By Raymond Andaya
On 1 November 2023, Ms. Nada Al-Nashif, the United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, visited the University of Tokyo Komaba campus for a seminar entitled ‘Human Rights 75 and Universal Values’. The event was co-organized by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN-OHCHR), UTokyo’s Human Security Program (HSP), and the Research Center for Sustainable Peace (RCSP). Prof. Hiroyuki Ukeda, Steering Committee Member of HSP, welcomed the guests and participants, while Prof. Ai Kihara-Hunt moderated the discussions. Ms. Al-Nashif delivered a keynote speech on addressing the next generation of challenges to the fulfillment of Human Rights to an audience of UTokyo faculty, students, and rights advocates.
Ms. Al-Nashif began with reference to the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. While human rights principles have anchored the international community’s commitments and actions since the introduction of the Declaration, the world is currently witnessing a great number of threats to the realization of human rights objectives. First, she pointed to the glaring impact of violent conflict on civilians in places like Ukraine and the Middle East. She noted: “We face the highest number of violent conflicts since the end of World War II.” She also referred to multiple cases of political crisis, democratic backsliding, and large-scale disregard for the rule of law in places like Myanmar, Afghanistan, Sudan, and Haiti. These challenges have come on top of global struggles to recover from the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Second, she lamented that the global community had been falling behind on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, as evidenced by the continued rise in the number of people in extreme poverty, structural inequalities in terms of access to education, health, and livelihood. These inequalities have further exposed the most vulnerable and marginalized segments of society. Third, global civic space has diminished, such that there are even greater threats to human rights defenders and journalists, resulting in a public trust deficit towards rule of law institutions. Fourth, there has been a collective failure to address the climate crisis and respond to calls for climate justice, despite wide acknowledgment and recognition “that a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a human right.’
Thus, Ms. Al-Nashif called upon relevant stakeholders to rally behind the concept of a ‘human rights economy’ which can serve as “a blueprint to ensure that economic and social decision-making and policies are guided by human rights and the protection of the environment.” To implement such a framework, she suggests “revitalis[ing] the consensus on human rights” which led to the adoption of the Declaration 75 years ago. Encouraging everyone in the audience to become catalysts for transformative engagement with the spirit of 75 years of human rights, she ended her keynote by quoting Eleanor Roosevelt, who played a key role in the drafting of the Declaration: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
The keynote speech was, then, followed by discussions between Ms. Al-Nashif and seminar participants. Questions were raised in relation to topics like freedom of speech; migration and refugee rights; human rights protection across different financial and economic contexts; the nexus between religion, morality, law, and human rights; as well as the perennial debate over universality and cultural relativism.
The keynote speech by the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Nada Al-Nashif is available below in English and Japanese (unofficial translation by Yui Ochiai and Ai Kihara-Hunt).