Press Release


6 December 2002

“The best chance for preventing, limiting, solving and recovering
from conflict and violence lies in the restoration
and defence of the rule of law “.

We commemorate today the creation of one of the most important testaments of our times: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is an occasion to reflect on our human rights achievements as well as to rededicate ourselves to overcoming our shortcomings.

The Declaration is a timeless and powerful document that captures the profound aspirations of humankind to live in dignity, equality and security. It provides minimum standards and has helped turn moral issues into a legally binding framework. Today, human rights, as protected by the rule of law, are now demanded by civil society. They are adopted as pillars of domestic and foreign policy. They are invoked by parliaments, national and international judiciaries, the media, schools, workers, employers and corporations.

Yet, we are living in profoundly challenging times for human rights. On this day, I would like us to think in particular of the countless number of civilians who are living in the midst of war and conflict and who continue to endure atrocities which should outrage the conscience of humanity. Their basic rights, though enshrined in human rights and humanitarian law, are denied. For many, war is distant and the graphic images of human suffering enter their lives only through the media. But for the millions of victims of armed conflict, war represents the daily reality. Men and women are killed, maimed, raped, displaced, detained, tortured, and denied basic humanitarian assistance, and their property destroyed because of war. Children are abducted, forcibly recruited into arms, separated from their families, sexually-exploited, suffer hunger, disease and malnutrition, and are unable to go to school. They are not only denied their present, but also their future.

It is appalling that impunity for gross violations of human rights and grave breaches of humanitarian law is so rampant. The entry into force of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court on 1 July 2002 has given great hope for finally bringing an end to genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Let us work together towards ensuring the success of this much-needed institution.

But we need to do a lot more. We must look with renewed urgency to means that will truly promote and protect human rights in areas ravaged by conflict. Let us pursue a comprehensive strategy focusing most importantly on ensuring that conflict is in the first place prevented, while seeking also to protect civilians caught in the cross-fire, helping to achieve peace, and assisting in rebuilding war-torn societies on solid foundations of respect for human rights.

The best chance for preventing, limiting, solving and recovering from conflict and violence lies in the restoration and defence of the rule of law. Armed conflict stands as a bloody monument to the failure of the rule of law. We must break the cycle of violence. Where armed repression strips people of their rights and dignity, let those responsible answer under the rule of law. Where terrorism inflicts misery, let those responsible answer under the rule of law. Let the fundamental rules of human rights and human dignity apply to every state and every armed group, every individual and every collective, every public entity and every private corporation.

Sergio Vieira de Mello
High Commissioner for Human Rights

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