SPONSORED: Human Rights Day Secretary - General's Message for 2017

This year’s commemoration of Human Rights Day marks the beginning of a year-long celebration of seven decades since the adoption of one of the world’s most profound and far-reaching international agreements.

This year’s commemoration of Human Rights Day marks the beginning of a year-long celebration of seven decades since the adoption of one of the world’s most profound and far-reaching international agreements. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishes the equality and dignity of every human being and stipulates that every government has a core duty to enable all people to enjoy all their inalienable rights and freedoms.

All of us have a right to speak freely and participate in decisions that affect our lives. We all have a right to live free from all forms of discrimination. We have a right to education, health care, economic opportunities and a decent standard of living. We have rights to privacy and justice. These rights are relevant to all of us, every day. They are the foundation of peaceful societies and sustainable development.

Since the proclamation of the Universal Declaration in 1948, human rights have been one of the three pillars of the United Nations, along with peace and development. While human rights abuses did not end when the Universal Declaration was adopted, the Declaration has helped countless people to gain greater freedom and security. It has helped to prevent violations, obtain justice for wrongs, and strengthen national and international human rights laws and safeguards.

Despite these advances, the fundamental principles of the Universal Declaration are being tested in all regions. We see rising hostility towards human rights and those who defend them by people who want to profit from exploitation and division. We see hatred, intolerance, atrocities and other crimes. These actions imperil us all.

On this Human Rights Day, I want to acknowledge the brave human rights defenders and advocates, including UN staff, who work every day, sometimes in grave peril, to uphold human rights around the world. I urge people and leaders everywhere to stand up for all human rights – civil, political, economic, social and cultural -- and for the values that underpin our hopes for a fairer, safer and better world for all.

António Guterres

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Human Rights Day statement: By the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

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Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

“Human Rights Day falls on 10 December every year, the day when, back in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the world’s most widely translated* and possibly most influential document – was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly, itself just three years old at the time.”

“Thanks to the Universal Declaration, the daily life of millions has been improved, untold human suffering has been prevented and the foundations for a more just world have been laid. While its promise is yet to be fulfilled, the very fact that it has stood the test of time is testament to the enduring universality of its perennial values of equality, justice and human dignity.”

“Next year – on 10 December 2018 – we will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and this year’s Human Rights Day on Sunday marks the beginning of a year-long 70th anniversary commemoration.”

“It will also, I hope, be a year of intense and profound reflection on the continuing and vital importance of each and every one of the 30 articles contained in this extraordinary document.”

“The Universal Declaration was drawn up by a world wounded by war, the remedy prescribed by States to inoculate their populations against their own worst instincts and omissions. It was drawn up by representatives, and endorsed by leaders, of countries from all continents, who were – to quote from the Declaration’s preamble – fully, recently, sorely, aware that ‘disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind.’”

“It was drawn up with the memory and knowledge of the Holocaust, and the attitudes and accumulation of policies and practices that made it possible, seared on the conscience of those who failed to prevent it.”

“It was drawn up to cover not only civil and political rights, but also social, economic and cultural rights, in the full understanding that you cannot have development without human rights and you cannot have a full enjoyment of human rights without development – and peace and security depend on both.”

“Today, as World War II and the Holocaust grow distant, that awareness appears to be evaporating at an alarming rate, and the enormous progress that has been achieved through progressive enactment of human rights principles, as laid out in the Universal Declaration, is being increasingly forgotten or wilfully ignored.”

“The universality of rights is being contested across much of the world. It is under broad assault from terrorists, authoritarian leaders and populists who seem only too willing to sacrifice, in varying degrees, the rights of others, for the sake of power. Their combined influence has grown at the expense of liberal democratic order, peace and justice.”

“We see mounting cruelties and crimes being perpetrated in conflicts across the world; an antagonistic nationalism on the rise, with surging levels of racism, xenophobia and other forms of discrimination taking root, even in countries which had grown complacent in the belief these were problems of the past, rather than ones that could all too easily re-emerge and reassert themselves.”

