• Human Development

Speech by the Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Rwanda, Mr Lamin M. Manneh, on the occasion to mark International Human rights Day 2016

Honorable Minister of Justice,

Honourable Members of Parliament,

Senior Officials of the Rwandan Government and Statutory Institutions,

Madame President of the National Human Rights Commission of Rwanda,

Excellencies, Ambassadors and Heads of Diplomatic Missions and Development Cooperation Agencies,

Representatives of Civil Society Organizations, the Private Sector and the Media,

My Dear UN Rwanda Colleagues,

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

All Protocols Observed.

Mwirwe Neza Mwese,

It is with immense honour and pleasure that I deliver this opening remarks and welcome you all here tonight on this special occasion when we commemorate the 68th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As many of you are aware, the Human Rights Charter is one of the world’s most enduring and most accepted international instruments.

Permit me to start by thanking Madame PS, MINIJUST, who is here representing the Hon. Minister of Justice and Attorney General and in her own right.

I would also like to sincerely thank you all our distinguished Guests for responding positively to our invitation to be here with us despite your very busy schedules.

Back in 1948, in a world that was still coping with the tragic aftermath of World War 2 and the holocaust, when a wind of change was silently starting to blow in the old colonized world, our predecessors proved us that times of great sorrow and great fears can result in a new future and new hope for mankind. They came up with a unique document that spelled out the rights that all human beings everywhere in the world should enjoy equally without any discrimination. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights came to symbolize the collective commitment and resolve of the international commitment to ensure that human rights are protected and govern the relations between states and their people everywhere. Almost 7 decades later, this resolve remains, although many challenges have tested that resolve every step of the way and in many parts of the world.

You would have by now noted that the theme for this year’s International Human Rights Day Celebration  is “Stand up for Someone’s Rights Today”. It emphasizes the need to stand up and defend the rights and freedoms of others, even as we defend and promote those of our own. It also sends a message that the rights we celebrate today, the rights and freedoms enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, belong to all, and there is need to fight for them and defend them, and in particular on behalf of those in our midst who may find themselves in vulnerable positions, thereby being denied the enjoyment of those rights.

I am, therefore, very pleased and proud to stand here on behalf of the United Nations to preside over a commemoration of a day set aside to dedicate ourselves to the promotion and protection of human rights, for us and for others around us. This is because doing so goes to the core of our business as the United Nations.

As our outgoing Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-moon says in his Human Rights Day message this year, and I quote: “As United Nations Secretary-General over the last decade, I have repeatedly stressed the interdependence of the three pillars of the United Nations -- peace, sustainable development and human rights. Together, they form the basis of resilient and cohesive societies rooted in inclusion, justice and the rule of law. I have also underscored that human rights are at the heart of the work and identity of the United Nations. This understanding is at the core of our Human Rights up Front initiative”, End of quote.

The idea of standing up and speaking out on the human rights of others and ourselves also emphasizes the imperative need for citizen involvement in politics and public life as a way to ensure that no one is left behind when it comes to decision-making in governance and building the future of societies. Where everybody’s 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 and more importantly to participate in a full and meaningful way in processes that impact on our lives. The return on that investment is a leadership that is tuned to the needs and aspirations of all groups of the societies on one hand and the willingness and eagerness of the people to actively participate in the translation of the visions of their leaders. All this strengthens the sense of belonging by all the citizens, and by extension of social cohesion, sustainable development and durable stability.

The focus of this year’s theme also emphasizes the importance of certain articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which provide for the right to freedom of assembly and association, the right to take part in elections, in public life and decision-making institutions and the right to freedom of expression and opinion.

We are 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 going beyond that being implemented.

There are many other commendable concrete 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 process of decentralization in Rwanda is an outstanding example of how to build a society upon the participation of all. This need of participation at all levels is also recognized in the country’s commitment to implement the recommendations of the Human Rights Council under the Universal Periodic Review and the Treaty Bodies mechanisms.

The United Nations System in Rwanda appreciates the strong commitment of H.E. 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.

As many of you present here are aware, we are also working closely with the Government of Rwanda, its key instituions such as MINIJUST, MINALOC, RGB as well as a broad range of stakeholders, notably CSOs and local communities, in those areas of concern to many partners, particularly the media sector reforms, enhancing civil society participation and increased participation of sections of the society in the political processes.

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 years 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.

I will end  with the words of the UN Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon who says –and again I quote: “All of us can – and must – act in our daily lives to advance the human rights of the people around us”.

I wish you all the best as we commemorate Human Rights Day here in Rwanda, and re-assure you of the continued support of the United Nations as you strive to make the protection and promotion of human rights a priority for all the citizens and friends of this beautiful country.

Thank you for your kind attention and participation.

Murakoze cyane, Merci beaucoup, Asante Sana, Soucran.