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Human rights events raise awareness of global challenges
12 December 2008 / 02:57

[Dateline: Geneva and Santiago | Authors:  UNOG and ECLAC]

While additional celebratory events are anticipated on Monday to mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, iSeek received two additional reports about notable events that took place this week in Geneva and Santiago, including a talk by Nobel laureates Shirin Ebadi and Wole Soyinka.

Geneva

Prince Albert II, Shirin Ebadi and Wole Soyinka | Credit: UNOGMore than 1,000 people attended the Second Geneva Lecture on the question “Are Human Rights Universal?” held at the Palais des Nations in Geneva on Wednesday featuring two Nobel Prize laureates and prominent defenders of human rights Shirin Ebadi and Wole Soyinka. 

The event is available for viewing as an archived webcast:  English | original language

In his opening remarks, United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG) Director-General Sergei A. Ordzhonikidze stressed that the theme of the campaign launched a year ago by the Secretary-General, “Dignity and justice for all of us,” reinforces the vision of the Declaration as a commitment to universal dignity and justice. He also emphasized, however, that the promises of the Declaration remain unfulfilled for too many people around the world and called on all present to redouble efforts to make the principles of the Declaration a reality for all.

Shirin Ebadi, 2003 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate defended forcefully the universality of human rights and criticized abuses perpetrated by some in the name of religion or ideology.

Wide shot of Geneva Lecture Series | Credit: UNOGCiting the Declaration's preamble, Ms. Ebadi noted that peace and security can be ensured only by the observance of human rights and called for an “International Convention to Combat Poverty” to be drawn up and presented to the General Assembly for adoption.  The most important point to be addressed in this Convention would be to encourage States to reduce their military spending, so as to ensure that public funds in every country are spent on welfare rather than the purchase and stockpiling of weapons.

Wole Soyinka, 1986 Nobel Prize Laureate in Literature, criticized “cultural relativism” as a “trap” and a “cunning device” meant to “breed an attitude that legitimizes any form of conduct, as long as it can be attributed to cultural usage.”

Mr. Soyinka added: “What circumstances of birth, upbringing, opportunities and environment make of each is a different matter, but cannot be considered fundamental to the worth and validity of each individual, and thus to his or her entitlements from, and responsibility to, the rest of society.”

Following the lectures, an open discussion with the audience of representatives of the diplomatic community, organizations of the United Nations system, non-governmental organizations, research and academic community, private sector, as well as students and interested individuals, was moderated by Xavier Colin, producer and presenter of the Geopolitis programme on Television Suisse Romande.

In closing remarks, H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco stressed that universality is not simply one of the characteristics of human rights but their core principle. When human rights are under attack, he said, the whole of humankind suffers.

Organized by UNOG and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), the Geneva Lecture Series was inaugurated in April 2008 by the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The objective of the Geneva Lecture Series is to raise public awareness of global challenges and to engage prominent intellectual figures, leaders from the world of business, politics and civil society leaders, as well as the general public in Geneva and beyond, into a process of reflection on what can and should be done to address such challenges.

Also in Geneva, the Secretary-General addressed the high-level segment of the commemorative session of the Human Rights Council, celebrating the Declaration's anniversary, on Friday. 

After elaborating on recent advances in international law related to human rights, such as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the SG told delegates, "The world did not adopt such an impressive list of human rights instruments just to put them on a shelf somewhere at the United Nations. These should be living documents that can be wielded by experts who scrutinize country reports or assess individual complaints" (full message).

Santiago

The United Nations system in Chile celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with a ceremony where native, immigrant and refugee children, boy scouts and students read the thirty articles of the document.

The ceremony was held at the central auditorium of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) office in Santiago. Guests of the ceremony included Chilean government officials and representatives of the diplomatic corps, international organizations, the UN system, and civic organizations.

The event opened with an anniversary message from the Secretary-General, read by the Resident Coordinator of the UN System in Chile, Enrique Ganuza.

Later a video promoting the respect for human rights was presented, and children read each one of the Declaration's articles.