As we mark Human Rights Day today, and the 75 years of the United Nations this year, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights remains central in the countries and communities we serve. It is an expression of our common view of the dignity of human beings.
As the Secretary-General has stated, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on vulnerable groups including frontline workers, people with disabilities, older people, women and girls, and minorities.
We must commit not only to ending discrimination, reducing inequalities and encouraging participation from across society, but also protecting and respecting the dignity, identity and integrity of every individual.
Further, in times of pandemic and fear, media freedom and independent information are the best antidote against stigmatisation and polarisation. Protecting journalists is protecting the people’s right to know.
We also must do more to protect people who risk their lives by standing up for the rights of others. Human rights defenders play a crucial role in giving voice to the voiceless, often facing great personal risk for their efforts. Our gratitude and respect go especially to those individuals from rural and remote areas, from minority or marginalized groups, war-affected communities, victims’ groups, families of the disappeared, environmental defenders, women and children’s rights defenders, defenders with disabilities, and those advocating for equal rights of LGBTI+ people.
Those who defend human rights must also be supported by strong, independent institutions, which are vital to uphold the rights of everyone. Therefore, it is my sincere hope that key institutions tasked with upholding human rights in Sri Lanka will continue to deliver on their mandates for all Sri Lankans.
Building back better: also means that we must strive to provide answers to those who are still looking for their missing loved ones and provide redress and reparations to those whose rights were violated from all communities, ensuring justice and accountability whenever crimes were committed while allowing everyone a chance to heal.
I want to echo the Secretary-General on his Call to Action for Human Rights, which spells out the central role of human rights in crisis response, gender equality, public participation, climate justice and sustainable development.
In Sri Lanka as in the rest of the world, on Human Rights Day and every day, let’s resolve to act collectively, with human rights front and center, to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and build a better future for all.