“We see measures to end discrimination and promote greater justice – some of the fruits of the Universal Declaration and the immense body of law and practice it has spawned – starting to be being dismantled by those who seek profit from hatred and exploitation. We see a backlash against many human rights advances, including on the rights of women and those of many minorities, in the Americas, Asia, Africa and Europe.”

“We see political leaders who openly deny the fundamental truth of article 1 of the Universal Declaration which states that ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’ Political leaders who defy their forbears’ promise ‘to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance.’”

“The Universal Declaration is a commitment, by all States, that they will protect and promote human rights. It is essential that we continue to hold those States to account. But human rights are too important to be left to States alone – too precious to all of us, and to our children.”

“As we enter the 70th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration, it is right that we should honour its achievements and pay tribute to its inspired architects. At the same time, we should be under no illusions: the legacy of the Universal Declaration is facing threats on many fronts. If we let our commitment to uphold human rights drift – if we turn aside when they are abused – they will slowly shrivel and die. If that happens, the cost in human life and misery will be immense, and the whole of humanity will pay a heavy price.”

“Ultimately it is up to us, to ‘we the people,’ for whom this Declaration was written. It is up to me; to you; to everyone in every city, province and country where there is still space to express thoughts, participate in decisions, raise one’s voice. We need to act to promote peace, fight back against discrimination, and to uphold justice.”

“We must organize and mobilise in defence of human decency, in defence of a better common future. We must not stand by, bewildered, as the post-World War II system of values unravels around us. We must take a robust and determined stand: by resolutely supporting the human rights of others, we also stand up for our own rights and those of generations to come.”

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This week, the New UN Resident Coordinator
Dr Fodé Ndiaye led the UN System in commemorating the International Human Rights Day in Rwanda

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Dr Fodé Ndiaye, UN Resident Coordinator  and UNDP Resident Representative. 

A conversation with Dr. Ndiaye, who assumed his duties in Rwanda in July 2017

Q: Welcome to Rwanda, Dr Fode Ndiaye. We hope you are enjoying your stay in our country. Tell us a little about yourself and how you ended up in Rwanda

Dr Fode Ndiaye: Allow me to first thank the Government of Rwanda for accepting my appointment and the people of Rwanda for so warmly welcoming me. I feel at home.

I have been working with the United Nations for 20 years, initially representing an agency known as the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), focusing on Least Development Countries (LDCs) and then as Resident Coordinator where I served in the Republic of Niger for more than 5 years and now Rwanda since July. Before the UN, I worked in the field of development and finance as an agronomist and a banker. I am from Senegal and passionate about Africa’s independence and development and African people culture, prosperity and dignity. I also like reading and writing. I feel very privileged to be in our beautiful country of a thousand hills and a million smiles at this extremely interesting time: a new 7-year-Government Programme, the National Strategy for Transformation grounded on the Vision 2050 and articulating with UN agenda 2030 on sustainable development and AU agenda 2063. In addition, I am happy to be in a position to lead UN partnership with Rwanda in its grand development vision and its impressive trajecto
ry aimed at getting the people out of poverty and to accord them more prosperity, which leads to greater human dignity for the people.

Q: Talking of dignity, please tell us what was being observed this week and its significance to both Rwanda and the United Nations

Dr FN: This week, the United Nations System in Rwanda joined the People and Government of Rwanda, as well as all other UN Member States around the world in commemorating this year’s International Human Rights Day, a day that the international community has set aside on the 10th of December every year to reflect on the progress made in the global struggle for justice, equality, non-discrimination and the recognition of the dignity and fundamental human rights of all people of the world. It is a day that is marked universally, and demonstrates the global appeal of this important subject of human rights.

Q: Why was this particular day, 10th of December, set aside for human rights?

FN: This particular day has been set aside by the United Nations because it was on the 10th of December, 1948 -exactly sixty-nine years ago- that the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a document that serves as a statement of the aspirations of the people of the world regarding promotion and protection of basic human rights. The Universal Declaration marked the first time that the rights and freedoms of individuals were set forth in elaborate detail. It also represented the first international recognition that human rights and fundamental freedoms are applicable to every person, everywhere. In this sense, the Universal Declaration was a landmark achievement in world history.

