UN Resident Coordinator's Speech on Human Rights Day 2019

Full text of Speech by UN Resident Coordinator Mia Seppo


Your Excellency, Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina , Honourable Minister of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, Anisul Huq, MP, Honourable Chair of the National Human Rights Commission, Ms. Nasima Begum, Full-time member of the NHRC Dt Kamaluddin Ahmed

Excellencies, Ladies, Gentlemen

It is my honour and pleasure to speak on behalf of the United Nations at this event on the occasion of Human Rights Day.  My sincere thanks go to the National Human Rights Commission for the invitation, and to its development partners, in particular Sweden and Switzerland, for their support.

I take note that this is the first time that the NHRC is celebrating Human Rights Day in the presence of the Honorable Prime Minister and with events in all 64 districts. This is a great First and we warmly welcome.

This Human Rights Day we celebrate Youth standing up for human rights. We have seen it everywhere: youth seeking solutions to the threats to sustainable development and human rights - climate change, rampant inequalities, violence against women, shrinking civic space, lack of decent jobs and education, deficits in good governance and the rule of law. 

Greta Thunberg, the climate activist, said:

“You have to fight for what you think is right.” 

In Bangladesh, too, youth have engaged in private and public spaces, universities, colleges, schools, enterprises, and in the streets. They have raised their voice reminded the public of the need to combat rape and sexual harassment, they have demonstrated for better governed and safer roads. Youth in Bangladesh have an important contributions to make to the democratic discourse.  

But globally, young people have also faced a backlash, witnessed hatred and intolerance.

There are millions of other young people all over the world and in this country who do not even get a chance to stand up and speak up – child laborers or trafficking victims, girls trapped in early marriage, or the youth who are homeless or refugees and do not have access to education. 

Bangladesh has demonstrated a strong commitment to implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, making best use of its youth dividend.  The Sustainable Development Goals are interdependent and rights-based.  Only with due attention to civil and political rights will social and economic rights and sustainable development be achieved. 

The Agenda’s guiding principle of Leaving No One Behind must be applied to all without discrimination.  One of our most pressing challenges today is to ensure that all youth have equal opportunities: access to their rights  to education, health-care, economic opportunities and jobs and a decent standard of living.  Whether they are Dalits or indigenous, whether they have disabilities, live with HIV, take drugs, and whatever their sexual identity.


Today is the last day of 16 days of activism against VAW. During the various events we have heard strong calls that action must follow commitments.  We trust that the current momentum for policy and legislative reform will continue in Bangladesh: sexual harassment must be outlawed once and for all, rape laws reformed, witnesses and victims protected and empowered to access justice. 

We hope that this Human Rights Day will provide momentum for legal and policy reform so that young people, journalists and all others who wish to freely express their opinions in social and other media and take part in decision-making have the digital and real-life space and security they need to exercise their rights to freedom of speech.

The UN commends Bangladesh’s commitment as a member of the Human Rights Council to implement its national human rights obligations and develop an implementation plan for recommendations received from international mechanisms.  

We are keen to support the implementation of the recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review and the crucial commitments made by the treaty body mechanisms, most recently the Committee against Torture.  We would welcome law makers, the judiciary and law enforcers alike taking fresh action to ensure that guarantees against arbitrary arrests, torture and ill-treatment are strictly enforced and there is no impunity.

The United Nations places high priority on independent national human rights institutions. Bangladesh has supported UPR recommendations that called upon it to make the NHRC fully independent and effective. Along with its development partners, notably Denmark, Sweden, and Switzerland whose support is gratefully acknowledged, the UN stands ready to help Government with a review of the NHRC Act and selection procedure, which is key after almost ten years of institution-building. This would also help to achieve the SDGs, as the existence of an independent institution is an indicator under SDG 16.

Madam Chair, you have a difficult job and we are looking forward to your leadership of the new NHRC. We stand ready to support you.

We encourage you to interpret your watchdog mandate broadly to tackle challenging issues.  We also encourage you to engage constructively and in a spirit of partnership with civil society and human rights defenders, and trust that you will foster a culture of human rights and participation among the youth.

And finally, with a renewed sense of purpose we all can, and must, uphold the universal human rights principles embedded in our global multilateral systems.  They sustain peace and security, justice, and sustainable development. As the High Commissioner for Human Rights has said:

A world with diminished human rights would be a world stepping backwards into a darker past, when the powerful could prey on the powerless with little or no moral or legal restraint.

Youth innovate, create and catalyze change. Their engagement with the problems we will face tomorrow is one of our most important assets today.  The youth are our best investment.

Let us therefore join hands in calling on everyone to support and protect young people who are standing up for human rights and support all those who stand with them.  

Thank you for your attention.

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