50th anniversary of the international human rights covenants: A celebration and appraisal, 15 December 2016 - Video message by the Deputy High Commissioner

15 December 2016

Half a century ago, the United Nations adopted both the ICESCR and the ICCPR, giving expression our broad-based hopes for the elevation of human dignity and the alleviation of preventable human suffering. Together with the Universal Declaration, the Covenants form the International Bill of Rights – an enduring global standard for all.

The Covenants put into text the human rights that are ours from birth - a right to health, a right to live free from torture, a right to just conditions of work, a right to freedom of movement, to freedom of expression, and a right to social protection due to age, sickness or accident – a right to equality and to be free from discrimination, a right to life.

Human rights are timeless. It is why as we celebrate this year the Covenants’ 50th birthday, we do so under the banner ‘Our rights, our freedoms: always’.

It is the duty of Governments across the globe to uphold these rights. To help bring this obligation alive, the Covenants have shaped national constitutions and laws; they have contributed to policies and programme that respect the will of the people; they have been an invaluable tool in the fight against discrimination; and have they have helped many seek remedies for injustice.

The work of the two Committees that monitor the Covenants have provided guidance to countries the world over and helped many seek justice. Just last month, following a decision of the Human Rights Committee, a woman was awarded 30,000 Euros in recognition of the cruel treatment to which she was subjected under Ireland’s laws on abortion.

The Covenants’ core values and their invaluable contribution need our support. In the face of conflict and violence, when hateful rhetoric becomes commonplace and division trumps tolerance and inclusion, the Covenants’ appeal to our shared humanity and their invocation of the ideals of justice and equality are precious and necessary.

We cannot meet the challenges ahead, be they poverty, economic instability, violence or hatred, climate change, large scale movements of people within and across borders, if we do not stand behind the Covenants’ affirmation and explanation of our common humanity. To do so, requires global commitment to uphold the Covenants – in the corridors of power and in the smallest of places too – from the court room to the board room to the class room to the bedroom.

On International Human Rights Day this year, the UN Human Rights Office launched a year-long campaign calling on people everywhere to ‘Stand up for someone’s rights today’. A call out to me and to you. Because today and every other day, you and I can choose to exercise our rights to stand up for someone else’s rights; to support and protect their rights – not imagined rights, not self-defined or made up rights, not merely convenient rights but human rights just as they are enshrined – set out in detail in the Covenants, and just as they are tried and tested in jurisprudence under the Covenants.

Human rights are too important to be left only to government or to the UN! Our rights. Rights have to be used, to be defended, to be upheld. The timeless gift of the Covenants is that they set out for us just what those rights are – for the past 50 years and for the next 50 too. Stand up for someone’s rights today so ‘Our rights, our freedoms” can always be a reality for everyone, everywhere.