Speech – Commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Friday 16th November, 2018.
Delivered by Mr. Lavetanalagi Seru, Coordinator of AFG - FIji
Your Excellency – The President of Fiji, Major General [Ret’d] Jioje Konrote.
The United Nations Resident Coordinator in the Pacific – Mr. Sanaka Samarasinha.
Members of the Diplomatic Corp
Ladies, Gentlemen & Young People.
I am deeply honored to stand here and speak on behalf of young people -– in all our diversity, from vibrant cultures, backgrounds, beliefs and languages – all connected by the Moana [ocean], we the people of this vast Pasifika.
Today we commemorate the 70th anniversary of a document - that rose from the ashes of a war torn world, that finds its origins in the memories of pain and suffering, and lost future for many, - a document that today has become the beacon of hope for humanity – as it ensures the promotion, protection, the defense, and respect of the rights of all human, anywhere on the face of this planet.
Young people are part of this event today, because we recognize the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in our lives, in our homes, in our communities, in our workplaces, and in society at large.
Amongst the many threats that threatens or infringes the exercising and fulfillment of our rights, there is no such greater threat than the looming ecological crisis that man has brought upon himself, prominent of those – climate change – an issue that has slowly begun to grapple us here in the Pacific.
Climate change represents an enormous threat to a whole host of human rights; the right to food, the right to water and sanitation, the right to development. The loss of arable lands as the result of sea level rise – and possible frequent natural disasters of great intensities can exacerbate the violation of our rights in one way or another. This surfaced in the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Winston in Fiji, and Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu – where sexual and gender based violence have seen an increase during such times, including domestic violence.
Children are being denied education opportunities as schools are damaged. Workers are being laid off as businesses close – these are just a few examples.
Furthermore, a recent research commissioned by Oxfam in Fiji – titled “Down by the River Research” identified the systemic challenges, coupled with pervasive discrimination and stigma against the LGBTQI community – many of whom were young people – and were unable to exercise their right, to access safe shelters and evacuation centers and/or immediate response assistance – due to their perceived and/or actual gender identities or sexual orientation, in the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Winston.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights thus becomes ever more relevant, as it promises to all - the economic, social, political, cultural and civic rights that underpin a life free from want or fear, and it is important that young people are made aware of these inherent rights, and taught to develop the sense of responsibility that enables them to exercise their rights responsibly.
Everyone has a role to play – Governments as duty bearers must ensure that the rights and freedoms of its citizens are respected and promoted - including the rights of indigenous peoples, LGBTQI communities, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations – as well as right to development, gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity. Civil society plays a critical role in advocacy and also in holding governments accountable as duty bearers. Similarly at community and household level, elders have the responsibility to impart onto the young one’s the importance of these rights and the responsibility that comes with it.
I would like to acknowledge and remember those human right defenders, advocates, activists, women rights defenders and feminists who have championed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I also remember our Western Papua community who today are still facing human rights challenges.
Today as we celebrate the 70 years of this document, we also look forward with hope – to the next 70 years and beyond, as we are passed the baton to uphold, defend, protect and promote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – and ensuring its respect and fulfillment by all.
I leave us with the words of Eleanor Roosevelt – the chair of the commission that wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
“Without concerted citizen action to uphold the Universal Rights close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”
Let us rise to the challenge, and continue to work to uphold these rights – beginning with ourselves as individuals, then with our families, our work colleagues, our communities – as we spread to every corner of the vast Pasifika.
Organizing Partners; UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the Pacific, Pacific Islands Development Forum, Pacific Council of Churches, University of the South Pacific & the Alliance for Future Generations - Fiji.