misinformation, disinformation and lies.   


A divided world of winner takes all.  


We must heed the lessons of history.  


As flashpoints multiply and deadly new risks loom, we must fight for our rights.   


We must protect and promote the global consensus around the Universal Declaration and move forward into a new era of human rights for all.   


This requires both a laser focus on the rights we have already recognized – and a quantum leap towards a new generation of rights.  


The report on Our Common Agenda sets out a vision for the future with people and their rights at the centre.  


A new social contract to rebuild trust and social cohesion.  


A New Global Deal to heal divisions and give developing countries a greater voice in decision-making.   


And a New Agenda for Peace, based on a holistic vision of the peace continuum from prevention to mediation, peacekeeping and peacebuilding.  


The Call to Action for Human Rights sets out seven areas for urgent attention: rights at the core of sustainable development; rights in times of crisis; gender equality; civic space; future generations; collective action; and new frontiers.  


We at the United Nations are changing the way we work, recognizing that human rights are central to everything we do.  


We are prioritizing the connections between human rights and the prevention of conflicts and crises of all kinds.  


In July this year, the High Commissioner and I will launch a new Agenda for Protection.  


This important initiative will seek to strengthen support from across the United Nations system to Member States to protect people and their rights, both in times of peace and in times of crisis and conflict.  


J’ai eu le privilège de travailler avec trois Hauts-Commissaires : Zeid bin Ra’ad al Hussein de Jordanie, Michelle Bachelet du Chili, et à présent Volker Türk d’Autriche.  


Tous sont des leaders et défenseurs des droits humains remarquables. 


Ils ont accompli les missions confiées par ce Conseil, et ont également publié de leur propre chef plus de 170 rapports nationaux et thématiques importants au cours de ces dix dernières années. 


Ces rapports portent notamment sur les changements climatiques au Sahel, les migrations en Europe et dans les Amériques, et les préoccupations en matière de droits humains dans différents contextes, notamment en Afghanistan, au Chili, en Éthiopie, au Guatemala, en Libye, au Sahel, en Ukraine et au Xinjiang… pour n’en citer que quelques-uns. 


Ce Conseil, vos différents mécanismes, y compris l’Examen périodique universel, les Procédures spéciales et les Organes de suivi des traités, ainsi que le Haut-Commissariat, sont essentiels pour créer une dynamique de progrès. 


Cette institution soutient les efforts des défenseurs et défenseuses des droits humains qui, avec courage, risquent la persécution, la détention et même la mort dans l’accomplissement de leur travail vital. 


Vos missions d’établissement des faits, vos commissions d’enquête et vos experts indépendants sont essentiels aux principes de justice et de responsabilité. 


La Cour Internationale de Justice occupe un rôle unique en matière de justice et de responsabilité internationales. 


La Cour Pénale Internationale est l’institution centrale du système de justice pénale internationale; elle incarne la vocation de placer les auteurs des crimes les plus graves face à leurs responsabilités. 


Je me réjouis des progrès accomplis afin que les violations des droits humains soient poursuivies aux niveaux national et régional – y compris les violations commises par le secteur privé. 


Les actions en justice à l’encontre des entreprises qui détruisent le climat constituent une avancée importante. 


Les producteurs de combustibles fossiles et leurs financiers doivent comprendre une vérité élémentaire : la poursuite de méga-profits, alors que tant de personnes perdent leur vie et leurs droits, aujourd’hui et à l’avenir, est totalement inacceptable. 


Alors que nous célébrons l’impact de la Déclaration universelle des droits de l’homme, notre pire ennemi est la complaisance. 


Car en matière de droits humains, l’histoire reste à écrire. 


Nous devons continuer à faire des droits humains une réalité dans la vie des populations du monde entier. 


Nous devons nous inspirer des mouvements de libération et de protestation qui ont accompli d’énormes avancées au cours du siècle dernier – l’abolition de l’esclavage, la décolonisation, le suffrage universel, le mouvement féministe et la fin de l’apartheid. 


La société civile, les défenseurs des droits humains, les personnes en situation de handicap, les femmes, les filles et les jeunes du monde entier sont déjà dans la rue, et exigent la protection de tous les droits humains, pour toutes et pour tous. 


Je suis à leurs côtés. Nous devons tous être à leurs côtés. 


Et je vous remercie.  

  • Opening Statement by: Secretary-General of the United Nations Mr. António Guterres


    Opening of the session by the President of the Human Rights Council Mr. Václav Bálek

    Opening Statements by:

    • President of the 77th session of the General Assembly Mr. Csaba Kőrösi
    • Secretary-General of the United Nations Mr. António Guterres
    • United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mr. Volker Türk
    • Host country Mr. Ignazio Cassis, Chef du Département fédéral des Affaires étrangères de la Confédération suisse


    Afternoon High-Level dignitaries:

    • Democratic Republic of the Congo M. Félix-Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, Président de la République démocratique du Congo
    • Montenegro Milo Đukanović, President of Montenegro
    • Colombia Gustavo Petro Urrego, President of Colombia

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