Hope in time of uncertainty: Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 75
09 November 2023
By Peter Lundberg, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Montenegro
As the world commemorates United Nations Day 2023, I like to remind ourselves why the United Nations was founded in 1945. In the aftermath of World War II, the peoples of the United Nations expressed determination, “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind“.
Today - 78 years later - we are once more at a crossroad.
We gather here together at a time of ever-growing uncertainty, globally and in our wider region. Already in January 2023, the world saw the highest number of violent conflicts since 1945, with one quarter of humanity estimated to live in places affected by conflicts.
Our wider region is seeing immense and unrelenting suffering. The Russian invasion of Ukraine and recent conflict in Israel and Gaza, have resulted in serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, as the UN Secretary-General and other UN Bodies have systematically raised. The lack of compliance with international humanitarian law is now a systemic problem, despite the fact that these rules are almost 160 years old. They should since long have become deeply entrenched in all our legal systems and practices, but the fact is, they are not.
In addition to the loss of many innocent lives in Ukraine, Israel and most recently in Gaza, and the killing in Gaza of 89 of our UN colleagues - more than in any comparable period in the history of our organization, millions of people are on the move or displaced because of conflicts worldwide. People are also displaced for other reasons, like economic hardship, droughts, floods, environmental hazards as we face the existential threat of climate change and its consequences.
Complex challenges – global solutions
Our history is joint and highly complex. So are the challenges in today’s interconnected world. If not resolved in a swift and just manner, with no accountability, especially for the most heinous crimes, these can easily lead to wide-spread dissatisfaction, opposition, and a vicious cycle of violence.
Eventually, the violence will end – but how many lives will be lost, how many people forcibly displaced, how many children deprived of their childhood, how much life-long trauma will be inflicted, before we say enough is enough, and stop to blame the other only, and stop seeing the challenges we are a jointly facing today from one’s own perspective only. Before we start recognizing humanity, not only in ourselves and those we connect with, but also in the other, to truly see humanity in all, as the key for our common future. To do that, we must learn the lessons from the past, lessons that the people of the Western Balkans know all too well, that there are no winners in wars.
Global challenges need global solutions. The United Nations remains the sole global organization with a role to play, with its strengths and despite our weaknesses, as it is able to bring together 193 Member States for dialogue on peace and security, development, and human rights, the three pillars of our joint organization. As Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on UN Day this year ‘The United Nations is a reflection of the world as it is’, a world that is divided. But, as he said, the United Nations is ‘an aspiration of the world we know it can be’, and that ‘we can and must be United Nations’. But let us also remember what former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld said in 1954 that “the UN was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell."
Human rights for dignity, freedom, and justice for all
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an important tool in our quest to address today’s multiple challenges. This year, we commemorate the declaration’s 75th anniversary. In spite of the increasing attacks on human rights we have witnessed over the past years, the Universal Declaration may be one of our best hopes, to guide us as we seek to address root causes and prevent these challenges from turning into something worse, like conflict and war. Heeding the declaration and its thirty articles will help us to build societies which are inclusive, where all people - without discrimination - have access to equal opportunities to develop their full potential, and where children, youth, women and men, can participate, and make their voices heard - even if such voices are critical. Societies in which everyone respects the other, no matter their differences. Where education and health care is accessible and available to all, without distinction, and with the quality the people deserve. Where work is decent, and where there is social protection for those in need, so that everyone can live a life in dignity. And when violations of rights occur, impartial and independent institutions swiftly and impartially restore justice, treating everyone equally before the law.
Montenegro made a comprehensive pledge in September at the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) summit. With all SDGs firmly anchored in human rights, Montenegro will better fulfil the promises of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as it implements its SDG pledge. I take this opportunity to encourage Montenegro and all other UN Member States represented here today, to make specific human rights pledges. You will be able to showcase your pledges at a high-level event on 11 and 12 December, hosted by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, to commemorate Human Rights 75.
Let me close by paying tribute to my UN colleagues in Montenegro, without whose dedication we would not be able to perform our role, and by affirming the UN’s commitment to support Montenegro and all UN Member States on their path towards stronger realization of human rights, peace and security and development of all.