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Spotlight on Human Rights Day events and activities
11 December 2008 / 04:23

[Dateline: New York | Author:  iSeek]

Staff in Vienna read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights | Credit: UNIS ViennaOn Wednesday, staff at duty stations around the world took time to reflect on and promote the awareness human rights by organizing open air concerts, marches, award ceremonies, theater productions and more on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Read on to find out what happened in places like La Paz, Lusaka and Moscow.

The following summaries represent a selection of events and activities shared with iSeek.

Addis Ababa

In Ethiopia, an inaugural screening of Leamalak Beakabet, feature film on human rights by Rehobot Promotion with English subtitles, was held at the Sebastopol Cinema, the Exhibition Centre in Meskel Square.

At the Economic Commission for Africa, an event was held featuring short films, a statement by Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and readings of statements by Mr. Fidele Sarassoro, UN Resident Coordinator, and Mr. Abdoulie Janneh, USG and Executive Secretary.

Staff also participated in a human rights mark beginning at Urael Church and Mexico Square and ending at Meskel Square.

Bangkok celebration | Credit: ESCAP Bangkok

A public event jointly hosted by the United Nations and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) included representatives from the Royal Thai Government, diplomatic community, civil society organizations and media representatives.  The event was held at Chumchuree Square at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University. 

As part of the year-long anniversary campaign, the Economic Commission for Asia and the Pacific and the NHRC have launched a joint publication entitled Dignity and Justice for All of Us: Our Voices are Heard in Thailand, featuring an analysis of experiences and comments collected from people from all over the country and for whom specific articles in the Declaration have particular relevance in the Thai context. Authors and contributors to the publication include many well-known personalities in Thailand. 

The event at which the book was launched included official presentations followed by some of the key reflective voices and commentators whose personal experiences and knowledge are presented in the publication. In addition, musical and dance performances were given by Thai artists.  Articles from the Declaration were read by five people – a child, a disabled person, a blind person, a prisoner, and a university student.

Bucharest event | Credit: UNIC BucharestBucharest

The UN Information Centre (UNIC) Bucharest was a partner in an essay contest for children and youths launched by the U.S. Embassy and sponsored by Hewlett-Packard on the theme "What human right do I value most?”  The winners will be announced in January 2009 and the essays will be featured on both the UNIC's and the Embassy's web sites.

In Romania, Human Rights Day marked the last day of the 16-day end to violence against women campaign co-organised by UNFPA and the UNIC which included a theater performance.


UNIC Lagos, in collaboration with Zonta International Club and Women’s Board, Nigeria, organized an outreach activity in promoting respect for human rights through art and cultural displays and featuring musical performances, drama sketches, poems, paintings and poster exhibitions depicting human rights, by pupils of selected schools in Lagos. 
Declaration | Credit: UNIC La Paz La Paz

UNIC La Paz organized an ambitious event called Declarathon, an original event including 24 hours of continous reading of the Declaration, with the citizenry as the main protagonist.

The Declarathon entails symbolic elements such as the participation of every human being, disregarding gender, race, culture, age, sexual tendency, or physical appearance. In that regard, every constituent was invited to read the Declaration of Human Rights during the established hours in his or her native language.


Lusaka event | Credit: UNIC LusakaUNIC Lusaka organized an open air concert at Chawama Market attended by close to 600 people. In order to foster awareness of the rights contained in the Declaration, a version of the UDHR was distributed in English and the seven major local languages

Also organized were a panel discussion at the University of Zambia and a Symposium at the Alliance Francaise.  Invited guests included the Republican Vice President Mr. George Kunda, UN Resident Coordinator Mr. Macleod Nyirongo and Head of the European Commission Delegation Dr. Derek Fee and other diplomats attached to Zambia, Senior Government Officials, European Commission and UN staff and exhibitors from different working groups promoting human rights activities.

Mexico City

UNIC Mexico City arranged for extraordinary coverage of the anniversary in El universal, one of the key daily newspapers in Mexico, including prominent placement of the SG's video message and extensive background information on the Declaration.  

