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Statement by H.E Neville Gertze, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Republic of Namibia to the United Nations on behalf of the African Group at the General Assembly Commemorative event to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Secretary General

Madam President,

I take the floor on behalf of the African Group and would like to thank you for organizing this Commemorative event to mark the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration for Human Rights. We consider the Universal Declaration as the most important landmark document on human rights. The African Group upholds the tenets of the Declaration, and recognize the historic effects the Declaration had on many of our countries.

I say this to remind that, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted on 10 December 1948, only four African countries were Member States of the United Nations and had a seat at the table. At that time, most of us where absent, because we were still under the yoke of Colonialism. The adoption of the Declaration came as a beacon of hope for us as it set out human rights and fundamental freedoms that should be inherent for every human being. This spoke directly to our plight and the reality of the times. The first article of this important document sets out that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. For many liberation movements across the continent, this and the following articles added impetus to our struggles for freedom and independence; and amplified the case against injustice and colonial subjugation. Therefore, for the African Group, the historical setting of the Declaration’s adoption also serves as a reminder of how far we have come as nations in the fight for the full respect of all human rights and fundamental freedoms. We have come to embrace this Declaration wholeheartedly, and recognize that, by protecting all the rights enshrined therein, we are laying the foundation for freedom, justice and peace in the world.

Madam President,

We recall the dynamic and inspirational leadership of the Chair of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Drafting Committee, Ms. Eleanor Roosevelt, later refered to by President Harry Truman as the “First Lady of the World” in tribute to her human rights achievements. We salute her for her strong conviction that the Declaration would have the same kind of influence on global society as the Declaration of Independence had on the citizens of her own country.

Madame President,

The African Group takes pride in the progress we have made in advancing human rights in our various countries. As Members of the African Union and our own sub-regional organizations, many African Group Member States have adopted further instruments for the protection and promotion of human rights. Through the African Union, African Member States have adopted the 1969 Organization of African Unity Convention on the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and its 2003 Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, the 1990 African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the 2009 Convention on Internally Displaced Persons.

Some of the above, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, make direct reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, having expanded the scope of human rights provided for therein. From ECOWAS, to ECAS and SADC, African Member States have demonstrated their willingness to improve human rights for their people by adopting specific and direct treaties, declarations and guidelines to address specific concerns, such as children’s rights, women’s rights, the rights of migrants and refugees and any number of new and emerging concerns.

Madam President,

A number of institutions have also been set up to facilitate the effective implementation of the instruments mentioned above, including the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. These institutions have made a tremendous contribution to the advancement of human rights on the continent. If they are resourced sufficiently, their impact will be felt across the continent, especially where it matters most, with those furthest left behind.

As we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement, it is incumbent on the entire community of nations to guard against the threats posed to human rights, including xenophobia, racism, trafficking of persons, attacks against migrants and other pressing threats to the well-being of our planet and the citizens of the world, as a mark of their recommitment to the ideals and values of the Declaration.

Madam President,

The African Group remains committed to upholding the Universal Declaration for Human Rights in order to realize a more peaceful, just and equitable world. This to us is what defines humanity in the true spirit of Ubuntu, where the welfare of my neighbor translates into the welfare of us all as a community of nations.

I thank you

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