Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,
Welcome to this end-of-year opportunity to get together and to exchange wishes on the eve of upcoming festivities. It is a particular pleasure to greet you all today on the International Human Rights Day, and I would like to share a few thoughts with you on this particular day.
This year is a special one. We mark both the 71st anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Paris and the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Moreover, this year marks the 40th anniversary of the Convention of the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, and yesterday, 9th of December, was the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the crime of Genocide and the prevention of this crime.
Anniversaries are opportunities for reflexion. They might be reasons to celebrate, but more importantly they are useful reminders and the right moment to take stock. Regretfully, decades after these documents were adopted we still cannot take human rights for granted. On the contrary, human rights and fundamental freedoms have come under new pressure. We face not only an exponential rise in violations of human rights in the context of armed conflicts, but also growing risks for human rights and their defenders in many countries, including within democratic societies.
But human rights are not subjective “values” that should be adapted to local identities and cultures as a matter of political choice or preference: the Universal Declaration was developed by persons from all regions of the world who were keen to encapsulate essential elements from various cultures in this universal document, and we believe "it is the duty of States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems to promote and protect all human rights and freedoms."
Human rights are not something that can be delayed until social and economic development or security have advanced. In fact, human rights violations are often the precursor to conflict. There is much evidence that confirms that respect for human rights, promotion of good governance and inclusive and democratic societies, together with support to free media and a vibrant civil society, are the best ways to guarantee sustainable security, stability and prosperity.
Seventy years after the Universal Declaration on Human Rights was written we are still working to turn each and every word from that Declaration into practice. And a big part of our collective work is carried out by NGOs. So, I would like to use this opportunity to sincerely thank all representatives from Civil Society Organisations and those working to defend human rights with whom we work on a daily basis also here in Kazakhstan – many of you are here today. You are an essential part of our work to promote and protect human rights.
Because this is not only an anniversary; it is not simply a commemoration. The Universal Declaration remains a manifesto for today. It remains the guiding light for the future of our European Union, and, I hope, of all our partners across the world. That is the best tribute we can pay to those who, seventy years ago, drafted a Universal Declaration amidst the ruins of the worst global conflict ever.
It is sometimes said that "charity begins at home", and this is even more the case for human rights. Let me conclude by quoting Eleanor Roosevelt:
"Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. […] Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world."
Thank you very much for your attention!