The international community has not lived up to the vision held in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a ceremony on Wednesday marking the 60th anniversary of the landmark document.
Drafted amid the "utter destruction and destitution following the Holocaust and World War II," the Declaration is at the core of the United Nations' identity, as "it reflects humanity's aspirations for prosperity, dignity and peaceful coexistence," Mr. Ban said in a video message. The Declaration, which was adopted by the General Assembly 60 years ago on this day in 1948, states that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security and that all – regardless of race, gender, colour, sex, language, religion or political opinion – are equal before the law. "Since I took office as Secretary-General, I have been very humbled and saddened by having seen so many people whose human rights are being abused and not properly protected," the Secretary-General told attendees at a ceremony marking the day in New York. "We see human trafficking, the exploitation of children, and a host of other ills plaguing millions of people," he said, adding that despite "all the lessons we profess to have learned, shocking acts of brutality against innocent people often go unanswered." Mr. Ban also paid tribute to the individuals who risk their lives defending the rights of others around the world, including human rights experts, lawyers and journalists, as well as "ordinary people who find extraordinary courage and stand up for what is rightfully theirs, yours, mine and ours." Challenges threatening human rights around the world include the global financial crisis, the food emergency and "humankind's assault on the natural environment," he said in a separate message celebrating Human Rights Day, adding, that "there is political repression in too many countries, and, as ever, the most vulnerable continue to be on the frontlines of hardship and abuse." UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in her own statement commemorating the milestone, underscored the importance of the Declaration in shaping the principles laid down in the constitutions and laws of more than 90 countries. She highlighted a range of specific provisions made in the Declaration, from the right not to be tortured, enslaved or arbitrarily detained, to the freedom of opinion, expression and religion, and the right to education, health and equal pay for equal work. "For many people, the Universal Declaration remains an unfulfilled promise, as States' political will to fulfil their obligations lags lamentably behind their pledges."