Q. What is so special about the commemoration this year?

This year is somewhat special because the UN has just kicked off a year-long campaign to aggressively promote the rights contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a campaign that will culminate in December 2018 with the big global commemoration of the Declaration’s 70th anniversary. We feel that it’s important to celebrate this document that has influenced societies, guided governments in their observance of human rights and inspired the drafting, enactment and implementation of numerous constitutions and laws around the world. This Declaration has had the effect of protecting and promoting people’s human rights at the very local level. It has indeed been an enduring instrument. So, we want to mark its 70th anniversary next year with a big commemoration, which began in earnest this week.

Q: Has this Universal Declaration been accepted all over the world?

FN: Accepted, in principle, yes. Of course, we can celebrate the improved conditions of humanity, the enhancement of women’s rights, greater access to health, education and socio-economic opportunities, improved governance systems. To date, the Declaration has been translated into over 500 national and local languages in the world, including Kinyarwanda, illustrating its widespread and global recognition and application. The Universal Declaration has inspired laws and constitutions around the world. Here in Rwanda, the rights included in the Rwandan Constitution have been inspired to a large extent by this Declaration, although it is clear that the Constitution is also fully grounded on the core values, customs and traditions of the Rwandan society. Therefore, today is the day when we pause to reflect the meaning of this Declaration and the effect it has had and continues to have all over the world, including here in Rwanda.

However, we should also acknowledge that for the full implementation of the UDHR, humanity still has a long way to go towards “peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development” for the planet, peace and prosperity. There are still unacceptable violations of human rights and dignity, high inequalities (84 world richest people have assets equivalent to 3.4 billion poorest people). Gender inequalities are costing Africa 95 billion USD, equivalent to 2 times the total aid or 1.5 times the total remittances to sub-Saharan Africa. Many people are still suffering from various deprivations. The Genocide against the Tutsis and the horrible example of the modern slavery in Libya are wake-up calls. We salute Rwanda generous solidarity in welcoming African migrants from Libya.

Some people might ask, why all this focus on human rights?

FN: The answer is simple: apart from human rights being a justice issue, neglect of basic human rights has been one of the key root causes and drivers of conflict everywhere in the world. Ensuring adherence to human rights or promoting their active application is therefore essential for stability and sustainable development in every society and nation. In fact, Human rights are at the core of UN work. This has been clearly recalled by the 2030 Agenda for development with the important principle of leaving no one behind. The pursuit for peace and development in the world should be anchored on human rights. That is why this subject is worth focusing on, as it is central to all that we do, all over the world. Humanity is about human rights.

Does the UN apply this concept in your work in Rwanda?

FN: Yes. The UN’s work here in Rwanda is centred around the three pillars, development, Humanitarian operations, peace and the protection and promotion of human rights. However, HR are underpinning all our action. We have worked closely with the Government, CSOs and other stakeholders on governance issues, we have supported projects aimed at deepening democracy and promoting public participation, gender sensitive, responsive and accountable institutions for quality service delivery on health, education, demographic dividend, promoting equal economic opportunities, protecting children and fighting gender based violence; we have assisted with training of judges on the application of human rights norms, we have supported the ratification of international human rights treaties and compliance with recommendations made by human rights treaty bodies, and we are still doing more to support Government efforts in other related domains. It is our wish to ensure that human rights are well understood and that the populati
on is informed about all their rights. In this regard, we would like to see the Universal Declaration being widely disseminated, not only to those working in the domain of human rights, but to Rwandans from all walks of life. That is why we have made efforts to disseminate information on human rights in all our work, and to mainstream human rights in the work of all UN agencies so that we can partner with Rwanda in achieving its development objectives in an inclusive, holistic, comprehensive, equitable and sustainable way and in building “the Rwanda we want” for all. We are confident that our modest contribution will spur greater interest in understanding and internalizing the basic concepts of human rights here in Rwanda.

