Speaking ahead of Human Rights Day on Saturday Dec 10, the largest body of independent experts of the United Nations Human Rights system urges all governments around the world to stand up for human rights.
The greatest achievement of the international community since the end of World War II has been the construction of an international human rights system based upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted 68 years ago.
Since that time, enormous strides have been made in establishing universal standards, encouraging the very widespread domestic adoption of those standards, and in effectively defending the rights of groups and individuals who are under threat in their own societies.
But today, a chill wind is blowing through much of the world and the very notion of human rights is under increasing attack. So-called populist movements are invoking nationalism and traditionalism to justify racist, xenophobic, sexist, homophobic and other forms of blatant discrimination, taking advantage also of the difficulties of the current economic climate.
Hate speech aiming to incite violence, hostility, and discrimination is dramatically on the rise, as is violence against women, children, ethnic, religious or belief groups, persons with disabilities, sexual minorities, migrants and many other groups. Inequality is growing dramatically and democratic institutions are being systematically undermined.
More and more governments are turning to increasingly intrusive technologies which systematically embed and exploit means of mass surveillance which threaten a whole range of fundamental human rights.
In many parts of the world these assaults on human rights are being reinforced by attacks on the human rights movement.
The space for civil society, without which there can be no enduring and meaningful respect for rights, has been effectively closed down by many governments. International treaties, such as the International Criminal Court Statute, are being denounced, funding for human rights bodies is shrinking, attacks on the integrity of monitoring mechanisms are increasing, and any form of international solidarity is rejected as a threat to national interests.
As the United Nations’ largest body of independent human rights experts, we urge governments to recognise that a world which repudiates fundamental human rights values, retreats from established standards, and undermines international human rights institutions, is a world which will be less secure, more vulnerable to devastating conflicts, and utterly incapable of protecting the rights of vast numbers of people who do not happen to look or think like those in power.
Human Rights Day 2016 represents a watershed moment when all of us will need to stand up and be counted if the huge achievements of the past 68 years are to be protected and advanced.
The Coordination Committee of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is a body of six independent experts which coordinates and facilitates the work of ‘special procedures’ as a whole. It is currently composed of Yanghee Lee (chairperson), Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, Dainius Puras, and Michael K Addo.