Today we celebrate the life, the struggle and the message of Nelson Mandela.
His struggle for a better world helped shape the second half of the 20th Century, but Mandela’s legacy should both inspire and empower us to take action to address the global challenges of the 21st century.
“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.”
And today is also Human Rights Day. A time not only to honour the UNGA’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), but to reflect on recent developments and reinforce our commitment to fight against discrimination, prejudice and exclusion everywhere.
2013 also marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which established the new mandate, is a historical milestone in the promotion and protection of human rights, but many more challenges lie ahead to fight inequality.
Significant progress has been achieved over the past quarter century by recognising economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights, including the right to development (1986) and women’s rights (1993) which are crucial drivers of the new UN-led post-2015 framework that is being debated.
But 65 years on, millions on each continent still lack basic rights – from education and health to freedom of speech and freedom from discrimination. Millions are forced into marriage, or lack basic land and property rights. Far too many live in terror from the state or other armed groups.
Investment in development and economic growth have changed millions of lives globally. The expansion of democracy and the rule of law have secured new freedoms for many. But on this Human Rights Day we should resolve to go further and faster, and expose those that don’t.
The shortcomings of the MDGs have made it clear that the poorest and most vulnerable groups of our world, particularly those living in conflict-affected states, must be better represented in the global goals if we are to avoid deepening inequalities. There can be no development without peace, and there is no lasting peace without development.
We should not forget that there are still 2 more years for MDG targets to be met. And during those years the debate must lead us to the right framework for 2015 and beyond.
Throughout 2013 there has been a strong and growing demand for peaceful security and human rights to be fully integrated into the post-2015 development agenda. And the United Nations member states have had to respond.
So, in A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through sustainable development, the Report of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda of May 2013, the “Leave No One Behind” target emphasizes that universally “we must ensure that no person – regardless of ethnicity, gender, geography, disability, race or other status – is denied basic economic opportunities and human rights”.
And crucially, the Outcome Document of the Special Event to Follow up Efforts Made Towards Achieving the MDGs during the 68th UNGA in September 2013 reaffirmed “the importance of promoting human rights, good governance, the rule of law, transparency and accountability at all levels.”
A renewed global partnership between open economies and societies that is anchored in human rights is needed. It is crucial that we actively engage in the formulation of the post-2015 agenda that will shape the world for future generations. Those living in conflict-affected countries must feel the same hope as others. The United Nations should lead the way towards a new global commitment: no longer based on North-South donations, but instead on mutual respect and universal rights.
Let us hope that all over the world, reminded of the remarkable life and message of Madiba, those in a position to shape the next decades of the 21st Century put aside their fears, and their vested interests, and deliver the rights and freedoms that are the hope of families all over the world. It can be done.