Message from Ms. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, on the Occasion of Human Rights Day
10 December 2020
Nelson Mandela, a leading advocate of the “common ideal” defined by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, stated that “to deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”
As we celebrate Human Rights Day, these words resonate more strongly at this difficult time for the international community.
The pandemic has reopened old wounds, deepened inequalities, increased violence against women, and hit hard at the most vulnerable among us.
Thus, this crisis gives us all the opportunity to place human rights at the heart of our common project to “build back better”, which is the theme for 2020.
UNESCO’s mandate is particularly relevant in this regard and is underpinned by the humanistic conviction that a more harmonious world must be based on the universal pillars of culture, education, science and information.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have worked tirelessly in all our fields of competence, in particular to combat manifestations of racism and xenophobia, which have increased during the pandemic.
A major role will be played by UNESCO’s International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities. We have chosen cities as a priority to spearhead a response against all forms of discrimination, exclusion and violation of inalienable rights – rights which underpin human dignity.
The pandemic has also confirmed that scientific research is more important than ever and has encouraged the development of digital tools best suited to the challenges of today. UNESCO is committed to promoting humanistic scientific progress through the development of two standard-setting instruments on the ethics of artificial intelligence and on Open Science.
Finally, this Human Rights Day gives us the opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to another fundamental right, the right to education, as proclaimed in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: “Everyone has the right to education.”
The Declaration must act, more than ever, as our reference point. In this regard, let us recall the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, who said at the time of its adoption that the Declaration would improve the rights of everyone, in all regions of the world, and lead “to a higher standard of living and greater enjoyment of freedom”.
On this Human Rights Day, let us remember that human rights are not something to be taken for granted, but rather a daily endeavour for which we must mobilize, both today and in the future.