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EU at the UN

The EU's commitment to effective multilateralism, with the UN at its core, is a central element of its external action. As a UN observer with enhanced status, the EU delegation coordinates with its 28 Member States to speak with one voice. The EU also works closely with the UN secretariat and its agencies, funds & programmes, partnering on a range of global issues and challenges.

Mr. President,

I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union. The Candidate Countries Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey and Croatia , the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro, and the EFTA country Iceland, member of the European Economic Area, align themselves with this statement.

Mr. President,

At the ceremony of the laying of the cornerstone of this building, a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, together with a copy of the UN Charter, was deposited inside that cornerstone. An act, symbolizing that human rights is one of the core foundations of the United Nations.

And, to quote President Truman at that ceremony: “the Charter plainly makes respect for human rights by nations a matter of international concern. The member nations have learned from bitter experience that regard for human rights is indispensable to political, economic, and social progress. They have learned that disregard of human rights is the beginning of tyranny and, too often, the beginning of war.” A message equally relevant today, as it was 55 years ago, at the ceremony of the laying of the cornerstone. The promotion and protection of all human rights is, and should be, a legitimate concern of the international community.

When our predecessors proclaimed the Universal Declaration, they did so with several purposes in mind. One is, that every individual and every organ of society, keeping the Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive, by teaching and education, to promote respect for these rights and freedoms. Human rights education is thus, clearly, a primary purpose of the Declaration. The Declaration is a text, meant to tell people about their inherent rights. It is therefore appropriate that we, today, on Human Rights Day, 56 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration, address the issue of human rights education.

Mr. President,

Human rights education is essential for the achievement of stable and harmonious relations among communities, and for fostering mutual understanding, tolerance and peace. It is essential for the promotion and protection as well as the full enjoyment of all human rights and establishing the rule of law. In a world in which everybody knows his or her rights, in which governments are held accountable for their actions, the chances for human rights to prevail will significantly improve.

When we proclaimed the Decade for Human Rights Education, ten years ago, we did so with article 26 of the Universal Declaration in mind: “Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

It is perhaps fitting, that this paragraph was proposed by a representative of the World Jewish Congress. Total neglect of this principle led to the horrors and barbarism of the Second World War. Human rights education is an indispensable element in any strategy to prevent racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, intolerance and Islamophobia. When we commemorate, in a few months, the liberation of the concentration camps, let us remember where disregard and contempt for human rights have led to in our past. In present days, the scourge of anti-semitism still spreads its venom. Only by teaching tolerance, respect and mutual understanding will we be able to overcome hatred and bigotry. Only by inspiring faith in the dignity and worth of the human person and will we be able to foster universal respect for human rights. Human Rights Education is a key to changing attitudes and behavior and to promoting tolerance and respect for diversity in societies.

We have come to the end of the Decade on Human Rights Education. The European Union welcomes the achievements of the Decade. Human Rights Education now figures prominently on our agendas. Awareness has been raised of the need for human rights education. A framework for international cooperation in this area has been provided for. Many activities have been developed at the local and national level: school curricula and textbooks have been revised to eliminate stereotypes and reflect human rights principles. Human rights courses and master’s degree programmes have been developed. Training of law enforcement personnel in the field of human rights has been provided.

Yet, many challenges remain. We still have a long way to go. We need to collect and disseminate good practices. We need to better facilitate exchange of expertise at national and regional level. We need to further develop educational materials. Resources for human rights education are often too scarce.

The European Union attaches great importance to efforts at the national and regional level to promote human rights education. The OSCE meeting in Vienna this year on “human rights education and training” focused on consolidating ongoing efforts to promote human-rights education and training in the OSCE region and gave recommendations on how to improve the quality of human-rights education and training.

The European Union strongly supports the Human Rights Education Youth programme of the Council of Europe. We welcome its focus on the indivisibility and interdependence of human rights and fundamental freedoms. We commend the Council for its manual on human rights education, directed at making human rights education accessible and useful to educators, teachers and trainers.

The European Union welcomes the proclamation, today, of the World Programme for Human Rights Education. And we commend in particular the Governments of Australia and Costa Rica for their efforts in this field. We encourage member states to review the draft plan of action for the first phase of the world programme (A/59/525) with a view to its early adoption and implementation.

The European Union is particularly pleased to see the focus of its first phase of the World Programme on the primary and secondary school systems. As the Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates: the education of children shall be directed to the preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin.

The European Union would like to express its hope that the World Programme will lead to significant and visible activities at the national and local level. Because we can proclaim Decades, we can adopt Programmes of Action, we can draft resolutions as much as we want; if these do not result in concrete activities, if these do not lead to improvement on the ground, all our efforts have been entirely in vain.

The European Union welcomes the leading role of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNESCO in the field of human rights education. The role of OHCHR in developing training material, supporting national efforts through technical co-operation and facilitating information-sharing is indispensable. The contribution of UNESCO, including through its partnership activities with teaching and research institutions and its relations with the media is of equal importance.

Mr. President,

Today, it is human rights day. We commemorate that 56 years ago, in Paris, we, the peoples of the United Nations, adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. Still, gross violations of human rights continue to occur all over the world. And today, as well as any other day, our thoughts should be with the victims, those who are killed, oppressed, or imprisoned.

When we deposited the Universal Declaration in that cornerstone, Mr. President, what did we actually do? Did we really build our United Nations on the foundations of Human Rights? Or did we just safely bury the Declaration in a place for nobody to find?

Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertie Ramcharan warned the Commission on Human Rights earlier this year. He said: “If you ever dilute your protection role, history’s judgement will be harsh. For it is the people who suffer when there is silence in the face of atrocities”. And his words are relevant, not only for the Commission, but for the entire UN system.

So let us teach, let us train, let us educate and let us learn. Let us create a culture of human rights, where the threshold to knowing about our human rights is law and the rule of law prospers. But let us also never forget our duty to speak out for the victims. And let us never fail to remember our obligation to promote and protect human rights.

Thank you, Mr. President.


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