Today, wars scar large swathes of the world, and we face the highest number of conflicts since 1945. Some of the worst human rights violations occur during war and conflict including the scourge of gender-based violence against women and girls. At the same time, some of the poorest and most marginalised people are bearing the brunt of a climate emergency that is now intensifying, impacting people’s rights, including to live in safety -- from droughts and floods that lead to crop failure and hunger, to forcing people to move as their home or livelihood is destroyed. As we mark the 75th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 2023, there may appear to be little cause for celebration on the surface. Yet that Declaration -- and the over 70 human rights treaties derived from it -- remain our world’s best tool to prevent conflict, while now providing the platform to spur bold new action to tackle climate change, the greatest-ever threat to human rights.
The global commitment to sustainable development outlined in the 2030 Agenda -- with a focus on leaving no one behind -- is a rights-based agenda. Indeed, a just and peaceful world is built on the foundation of respecting the rights and dignity of every individual. Advancing the letter and spirit of the UDHR has helped to improve the lives of millions of people across the world. For instance, in 2022 alone, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) supported 104 countries to respect, protect, and fulfil human rights, including assisting 17 countries to address sexual and gender- based violence or conflict-related sexual violence. Working with the UN Human Rights Office and National Human Rights Institutions, UNDP is also supporting human rights defenders to ensure that they can undertake their vital work. Through initiatives such as our Climate Promise, UNDP is ensuring that key groups like young people and women can have their say in the design of their futures. UNDP is also supporting countries to ensure that they uphold existing human rights obligations and push new frontiers, including using new technology to improve public service delivery that also safeguards and advances human rights. This year, UNDP also worked with governments and companies in 38 countries to support the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
For human rights to flourish, there is an implicit obligation on everyone and every entity to nurture the UDHR. To this end, UNDP is joining our UN partners and Member States in committing to meaningful pledges as part of the Human Rights 75 Initiative. First, we pledge to support Member States to operationalize the right of everyone to live in a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment in 100 countries by 2030. In a world facing the increasing impacts of climate change and the continued destruction of our natural world, this will empower communities with new tools to protect the rights of both humanity and the Earth. Second, we pledge to support Member States to integrate human rights and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) systems in 75 countries. With the clock ticking toward 2030, we need a concerted push to integrate human rights into the SDGs to make their promise – to leave no one behind – a reality. And finally, we pledge to improve our rights-based programming for sustainable development and to leave no one behind in development.
The UDHR’s promise, of dignity and equality in rights, has been under assault like never before in living memory. Yet three-quarters of a century since its adoption, the values and rights enshrined in it remain its greatest strength. They provide the means to confront our universal challenges -- from confronting conflicts and poverty to reforming the global financial architecture, taking climate action, ending racism and discrimination, and advancing gender equality.
Achim Steiner, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)