Moscow event | Credit: UNIC MoscowMoscow

UNIC Moscow partnered with the local Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to unveil an exhibition of children’s paintings dedicated to the Declaration created by 8 to 10 year olds, each depicting a certain article of the Declaration.
The event brought together some 30 children who were awarded with special gifts by the Senior Human Rights Adviser of the UN Country Team, Mr. Dirk Hebecker. The ceremony was also attended and addressed by Mr. Oleg Malghinov, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Human Rights Department, and Mr. Anatoly Kossov, Director of the Children’s Art Studio.

Kenneth Roth (left) receives the award from Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, President of the sixty-third session of the General Assembly, on behalf of Human Rights Watch, as Navanethem Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, looks on | Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe (234416)

New York

New York activities included panel discussions, a screening of short films and the awarding of the UN Prize in the field of Human Rights at a special commemorative meeting held by the General Assembly. 

Opening two General Assembly panel discussions commemorating the Declaration’s anniversary, GA President Miguel D’Escoto, stressed that education, health, employment, housing, culture, food and recreation for all human beings are the document’s “essence.”

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay brought her own special focus to the issue – as victim and nemesis of abuse. “I was told things like ‘white secretaries can’t take instructions from a black person,’” Pillay, who is of Indian descent, told the UN News Centre, recalling her years growing up in apartheid South Africa when she wanted to become a lawyer in a society stratified by institutionalized racial discrimination. 


UNIC Prague and Amnesty International posterOn the eve of Human Rights Day, the UNIC in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, the UNHCR Office in the Czech Republic and the Czech Helsinki Committee organized a ceremony to open an exhibit of Octavio Roth’s work in the UN House lobby.

After keynote addresses given by Mr. Karel Vasak, former Secretary-General of the Human Rights Institute in Strasbourg and Ms. Libuse Silhanova, founding member and current chairwoman of the Czech Helsinki Committee, a choir performed.

On Wednesday, results from a public opinion poll on the perception of human rights in the Czech Republic were introduced by UNIC Prague.

Also on display was a new poster jointly produced by Amnesty International Czech Republic and the UNIC featuring popular Czech personalities, including pop singers, writers, sport stars and actors.


Concert in Vienna | Credit: UNIS ViennaUNIS Vienna organized a lunchtime concert in the Rotunda of the Vienna International Centre consisting of several pieces of contemporary and classical music performed by the Women's Chamber Orchestra of Austria.  The event included a reading of the full text of the Declaration in 31 different languages: each article, plus the Preamble, read out by a different person in their native language.

Since the Declaration is widely believed to be the most translated document in the world, UNIS Vienna not only paid tribute to the many different cultures and nationalities represented in the Vienna International Centre by organizing the event, but also to the International Year of Languages which is being celebrated in 2008.

Article One was read in German by the Permanent Representative of Austria to the United Nations in Vienna, Ambassador Helmut Boeck. Staff members and other volunteers proceeded to read out the different articles in languages ranging from Amharic and Burmese, to Ukrainian and Uzbek.

"I feel like I am representing my whole nation here today," exclaimed one reader who had presented article 13 in Fijian.

Finding 31 readers had started off as a rather simple exercise of just inviting colleagues and friends to participate, but turned into something slightly more difficult when, for instance, the UNIDO staff member who had volunteered to read Article Six in Punjabi discovered that the official translation was in script with which he was not familiar.

Deputy Governor Dr. Kurt FLECKER, Mayor Mag. Siegfried NAGL, ORF-Moderator Barbara RETT, Director of the United Nations Information Service Vienna Maher NASSER, Federal President Dr. Heinz FISCHER, Vice-Mayor Lisa RÜCKER, artist Oskar STOCKER, Governor Mag. Franz VOVES and ORF-Styria Director Gerhard DRAXLER | Credit: UNIS ViennaAll readers and participants expressed their eagerness to share the important text in their language and many articles prompted spontaneous applause from the audience. The English translation was projected on a screen simultaneously for all to follow.

The event was attended by around 100 staff members, representatives of Permanent Missions, NGOs, and visitors.

In nearby Graz, the opening of the 150-meters-long "humanity panorama" entitled "FACING NATIONS - culture of humanity” was attended by several notable personalities, including Austria’s president Heinz Fischer.  A detailed story is available online