Human Rights Day | Ismail Ould Cheik Ahmed
10 Dec 2013
First of all, I wish to express my deepest condolences to the people of Yemen following the sad events of last Thursday. Our hearts are with families and friends of victims that were robbed the most basic human right of all – the right to life. I have the whole UN family in Yemen with me joining your grief of the lost lives and the wounded.
Last week also witnessed a great leader and global role model reaching the end of a fruitful and inspiring life. As we celebrate Human Rights Day this year, we remember how this leader started a global struggle that we are now left to continue. Nelson Mandela once said that: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Our freedom and our rights depend on each other; we are called to protect not only our own rights, but those of our sisters and brothers, regardless of race, religion, tribe, nationality or gender.
Respect for human rights principles stands at the heart of all the work we as the UN are doing. This is not merely because it is universally and morally right, it is also because we firmly believe that respect for human rights is the only approach that will foster long term development, peace and stability in any country.
Yemen is facing many challenges and respect for human rights needs to be at the center of all activities addressing these. It includes political rights as freedom of expression and protection under the rule of law, but it also includes rights to basic social services as education and healthcare, and the right to food and clean water. We are committed to assist Yemen in ensuring that people enjoy these rights.
UN has a large family of agencies and programmes present in Yemen. We have supported a draft law to establish an independent National Human Rights Institution in Yemen to ensure compliance with the Paris Principles. This was done in close consultation with civil society. The independent institution will address human rights violations committed by public authorities and needs to be endorsed very soon. We as the UN are dedicated to provide technical support if required to build capacities of this institution.
We acknowledge the need for greater transparency and accountability for participation of individuals, women and marginalized groups into public life, and we welcome the positive achievements in this regard under the National Dialogue Conference process. Bringing the political process forward, this trend needs to continue.
We recognize the importance of accountability for human rights violations committed in the past and the need for providing remedy and reparation to survivors. We commend the establishment of the National Commission of Inquiry and now call for the urgent need to appoint commissioners and make it fully operational.
The UN works to protect labor’s rights, including the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of race, creed, gender or social background, the right to equal pay for work of equal value, and the recognition that nobody has the right to make us work against our will, by compulsion or in situations similar to slavery.
We work to support migrants and refugees with limited access to social public services, and build awareness on the difficult realities facing many refugees and migrants inn Yemen. We are currently working with the Ministry of Human Rights to develop a law to combat human trafficking in Yemen and believe a firm and unified position against Human Trafficking and smuggling needs to be established. Currently, in addition to screening and identifications of victims of trafficking, we as the UN support victims by providing protection.
Half of all Yemenis are women. This is a resource the country cannot afford to ignore. We need to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women in law and in practice, including harmful practices such as FGM, and enhance participation of women in public life by introducing the 30% quota.
Addressing injustice faced by women and girls in Yemen includes the complete elimination of child marriages. It is a shame to still witness children being married off by family members against their will. We encourage the Yemeni government to set a minimum age for marriage, and to define by law what constitutes a child. This would enable actors like the government, the UN and the civil society to better ensure the protection of children and address harmful practices violating the rights of a child.
Yemen also needs to ensure that gender based and domestic violence is condemned in the county; there will be no free and prosperous future in Yemen unless we end degrading, harmful and life threatening domestic violence committed against women in their own homes.
Lastly I wish to again express our commitment to the people of Yemen. Together with the government, with the civil society, with international partners, but most of all with you, Yemenis of all background and affiliation, we stand committed to support building a future for Yemen where all can live fulfilled lives in peace.