Message of the UN Philippines Resident Coordinator for the 2021 Human Rights Observance of the UN Association of the Philippines
10 December 2021
Dear colleagues and partners
I am pleased to address you today, as we celebrate Human Rights Day.
This whole week has been filled with events and discussions on different human rights topics. It is an impressive Filipino demonstration of commitment by youth, men and women, workers, the government, civil society and others.
I recently visited Mindanao, where much of the United Nations work in the Philippines is centered. What stands out most, are my meetings with people, and their great energy and ideas for how to solve challenges they face. Women who spoke passionately about their role in community resilience; youth who talked wisely about environmental preservation; local officials who shared their vision of a future with clean and fair governance.
This gives rise to reflection.
Sometimes, we categorize people as being “at risk” or “left behind” or simply “the poor” - a group that is somehow distinct and removed from us. But there is nothing poor about their aspirations. And perhaps they we are “at risk” of a missed opportunity to harness the wisdom and visions of those seeking positive change.
And we don’t have to travel to Mindanao to realize this. A morning bike-ride in Manila can lead to the same conclusion.
Throughout the Philippines, in rural communities and cities, people are seeking dignified lives and opportunities for themselves and for their families. Yet for many, pre-existing inequalities, discrimination, or lack of access to basic services continue to present obstacles.
In his “Call to Action on Human Rights”, the UN Secretary General states that the world is at a pivotal moment. He calls for a new social contract, with renewed political commitment to equality. With more just distribution of power, resources and opportunities.
He says that since the beginning of the pandemic, the world’s ten richest men saw their combined wealth increase by half a trillion dollars.
Elsewhere, hundreds of millions of people are out of work or underemployed. But it is not just economic inequalities that are on the rise – we also see it in access to basic services, on political voice or in environmental sustainability. Inequality has many faces.
He also says, and I quote, that “Ensuring equal rights and opportunities for women and girls is the single most effective measure we can take to create more stable, peaceful, resilient and prosperous communities and societies”.
The Philippines long-term vision for development -“Ambisyon Natin” –, reflects many of these ideas. It talks about Filipinos enjoying, by 2040, a “comfortable lifestyle”, with enough to fulfil daily needs and unexpected expenses. It talks about the freedom to go where one desires, and to be “protected and enabled by a clean, efficient and fair government”.
The United Nations works hand-in-hand with the Government towards these goals through its Socioeconomic and Peacebuilding Framework, which is our main roadmap for poverty reduction, access to education, health, social protection and other fundamental rights; it promotes green, inclusive and sustainable growth; and it supports peace and security.
Underpinning all of these goals are human rights.
This year, the UN embarked, for the first time, on a Joint Programme on Human Rights in the Philippines. Through this programme, the UN works with the government, the Commission on Human Rights and civil society to fulfil human rights.
It is an exciting and innovative programme, with significant potential for the engagement of youth, educators, academics and others. In fact, the more people get involved, the greater the success of transformative change.
The global theme for human rights day this year is “equality”, with the tagline “all human, all equal”.
This principle is based on the notion that every human being has the same worth, and therefore the same right to a dignified life. Equality has the power to help break cycles of poverty; it has the potential to allow quality education for all young people; it is the opposite of the marginalization and discrimination which are so often a root cause of conflict.
And, of course, equality in access to vaccines, information and health-care is critical in combating and living with COVID-19, not only for individuals – but collectively.
I hope you will join this common agenda, reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals, where we leave no one behind, and where a life of equality in dignity and rights is a reality for all, everywhere.