The United Nations and Human Rights

Today, the United Nations System in Rwanda joins 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.

December 10 of every year is a day that the international community set aside to reflect on the progress made in the global struggle for justice, equality, non-discrimination and the imperative to respect and protect the dignity and fundamental human rights of all peoples of the world.

It would be recalled that on this day, exactly sixty-eight years ago, 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 represented the first international recognition that human rights and fundamental freedoms are applicable to every person, everywhere, not only as an ethical issue but also as political and economic imperative. In this regard, the Universal Declaration was a landmark achievement in world history.

This simple document, consisting of only thirty articles covers a wide range of human rights as freedom of expression, assembly, movement, and religion. It sets out the basic principles of equality and non-discrimination in terms of the enjoyment of human rights, and affirms that everyone shall be free from want, slavery, torture, and arbitrary arrest or detention.

The rights and freedoms enumerated in the Universal Declaration, which we celebrate today, are aimed at ensuring equality and non-discrimination for all, and are also aimed at ensuring that no one is left behind when it comes to decision-making in governance and socio-economic advancement of societies.

Where fundamental rights and freedoms are respected, each and every one of us is offered the opportunity to join in the debate, to offer ideas, to campaign for change – to participate in a full and meaningful way.

The return on that investment is a leadership of societies tuned to the needs and aspirations of its constituents, who in turn will be willing and active agents in transformation of the visions of their leaders into reality.

This is one of the sure ways to guarantee social cohesion, sustainable progress and stability, built on the most solid ground possible: the feeling of belonging by all citizens.

It is for these reasons that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights continues to affect people’s lives and inspire human rights work and legislation all over the world.

This is reflected in the fact that, as of today, it has been translated into over 400 national and local languages in the world, including Kinyarwanda, illustrating its widespread and global appeal.

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 also fully grounded on the core values, customs and traditions of the Rwandan society.

Nonetheless, sixty-eight years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration, many people around the world are still unaware of its existence, or the existence of a whole raft of other international human rights instruments. That is why on days like today we want to highlight the rights to which all human beings in the world are entitled, and to do everything possible to ensure that these people are accorded the full and unfettered enjoyment of these rights without any exception.

We must defend those whose rights are violated and stand up for those whose rights are threatened in any way. This year’s theme “Stand Up for Someone’s Rights Today” reminds us of the need to ensure that the rights contained in the Universal Declaration as well as other key human rights instruments are protected and respected across the board.

For us in the United Nations, human rights sit at the heart of our work; they constitute the core of our identity as an organization. That is why we are at the forefront of promoting the ratification and implementation of all instruments, covenants and treaties touching on human rights.

I am, therefore, very pleased to note that here in Rwanda, most of the instruments related to human rights have been ratified. With the support of the One-UN those rights and principles are being further integrated in national laws and policies, and more importantly, being implemented.

There are many commendable initiatives undertaken by the Government of Rwanda in the domain of human rights that we at the UN are keen to support and collaborate in.

For example, the UN is supporting the inclusive participation in governance through partnerships with important national institutions such as the National Commission on Human Rights, the Rwanda Governance Board, the National Forum for political parties, the National Electoral Commission, the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, the Rwanda Media Commission and the Parliament of Rwanda.

We are also contributing to efforts aimed at ensuring the continuous improvement of access to justice in Rwanda as there can be no human rights without a true Justice to protect them.

Over the past 4 years we have also provided training to the judiciary on the subject of the application of international human rights law in domestic courts.

We have supported the Government and other institutions in Rwanda in many human rights areas, ranging from training judges and prosecutors on human rights to capacity building of many other bodies.

We have also provided training to the bar association as well as many civil society organization, all on the application of human rights norms and the implementation of recommendations of various international bodies.

The UN in Rwanda has further supported the justice sector institutions to provide legal aid for children, women and inmates as a means to increasing access to justice.

The collaboration between the UN and the government of Rwanda has enabled us to make strides in ensuring that the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rightsare advanced.

A few years ago, Rwanda cleared its backlog in terms of reporting to Treaty bodies established under different human rights conventions, set up an inter-ministerial taskforce in charge of those processes, and launched an overhaul of its domestic legal system.

That way, Rwanda has become an important stakeholder of international human rights law, which is commendable.

The United Nations System in Rwanda appreciates the strong commitment of President Paul Kagame to ensuring that the all Rwandans enjoy broader freedoms to the highest extent possible, notably freedom from discrimination based on ethnicity, class, income and gender; freedom from want and ignorance; freedom from ill-health; freedom from personal and national insecurity as well as freedom to fully participate in the country’s development and transformation processes.

All this is reflected in the country’s highly favourable good governance and socio-economic indicators.

The One UN Rwanda Team, in collaboration with other development partners, will continue supporting the Government and people of Rwanda in their effort to ensure the sustained enjoyment of the broadest possible range of human rights by all.

The theme of this year’s Human Rights Day Celebration: “stand up for someone’s rights today”, should be seen in this regard and must be amplified by all the stakeholders, at all times and everywhere in this beautiful land.