Are these rights accepted and integrated here in Rwanda?

FN: Yes. Indeed, the Government has recognized and integrated these rights and principles into national laws and policies. The Government has ensured the ratification of most important human rights conventions, including the two conventions on civil and political rights and on socio-economic rights. The Government is trying to build a society premised on consensus. This means participation of all; which is key to the attainment of human rights. This need of participation at all levels is also recognized in the country’s commitment to implement the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Council under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and other commitments in the international arena.

In the coming years, we at the UN hope to do more in collaboration with the Government, the National human rights commission, the CSOs, the media and other stakeholders. Under the upcoming 5-year United Nations Development Plan (UNDAP), currently under preparation, the UN plans to continue its partnership in consolidating its programmes in areas such as access to Justice, Human Rights and Peace Consolidation. Therefore, the UN System in Rwanda commits itself to working even more closely with the Rwandan authorities and other institutions, notably the National Human Rights Commission, but also Civil Society Organizations, to consolidate the gains already made in the protection and promotion of human rights.

In the human rights domain as well as in any other, we need partnerships and synergies “Abishyize hamwe ntakibananira”, Turi kumwe!

Murakoze cyane!

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Human Rights Day statement:The National Commission on Human Rights of Rwanda (NCHR)

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Madeleine Nirere, Chairperson for the National Commission for Human Rights 

The National Commission on Human Rights of Rwanda (NCHR) has injected dynamism into the 2017 celebration of the International Human Rights day

The National Commission on Human Rights of Rwanda (NCHR) joined the rest of the world in commemorating International Human Rights day, at Musanze District, Northern Province.

The commemoration was attended by general public, residents of Musanze District, students, academia, human rights advocates, civil society organizations, media practitioners, security officers, politicians, youth and development partners.

International Human Rights Day is observed every year on December 10, to mark the day on which, in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year , Human Rights day is marking the upcoming of 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which proclaims the inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being, regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, poverty, birth or other status.

In 1950, the Assembly passed resolution 423 (V), inviting all States and interested organizations to observe December 10 of each year as Human Rights Day.

Rwanda has ratified and domesticated United Nations instrument related to human rights. The Constitution further provides for fundamental human rights. Laws and institutions guarantee access to justice and equality for all citizens. The National Commission for Human rights was created to further promote and protect human rights, with the vision of Rwandan society in which human rights are rooted and where the Rule of Law is strengthened, plays a pivotal role in promotion, respect and furtherance of human rights .

Mrs. NIRERE, the Chairperson of the National Commission for Human rights noted that the NCHR is dedicated to the promotion and the protection of human rights and monitoring of the repsect of human rights.

Nirere said that the NCHR has provided the necessary platform for the population and civil society organizations to report cases and complaints of human rights violations by creating complaint management system and related desk in charge of receiving complaints , adding, “the year 2016-2017 , the Commission has received 2174 complaints” among which the rights to property represents 34.73 %, due process rights, 27.28 %, GBV cases 11.59%, right to education, 5.03%.

She, however, called on government and all State institutions to deepen the human rights based approach to national development to make human rights truly.

The event came at the end of a week of awareness on human rights promotion and protection for various sessions, targeting general public and especially the Youth. The Chairperson explained that the country is currently facing the challenge of drugs. So, it is important to engage youth in fighting and youth are called to be the agents in promoting human rights. This is everyone’s duty to protect one’s rights.

The celebration of the day was characterized by different activities including cycling race and the winners were awarded.  Nirere said that the cycling race was an opportunity to attract as many young people as possible so that anti-drug abuse message, as stipulated in the theme, can reach as many possible victims as possible. 

i. National level events: At the national level, activities to mark the International Human Rights day included;

Public awareness on human rights: The event was useful in raising awareness on human rights, the need to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms. The event also gave an opportunity to articulate the situation of human rights in the country. Over 800 youth of 8 districts namely Burera, Nyagatare, Huye, Rubavu, Ngoma, were trained on the human right focusing on their role in promotion of human rights also to avoid the drugs abuse which undermine the rights of other people as drug abuse was cited as main cause of child abuse (23%) in the research conducted by the NCHR in 2016 on the issue of GBV with focus to the defilement or child abuse .

