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Pepijn Gerrits, NHC Executive Director, on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 70th Anniversary

10 December 2018

Today, December 10 2018, the world celebrates the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). 70 years ago world leaders gathered to acknowledge the universal and indivisible rights enshrined in this historic document. To this day the UDHR provides the framework around which a global community strive for a more fair and just world. Indeed we have taken great steps towards this world, one in which the fundamental rights and freedoms outlined in the UDHR are widely upheld and respected. And it is right, that on such a momentous anniversary, we celebrate this progress and reflect upon the important human rights work the UDHR has inspired.

To this day the UDHR provides the framework around which a global community strive for a more fair and just world.”

With this in mind, I would take this opportunity to highlight the My Human Rights Hero exhibition, free and open to the public at Het Nutshuis until February 2 2019. The exhibition, a collaboration between the NHC, Justice & Peace and Kinder- en Jongerenrechtswinkel Den Haag, Nederlands Juristen Comité voor de Mensenrechten, and Fonds1818 celebrates seven human rights heroes who all have a link to The Hague, the home of the NHC. In a fitting tribute to the UDHR, photography, artwork and interviews serve to take you on a thought provoking journey through the personal stories of our human rights heroes.

Today, however, should not only be about celebration. 70 years on from the adoption of the UDHR, a worrying trend threatens the freedoms of expression, assembly and association. These fundamental rights, enshrined in the UDHR and thus protected under international law, should serve as the foundations of a free, open and independent civil society. And yet across the globe, governments, populist or neo-conservative, are creating an environment that is hostile towards civil society and civic engagement. This is especially true in the NHC’s area of focus, in the EU and OSCE states. Civic activists and journalists are constrained through legislative and administrative pressure and, in some cases, the criminalisation of their work. Human rights defenders face sustained smear campaigns in the media and daily intimidation, sometimes violent and tragically fatal.

70 years on from the adoption of the UDHR, a worrying trend threatens the freedoms of expression, assembly and association.”

We must continue to unite and act against abuses of power and the forces that seek to undermine the historic document that we celebrate today. Participating in the No Day Without Us join action day, the NHC joins over 110 European and International civil society organizations in highlighting the value of a vibrant and independent civic space. Such a space allows civil society organizations to contribute decisively, and in concrete terms, to a just, democratic and free world. The consequences of allowing these attacks on civil society and democracy to continue would be grave, and today the NHC calls on all those who believe in a just and free society to stand up for our shared rights.

Pepijn Gerrits, Executive Director, Netherlands Helsinki Committee