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Human Rights 75

HR75 high-level event: United for change

15 December 2023

UN Human Rights Chief Volker Türk shared a moment with members of the UN Human Rights Youth Advisory Group. ©OHCHR/Irina Popa

“We are here to rebuild a foundation of hope. Hope that we need now, perhaps more than ever, at this sombre moment in history,” said UN Human Rights Chief Volker Türk during his opening statement made to heads of State during the Human Rights 75 (HR 75) high-level event in Geneva, Switzerland. “Disorder and division. Complex and bitter geopolitics. Deepening inequalities. And fear… Trust – in each other, and in the institutions that guide us – is in freefall.”  

Member States, civil society actors, experts, artists, young people, and human rights defenders met from 11-12 December for the highly anticipated UN Human Rights’ high-level event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The UN Human Rights summit was co-hosted by the Government of Switzerland and was an occasion to craft a common vision for the future of human rights and to rejuvenate the spirit that led to the adoption of the Declaration at a time when the protection and promotion of human rights is more relevant than ever.

For 75 years, the core ambition of the Declaration has been to infuse societies with equality, fundamental freedoms and justice. It enshrines the rights of all human beings and is a global blueprint for international, national, and local laws and policies and a bedrock of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Türk reminded participants how the conflicts in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel, as well as in Ukraine, Sudan, Myanmar and many other places are inflicting terrible suffering on civilians, without remorse.

“We are backtracking on the crucial ambitions set out in the Sustainable Development Agenda,” he said. “Civic space is being strangled, silencing the voices that can power the change we actually need. The climate crisis is burning up our world. They are not the failure of human rights: they bear witness to the damage that is done when human rights are ignored and violated.”

The event offered 2,200 participants who attended in person and from virtual hubs and thousands of people who tuned in via the Human Rights Virtual Conference Centre, a range of engaging roundtable sessions focusing on the four key discussion areas including the environment, human rights economy, peace and security and emerging digital technologies within the human rights framework, as well as on the universality and indivisibility of human rights and on voices in defence of human rights.

“I am asking you to shift from the specifics of your national or individual perspectives to four key discussion areas about how we can make human rights central to all policymaking and all action, now and in the future,” said Türk. “Human rights is a global public good – and as leaders, you are entrusted with the duty of advancing it.”

Human rights principles are our best solution to this fraught and frightened world. I entreat you to rekindle the spirit, impulse and vitality that led to the Universal Declaration 75 years ago.

Volker Türk, UN Human Rights Chief

During the year, the HR75 Initiative called for Member States and key stakeholders like civil society, the private sector, parliamentarians and the public to make pledges — tangible commitments to advance human rights protection at the national, regional, or global levels — from revamping systems and policies to being a vocal defender of human rights. During the high-level event, Türk announced that 150 States publicized their own pledges with 286 pledges (and counting) in total from NGOs, businesses and UN entities on a wide range of human rights issues from advancing women’s rights, and children’s rights, to commitments on climate change, empowering people with disabilities to ensure legislative reforms.

There were also sessions that gave the floor to young people who had the opportunity for their voices to be heard on the international stage.

“Today, we need to talk about you, and to listen to you and the millions of young people that are behind you, who are hopefully watching this, and watching also their future,” Türk said during the Youth Dialogue session. “Your generations will carry forward the torch of freedom from fear and from want – and the colossal task of determining the future of humanity and our planet.”

Youth was also key focus during the session, You have the floor, where young human rights defenders engaged in a panel discussion and the HR75 Youth Advisory Group, a group of 12 young activists from all over the world, unveiled their Youth Declaration

“Our declaration draws strength from the collective wisdom of young voices worldwide. From the streets to the digital realm, we've harnessed the energy of the youth, pouring it into a vessel of hope, resilience, and determination,” said Allyson Denisse Castillo, Chilean LGBTQI+ activist and Youth Advisory Group member.

At the opening of the panel, Eleanor Kennedy, Senior Advisor for the Open Society Foundations, (OSF) presented the key findings from the Open Society Barometer report, a survey launched in September 2023, that illustrates the attitudes, concerns, and hopes of 36,000 people across 30 countries — making it one of the largest reports of global public opinion on human rights and democracy every created. According to the report, 70 percent of people surveyed emphasized the essential role human rights still play in people’s lives.

“This has been a truly remarkable event, profoundly useful to the cause of human rights,” Türk said. “It has been a demonstration of commitment by people from every walk of life, from all kinds of societies to the cause of human rights.”

HR75 High-Level Event Highlights