[RC's Statement] on World Human Rights Day

Today we come together to join the global celebrations of the International Human Rights Day. This is a day that celebrates our common value for human dignity for every person, of every culture and every belief. These celebrations serve as a testimony that we are all bound by the timeless power of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and that we do our utmost to uphold the ideals and aspirations embodied in the Declaration.

The theme for this year’s celebrations is “Inclusion and the right to participate in public life”.  Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights specifically exhorts states to support their citizens in participating in public life. This includes participation in elections and electoral processes as well as access to public services.  The concept of participation in public life is broad and can include being able to exercise functions in government, in parliament and local councils, and in the judiciary.   The concept also includes participation in organization such as: political parties, trade unions, professional associations, women's organizations, and any other organizations concerned with public and political life.

In this regard states are encouraged to recognise the voice and contributions of their citizens in all processes in order to best define how such inputs can be harnessed and included for the development benefit of each country

The Universal Declaration on Human Rights has gained wide and far reaching acceptance globally as a standard for the normative content of human rights.  It protects all the rights.  From civil and political to economic, social and cultural rights. In this way it reinforces the interconnectedness, indivisibility and universality of human rights.

Human rights and citizen participation are mutually reinforcing concepts.  With citizen participation, we can aspire to protect and promote human rights in a sustainable manner. The protection and promotion of human rights also need political commitments as well as the appropriate legal framework. 

Along these lines, it is important to note that Zimbabwe has ratified key international human rights instruments that define the normative standards for participation in public life such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.  The respect and implementation of these instruments will go a long way to contribute to a framework in which the human rights of citizens can be truly achieved.

In Zimbabwe, we have also recently witnessed some good practices when it comes to participation. I make reference here to the participation of different stakeholders in the Universal Periodic Review Process.  The UPR process saw the government, civil society organisations, national human rights institutions,  business and labour organisations coming together to make contributions on the progress of human rights promotion and protection in Zimbabwe. I take the opportunity to encourage all stakeholders to stay the course and to continue working cohesively together to finalize and adopt the resulting National Plan of Action that would allow the country to address the weaknesses identified during the UPR process. 

Similarly, other national processes such as the constitution making have also supported participation of groups of peoples from political parties, civil society organisations, and ordinary citizens. During the outreach process, for instance, thousands of Zimbabweans got an opportunity to give their views on the new draft Constitution.  As Zimbabwe nears the Constitutional Referendum and the next harmonized Elections, it is my hope that this spirit of inclusion, tolerance and participation will continue to underpin these important processes.

Today’s celebrations commenced with a march from Africa Unity Square through the city streets and are culminating in this sharing and exchanging of ideas.  The participation of various stakeholders is commendable and should act as a constant reminder that indeed, human rights promotion and protection are the responsibility of each and every one of one of us.  

The United Nations supports human rights as an end in itself, as well as a means for peace and development.  In our programs, we seek to integrate human rights principles in order to better achieve development.  Along these lines, we take guidance from national development plans such as Zimbabwe’s Medium Term Plan, to support national efforts to achieve the human rights in their entirety -- including civic rights as well economic, social, and cultural rights.

As the United Nations Country Team in Zimbabwe, we therefore seek to continue working closely with our national counterparts to further advance the promotion of human rights in Zimbabwe. As part our ZUNDAF, which is aligned to the MTP, we provide support to education, health, and environment but also to initiatives and programs that encourage participation in public life.  This support is grounded in our common belief which traces the strong links between reaching sustainable development through inclusion of all members of our societies.  Indeed, by increasing participation of all citizens in the planning and governance affairs of a country, we increase the chance to achieve sustainable development by harnessing views, ideas, and resources from the breath and width of our societies.  

Allow me to conclude by encouraging all of us to make human rights protection and promotion part and parcel of all our developmental efforts – regardless of the sector in which we work.  I want to quote the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, when he says: “Everyone has the right to be heard and to shape the decisions that affect their community”. The advancement of human rights is therefore everyone’s responsibility. Both state and non-state actors and both as individual and as collectives in our societies.  Allow me again to quote the UN SG when he further states in his message on this day that: “Even in societies with a good track record, there is room for improvement.  No country has succeeded in ensuring that all its inhabitants are able to participate fully in public affairs, including the right to be elected to public office and to have equal access to public services.  Enacting new rights or removing unjust laws is not always sufficient.  Too often, discrimination persists in practice, creating barriers and mindsets that can be hard to overcome.” 

We therefore need to all work together to remove any barriers and to ensure that we truly harness the contributions from all citizens towards the achievement of sustainable development.  

Ladies and Gentlemen, I conclude by thanking you for your attention and wishing you fruitful and happy celebrations of International Human Rights Day.

Thank you