UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein addressed a distinguished audience attending the AJC’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights (JBI) annual Human Rights Lecture. He urged governments, civil society and human rights advocates intensifying efforts to uphold those fundamental rights

“Human rights law is not some idle luxury, weird or out of touch with the realities of today. Rather, it is one of the most delicate and critical inventions contrived by humans for the upholding of global peace,” said Al Hussein.

Looking ahead to the 70th anniversary of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the High Commissioner declared “we must use this commemoration to alert, and crucially, to inform.” The Declaration “discredits the tyranny, discrimination, and contempt for human beings which scarred human history.”

In his speech, “Why We Stand for Human Rights,” Al Hussein addressed current international and U.S. domestic attitudes towards human rights. The High Commissioner warned of the dangerous “cocktail” some national leaders have publicly espoused recently – “one part chauvinistic nationalism, one part balance-of-power swordplay and a crumbling adherence to law.” He reminded the audience that “the combination of all of this, in the early part of the twentieth century, led to the annihilation of millions of people. The calamity of two world wars and the Holocaust was precisely what led humanity to create in the first place our human rights architectures.”

“What would change the trajectory, would be the existence of a much broader, indeed worldwide, wave of popular support for universal human rights – pushing, prodding, holding their governments to the mark, and shaking-up the slumbering politicians,” he said. Al Hussein, who served as Jordan’s ambassador to the UN before his appointment as High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2014, challenged the audience and people around the world to “intensify, greatly, our advocacy and expand our reach in a manner that is without precedent.”

The High Commissioner issued a clarion call for human rights protections. “Now it is up to us. It is up to me; to you, to every kind of audience we can reach, in every country where there is still space to express thoughts, participate in decisions, raise one's voice. We need to stand up for the human rights system, and act to promote peace. We need to fight back against discrimination, and uphold justice, even at this most difficult time,” he said.

Founded in 1971, JBI strives to narrow the gap between the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights agreements and the realization of those rights in practice. JBI’s Chair is Jerry Biederman and its Director is Felice Gaer.

The JBI human rights lecture series in generously supported by Robert S. Rifkind, Honorary President of AJC and former Chair of JBI.

Photo: By Ludovic Courtès (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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