“In the midst of war in Ukraine this week, it was particularly poignant for me to recall that, as the preamble of the Universal Declaration states, it is the “disregard and contempt for human rights” that “have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind,” he said.
“But even where the challenges seem intractable, if the leaders in politics and society would only centre their responses on human rights, the solutions will be always within sight. This is what the Universal Declaration states, it is what I believe, and it is what I hear from human rights defenders I have met from around the world. I heard it in Sudan last month – where civil society, led particularly by women and young people - have changed the equation on the ground, challenged society to move and evolve for the better, with more liberties,” the UN Human Right Chief said.
Human rights violations anywhere concern all of us, everywhere, Türk stressed, highlighting several crises that have somehow been forgotten.
“Among these is Haiti. A crisis that has now actually forced its way back into the headlines. It cannot be ignored. This is a country where armed gangs, reportedly supported by economic and political elites, control more than 60% of the capital. Where some 4.7 million face acute hunger. Since the beginning of this year, a staggering 1,448 people have been killed, 1,145 injured and 1,005 kidnapped by gangs.
“And remember that behind each of these numbers are entire families and communities that are torn apart by the violence. Gang members are also using sexual violence to instill fear and exert control over the population,” said Türk, referring to a report issued in October by the Human Rights Service of the UN Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH).
“This is a multifaceted and protracted crisis. But solutions exist. They require political courage and responsibility at a national and international level. The root causes of the crisis, especially social inequalities, rampant corruption, collusion between powerful elites and gang leaders, and endemic impunity, must be addressed.”
The recent Security Council sanctions regime and the targeted arms embargo against members of Haiti’s economic and political elites who reportedly support these gangs financially and operationally send a very strong message to those threatening Haiti’s peace, security and stability, Türk said.
“Yemen. This seemingly interminable conflict must be brought to an end. The truce needs to be renewed and expanded to enable discussions on a path toward a more comprehensive settlement. While large-scale hostilities and airstrikes have generally stopped, we continue receiving reports of civilian casualties, especially of children near the frontlines due to landmines and other Explosive Remnants of War,” said Türk. He also noted concerning allegations of gross human rights violations, including torture, arbitrary detention, trafficking, extortion, and sexual abuse of people fleeing to other countries. It is vital that of the work humanitarian actors can continue unhindered. “Five years after the start of the conflict in Cabo Delgado, Northern Mozambique, civilians continue to be killed, and subjected to sexual violence, abductions, enforced disappearances, with ongoing destruction of property including schools, health centres and places of worship. Almost one million people have been displaced, more than half of them children,” the High Commissioner said.
“Addressing the root causes of the conflict will require protecting economic and social rights, preserving civic space, ensuring access to justice and prioritising young people and women in socio-economic development and decision-making, including – and that’s very important in this context - on the use of natural resources that directly affect their lives.”
Returning to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Türk set out his vision for the coming year.
“I am launching the UDHR 75 initiative, as an opportunity to recall the consensus this Declaration envisaged. To reset and strengthen the remarkable human rights infrastructure we have constructed. To rekindle the spirit, impulse and vitality that forged the UDHR 75 years ago and to rejuvenate a worldwide consensus on human rights – one that unifies us in the face of so many challenges,” he said. The initiative will involve finding ways to renew interest in and commitment to human rights, especially among young people, and to come up with innovative ways to think about human rights challenges.
“UDHR 75 provides us with an opportunity for unity and hope, that mobilizes the world for the cause of human rights and that sets us on the path towards a better future, that is based on justice and equality for all,” Turk said.
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