|Prof. Wijesinha Addresses High-level Segment of UDHR 60th anniversary Commemorative Session|
|Friday, 12 December 2008|
Hands over Letter from H.E. President Rajapaksa to High Commissioner for Human Rights
The Human Rights Council Geneva held a Commemorative session on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) today (12th December 2008) at the Palais des Nations of the United Nations Headquarters, Geneva, Switzerland.
In the morning, the commemorative session was opened by Mr. Martin Ihoeghian Uhomoibhi, President of the Human Rights Council. This was followed by the general segment, during which a number of member states, regional groups and international organisations made presentations of national, regional and international initiatives launched on the occasion of the anniversary.
The High-level segment of the commemorative session commenced in the afternoon with the speech of the Secretary General of the United Nation, H.E. Ban Ki-moon. This was followed by speeches by H.E. Mr. Martin Ihoeghian Uhomoibhi, President of the Human Rights Council and H. E. Ms. Navanethem Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. A message from the former President of South Africa H.E. Mr. Nelson Mandela was then read-out.
Dignitaries from a few member states, including Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, Secretary, Ministry of Disaster Management & Human Rights of Sri Lanka, also made statements during this High-level segment.
Among other distinguished speakers were: H.E. Ms Micheline Calmy-Rey, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Representative of the Host Country, Switzerland; H.E. Mr. Celso Amorim, Minister of External Relations of Brazil; H.E. Mr. Taieb Fassi Fihri, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Morocco; H.E. Ms. Rama Yade, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs and Human Rights of France, making the statement on behalf of the European Union; H.E. Mr. Jean Asselborn, Vice-Prime Minister & Minister for Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg; H.E. Dr. Nizar Sadeq Al Baharna, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Bahrain; H.E. Ms. Salamata Sawadogo, Minister for the Promotion of Human Rights of Burkina Faso; H.E. Mr. Abdelwaheb Abdullah, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Tunisia; H.E. Mr. Mourad Medelci, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Algeria; Mr. Angel Losada Torres-Quevedo, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of Spain; H.E. Mr. Gunter Nooke, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid of Germany; H.E. Dr. Akmal Saidov, Chairman of the National Center for Human Rights of Uzbekistan; H.E. Dr. Jorge Taiana, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Argentina; H.E. Mr. Theodoros Kassimis, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Greece; H.E. Ms. Adriana Mejia Hernández, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Colombia.
On this occasion, Prof Wijesinha presented to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navanetham Pillay, a letter from H.E President Mahinda Rajapakse affirming Sri Lanka's commitment to Human Rights for all its citizens, as discussed when His Excellency met her in New York.
The full text of the statement Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, Secretary, Ministry of Disaster Management & Human Rights made on behalf of Sri Lanka is as follows:
“Sri Lanka is honoured to contribute to this celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Under your leadership of this Council, Mr President, and with the guidance of the new High Commissioner for Human Rights, we have no doubt that the Universality of the Declaration will be even more productively affirmed in the coming years than during the past six decades in which we have benefited from that momentous affirmation on December 10th 1948.
The interview of Ms. Navanethem Pillai in the UN Special Magazine on Human Rights laid out clearly the aims and modalities that will help to ensure that more people in more places have access to and are ensured the Rights that the United Nations has recognized over the years. In this context, it is important to affirm the need to promote all Rights, not just those connected with particular predilections, in particular places, at particular times. Thus, we much welcome the discussion on Education for Minorities that will be held next week. Sri Lanka has over the years provided free education and health facilities to all our citizens, and has succeeded even in areas temporarily under terrorist control. Last week, we managed to conduct the annual school leaving examination in such areas in spite of attempts to disrupt it, which were resisted by parents who continue to appreciate our adherence to Social and Economic rights.
In this regard, we welcome interventions, such as that of the Non-Aligned Movement, which draw attention to certain lacunae in the original Declaration. We believe that the policy of making up for such omissions was implicit in the spirit of the Declaration, but we need to exercise continuing vigilance to fulfil that spirit.
