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Message from the Director-General of UNESCO on the occasion of Human Rights Day (10 December 2002)

08-12-2002 - Recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. These key principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are as valid today as on 10 December 1948 when it was adopted. Sadly, lack of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is still the main source of instability, tension and violence in the world.


Extreme poverty constitutes a denial of human dignity and a flagrant violation of human rights. A world where hundreds of millions of people are unable to satisfy their basic needs cannot be considered fair or just. The fact that almost one-third of the world’s population lives in conditions of poverty is incompatible with the United Nations Charter, in which the States proclaimed their common determination to promote social progress and better standards of life in the ambit of broader freedom. The eradication of poverty is the clear priority on the international agenda, thereby confirming that freedom from want should be guaranteed for all.

The current wave of violence marked by armed conflicts, hostilities and inter-community tension in many parts of the world is both a consequence of violations of human rights and a trigger for new violations. In combination with terrorism and organized crime, this violence undermines one of the fundamental freedoms of humankind: freedom from fear. Lasting peace and genuine human security can be ensured only when human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected. Security cannot be guaranteed at the expense of human rights.

The fight against racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia must be conducted with a greater energy. In an increasingly multiracial, multiethnic and multicultural global community, the elimination of racism will help to avoid new divisions and will contribute to the sustainment of harmonious diversity. There must be no place in our world for such violations of human rights as trafficking in human beings, torture, or the economic and sexual exploitation of children.

Women must have opportunities to realize all their human rights and enjoy unhindered access to equal participation in political, economic, social and cultural life. This should be achieved by a combination of various measures, including those directed towards securing change in people’s attitudes, values and behaviour, especially in societies where men have traditionally held dominant positions.

Commitment to human rights, to the dignity and worth of all human beings and to the equal rights of men and women is at the core of the activities of the United Nations system. This commitment is being reaffirmed in the process of current reforms that the United Nations in general and UNESCO in particular are implementing in order to respond more effectively to the challenges of today.

Through education, policy-oriented research and awareness-raising, UNESCO intends to increase its contribution to the promotion and protection of all human rights for all. In these efforts, we are inspired by the Millennium Declaration and the recommendations of the World Conference on Human Rights (1993). Respect for the principle of the indivisibility, interrelation and interdependence of human rights is at the heart of our endeavours. We should always remember that all human rights – civil, cultural, economic, political and social – are of equal importance and are universal. Cultural specificities and local traditions cannot be used to justify derogations from human rights obligations established by international law.

This world belongs to everyone and it is our responsibility to make it a place where the dignity and rights of each person are respected. Only such a world will be just, free and secure.


  • Human Rights at UNESCO
  • OHCHR - Human Rights Day

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