DECLARATION RINGS HOLLOW IN FACE OF DEPRIVATION, SECRETARY-GENERAL SAYS
IN MESSAGE TO OBSERVE INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS
The campaign to make poverty history poses a central moral challenge of our time. Enforcing universal human rights can blaze a path towards that goal.
Basic human rights –- the right to a decent standard of living, to food and essential health care, to opportunities for education or decent work, or to freedom from discrimination –- are precisely what the world’s poorest need most. Yet, by virtue of their enfeebled status, they are the ones least able to achieve or defend such “universal” rights. As a result, human rights are jeopardized wherever and whenever a man, woman or child subsists in extreme poverty.
If we are to be serious about human rights, we must demonstrate that we are serious about deprivation. As suggested by this year’s International Human Rights Day observance, we must answer the call to fight poverty as “a matter of obligation, not charity”.
Each of us should understand that the rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are of little value to the millions of people in this world who are haunted by disease and starvation, so long as they have no effective remedies. We must all recognize that wherever entire families eke out an existence on less than a dollar a day, or children die for lack of basic yet lifesaving care, the Declaration has, at best, a hollow ring.
Viewing poverty through a human rights lens heightens our moral imperative to act. But it brings other benefits as well. Since human rights norms emphasize individual empowerment, a rights-based approach can help empower and enable the poor. It can help citizens at all levels to win the knowledge and status they need to play a real part in decisions that affect their lives. It can focus attention on sound and sustainable processes that offer hope for long-term progress. And it can encourage us to measure our success not only by income levels, but by the freedom people have to lead fulfilling and enjoyable lives.
Today, development, security and human rights go hand in hand; no one of them can advance very far without the other two. Indeed, anyone who speaks forcefully for human rights but does nothing about human security and human development –- or vice versa –- undermines both his credibility and his cause. So let us speak with one voice on all three issues, and let us work to ensure that freedom from want, freedom from fear and freedom to live in dignity carry real meaning for those most in need.