In particular, Mr. President, we need to pay continuing attention to the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that are sometimes ignored in particular interventions in this Council. And when we consider the needs of the poor, the deprived, the downtrodden, we should think not only of countries that are poor and deprived and downtrodden, but of those who suffer in countries that pride themselves, because of their relative affluence, on their apparent adherence to Human Rights norms. The plight of the homeless in such countries, vividly brought home to me landing yesterday in a freezing Switzerland, should not be subject to such gimmicks as designer coats stuffed with newspaper, but may merit the attention of this Council, and the establishment of Special Mechanisms to alleviate the situation, if countries are unable to deal with such problems on their own.
At the same time, we are also committed to Civil and Political Rights, and will do our best to uphold them throughout the country, despite the difficulties of dealing with totalitarian terrorism. The universality of Human Rights is best exemplified perhaps with regard to terrorism, and we hope that we will no longer have to put up with selective critiques that privilege particular terrorists. Apart from its cavalier dismissal of the right to life, terrorism also leads to special measures that lead to other abuses of human rights and a disregard for civilian life. Though the record of our own armed forces has been exemplary in this regard, we will refrain from drawing attention to the particular sufferings of civilians elsewhere, because we would not wish to seem sympathetic to terrorism in itself. But we would urge all countries engaged in the struggle against terror to treat everyone in areas in which they operate as their own citizens, and not to see people of other cultures and backgrounds as alien.
In this regard, we should perhaps note a debate that has affected the understanding of the universality of human rights. On the one hand, there are claims that some cultures preclude adherence to particular rights, while on the other hand, there are those who see their cultures as the interpreters of all rights, and engage in judgments and definitions that do not conform to the simple rule of thumb asserted sixty years ago, that universal rights should be self-evident. Of course, there will always be grey areas, but whether we go with Aristotle or with Kant, we need what is universally readily comprehensible, rather than with a Platonic concept of elite guardians, accountable to no one but themselves, and even then, not consistently.
As a corollary of this, we need to confirm too our adherence to democracy. Though democracy may have flaws, entitling it to just two cheers, there is no substitute for it, especially when accompanied by safeguards against majoritarianism, a constitutionalist approach that is based on Universal Human Rights. In our struggle in Sri Lanka then to restore pluralist democracy to areas deprived of it for many years, we would welcome the assistance of this distinguished body since, in restoring civil administration to previously war affected areas, care and concentrated concern are vital.
But we also need precision about the violations that we all abhor. Genocide and ethnic cleansing are ugly actions, but we need to guard against using them merely as words to pursue particular, unrelated aims. Recently one of the many indices that have sprung up in recent times, in what are termed international media centres, produced an alert about possible genocide in several countries. It transpired however that amongst the criteria used to judge the possibility of genocide was openness to trade. Such attempts to politicize human rights, to attack particular countries on the basis of economic predilections, must be resisted, if values we respect are not to become tools in the hands of international interventionist manipulators.
There has been too much of this in recent times, double standards based it seems, not on principles but on self-interest and personal predilections. And we must never allow the victims of egregious human rights violations to become violators in turn, examples of which have become all too common. We must also be wary of using yardsticks to promote attacks on the very principles of the United Nations, including the sovereignty of its member states.
It is double standards based on particular political agendas, Mr. President, that worry those of us trying to seek principled solutions to the problems all of us face. We should therefore eschew simplistic solutions and half-baked arguments designed to achieve particular political goals. Rather, we need to deal in specifics, to address particular problems with the assistance of those genuinely committed to Human Rights, with the advice and support of international instruments that belong to all of us.
In this respect, we in Sri Lanka are particularly pleased that the Office of the High Commissioner will assist us next month with a trainer training programme for our police force. This is the first of a series that we have been requesting for some time, to help in ensuring better adherence to Human Rights amongst significant stakeholders. Meanwhile, our National Human Rights Commission too looks forward to a renewal of assistance to build up its local offices, to better serve the large numbers now seeking its assistance.
Our commitment to the Universal Declaration will continue, and we look forward, Mr. President, to enhancing its impact in our country, our region, and the world."
* Note: Please click on the following link for Prof. Wijesinha's speech, which is given under the High Level Segment of the commemorative session which took place in the afternoon from 14:45 - 18:15.
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