Today, the UN in Ghana and key partners marked the 75th anniversary of the UDHR, reflecting on progress made and renewing their commitment to do more for all.
It is an honour to stand before you this day, as we observe the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the milestone document in the history of human rights adopted 75 years ago by the United Nations General Assembly.
Let me first of all express my deepest appreciation to the organisers of this year’s event, the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice, and my UN colleagues. Moreover, to the panelists and facilitators who represent a rich network of human rights advocates here in Ghana.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations on December 10, 1948, stands as a beacon of hope and a testament to our shared commitment to building a world where every individual can live a life of dignity and freedom.
The principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration are timeless and universal. They are a call to action for governments, institutions, and individuals to uphold the rights and freedoms of every person, regardless of race, color, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status. These rights include the right to life, liberty, and security of person; freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; and the right to work, education, and participation in the cultural and political life of one's country.
It is the duty of States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms. It is the bedrock upon which the 2030 agenda strives to achieve sustainable development goals. The 2030 agenda is tailored toward achieving fundamental human rights for all. This is why the United Nations stands for the rights of every member of our human family.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has since served as the pillar for an expanding system of human rights protection that today focuses also on vulnerable groups such as persons with disabilities, key populations, refugees and migrants.
On this basis, I would like to emphasize the words of Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Who said:
“It is absolutely clear that we need to regain the universality of human rights, the indivisibility of human rights, and we need to find a new energy that motivates young people around the world."
I would like to highlight the emphasis made by the High Commissioner on the role of young people. It is young people that need to be empowered and knowledgeable about their own and their communities’ rights. Without their involvement in the process, the advancement of human rights is stunted. I know that Ghana has a rich ecosystem of young human rights advocates, we need to find sustainable ways to nurture young and diverse voices.
Already Ghana has made good advancements through various frameworks and legislation, and the fruits of such efforts are reflected in its citizen’s awareness that human rights have been a “force for good in the world”, with the majority of Ghanaians (78%) committed to such fundamental beliefs, as recognized in the recent Open Society Barometer. I welcome the steps made towards the abolishment of the death penalty and of witch camps, and hope the work will continue to ensure that these proceed. I look forward to the discussions from our panelists and from you all as participants as we look to ensuring tangible actions to achieve the realization of such work.
However, when we speak about human rights we also need to internalize it. It is not abstract words, not impositions from others, but rights that are indivisible and interdependent. They are our own rights that we need to be educated upon and to claim, as people, as humans, with empathy and love for one another, unrelated to our creed or colour. This does not matter whether you are sat in Geneva, living in Saudi Arabia, or here within the West African Region.
With its recent election to the Human Rights Council, Ghana will need to champion and acknowledge that every person has dignity and value. It will need to espouse the responsibility of all member states to ensure right to life, the right to a fair trial, freedom from torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, rights to health, education and an adequate standard of living for all. Moreover, to ensure that citizens live a life free from fear, harassment or discrimination.
To this end, I would like to commend Ghana’s adoption of recommendations under the Universal Periodic Review, a national and peer member state review process on the human rights situation in a country. The UPR plays an extremely important function in advancing the realization of human rights nationally, regionally and globally. It provides significant momentum for stakeholders to assess the human rights situation in their country, to engage proactively in strategies that will imbue the importance of human rights for all Ghanaians from an early age so that they grow and recognize their own human rights, and have the tools and frameworks in place to ensure their realization.
Moreover, in specifically adopting recommendations that clearly set out protection of all vulnerable and marginalized groups from violence and discrimination, by enforcing existing laws that protect all persons without distinction, and by punishing perpetrators and ensuring victims proper access to rehabilitation and remedy.
There is much work to be done to ensure accountability and to support Ghana in claiming their role in advancing the human rights agenda. There is need for analysis on the steps needed to be taken to attain and implement the recommendations set out, to map the various actors that will lead, to ensure that there are clear indicators integrated to track progress, and set out specific deadlines.
I commend the Government, with support from various actors, who have started the process to ensure that such recommendations are put into practice through an implementation plan. I urge you to continue to ensure that the international commitments made and the engagement with international mechanisms become a lived reality for the citizens of this country. Ghana is a member state of the UN and has a real leading role to play in ensuring protection for all persons.
We at the UN are committed to this work and to strengthening the normative human rights framework in the country, ensuring that norms and policies are enhanced, that there is agility in strengthening human rights and to integrate a human rights-based approach, as in line with our Cooperation Framework 2023-2025, as signed with the Government of Ghana.
Our Cooperation Framework, inspired by Ghana’s own ambitions, identifies 3 pillars:
Inclusive economic transformation
Equitable access to services
Durable peace and security
In Ghana and in the sub-region. It also identifies a number of cross-cutting themes – around financing, climate, digital, exclusion, urbanization, governance and importantly, human rights – that impact all pillars and must be holistically integrated across all our work. This places the implementation plan at the heart of our work and implies that all UN entities (all 25-resident agencies and additional 25 initiative that operate here) integrate this lens into their work.
This is why I’m so thankful that today’s discussions cut across four very prominent but diverse human rights thematic areas:
Discrimination and Violence against Women
Freedom of Expression and Press Freedom
Protection against violence for key populations
Business and Human Rights, as well as environmental rights
It is up to all of us to create an ecosystem where we are able to speak out around human rights abuses, ensure that the mechanisms and systems to counter this are trustworthy, accountable, and proactive, and that there is cohesion and empathy between duty bearers and rights holders. Let us take this moment today to voice our perspectives in a respectful manner and work together to make tangible recommendations to improving human rights in Ghana.