The Chairperson explained that the country is currently facing the challenge of drugs. So, it is important to engage youth in fighting and youth are called to be the agents in promoting human rights. This is everyone’s duty to protect one’s rights.

The celebration of the day was characterized by different activities including cycling race and the winners were awarded. Nirere said that the cycling race was an opportunity to attract as many young people as possible so that anti-drug abuse message, as stipulated in the theme, can reach as many possible victims as possible. 

The public awareness culminated with the creation of news clubs of human rights and their respective committees among trained youth and the NCHR was committed to work together and to empower the newly formed clubs to ensure greater human rights respect in their respective constituencies/area.

ii. Media advocacy: Several media engagements happened prior to and during the IHRD as a tool for public education and information sharing on Human Rights issues. Radio programmes and activations were carried out on radios between December 1 and 8. Moreover, made media appearances discussing key human rights issues and the situation of human rights in the country.

iii. National Commission for Human rights and Civil society voices from the grass roots: The presence of civil society and the NCHR from the grassroots was important in bringing to national arena the work of the National Commission for human rights and of the civil society as well the existing synergy between the NCHR and civil society organizations operating in human rights for the cause of human rights . This goes to underscore the important place of the National Commission for Human rights and civil society occupy in ensuring advancement of human rights to advance human rights for all.

iv. IHRD celebration: The IHRD celebrations culminated with a national celebration at Musanze Stadium. Discussions from were centered on the norms and principles enrshirend in UDHR . Overall, the IHRD commemoration event was indeed a huge success in that it increased awareness among general public about the foundation of freedoms and fundamental rights and the need for all segments of society to be actively involved in protecting and promoting human rights for all

The Chairperson of Rwanda National Commission for Human Rights pointed out that the country still has gaps to fill despite the progress made and therefore, youth should be empowered and engaged in the development of the country as well as solving its challenges. She concluded by saying we have to treat young generation as future leaders who have a culture of human rights .

Mrs. NIRERE used the occasion to commend civil society organizations, media practitioners and other stakeholders for the critical role they had played in protecting and safeguarding human rights.

“They, together with the Commission have often drawn attention of the public when freedoms and rights are being endangered with a call to their protection”.

This year’s Human Rights Day is devoted to the launch of a year-long campaign for the 70th anniversary of Universal Declaration of human rights December 10, 1948- December 10, 2018.

The year-long campaign revolves around the theme stand for someone’s rights today, which underpin human rights norms and fundamentals principles which are as relevant today as they were when the Universal Declaration of Human rights were adopted 70 years ago.

Along this journey of upcoming 70th anniversary of Universal Declaration of Human rights , the NCHR will continue its endeavor jointly with civil society and partners in area of human rights in encouraging youth and citizens in general, to stand up for human rights and fight against any form of human rights violations which may arise. The focus shall be on the principles of Equality, Justice and human dignity which are salient human rights values.

The NCHR will continue to increase awareness of the importance and relevance of Universal Declaration of Human rights and other human rights instrument in society;

To work closely and strengthen n the capacity of Civil Society organization ad citizens in promotion and protection of Human rights in Rwanda

To facilitate discussion on the need to increase participation regarding actions and interventions to protect rights taking stock of the challenges in the promotion of human rights

To encourage youth and citizens to stand up for human rights ad fight against human rights violations.

In conclusion, NCHR Rwanda is committed to the monitoring the observance of human rights as enshrined in the UDHR and the universality, interdependence, indivisibility of civil, political, economic, social and cultural human rights. In that regard, the NCHR remains ready to continue its cooperation with civil society, UN human rights mechanisms and all stakeholders; to promote, protect and monitor the respect of human rights and seek proper redress for victims of violations of human rights. The rights Commission is further monitoring the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals which seek to realize the human rights of all. 

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