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UN Calls for Respect for Human Rights


To mark Human Rights Day on 10 December, the United Nations kicked-off a year-long campaign leading up to the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in December 2008. The campaign aims to promote the declaration's ideals and principles of justice and equality for everyone. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from the United Nations in Geneva.

In a video message to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, U.N. Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon said the Universal Declaration of Human Rights remains as relevant today as it was on the day it was adopted.

"But, the fundamental freedoms enshrined in it are still not a reality for everyone," he noted. "Too often, governments lack the political will to implement international norms they have willingly accepted."

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, echoed Mr. Ban's call for respect for the values and principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration.

In a subsequent news conference, Arbour told journalists the Declaration was not a product of Western cultural values. She said the Declaration contains universal principles that are relevant to all cultures.

"How they are expressed, I think in various communities, is very much dependent on traditions and cultural and religious values," added Arbour. "But not to the point of rejecting, for instance, the fundamental principle that all human beings are born equal, free and equal in rights and dignity. I cannot accept that there is any culture, religion or tradition that should supersede that fundamental principle."

Arbour warned the so-called war against terrorism has resulted in an erosion of rights. She agreed governments have a duty to provide for the security and safety of their people. But, she said, they must do this without affecting other human rights.

"They must balance the series of competing rights. That is, measures put in place to enhance securities must be respectful of the right to privacy, of the right to be protected against arbitrary arrest, extra-judicial executions," said Arbour. "There are a whole series of guarantees that I think compete equally for the attention of governments.... We have an equal appetite for safety and for freedom. We are not prepared to surrender all our freedoms for the sake of enhancing absolutely our security."

The U.N. Human Rights Chief also urged people to denounce counter-terrorism initiatives that are founded on discriminatory views and practices. She singled out the practice of racial profiling, which she said is not compatible with respect for human rights.

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