Human Rights Day 2018 and Announcement of Timor-Leste Sérgio Vieira de Mello Award for Human Rights

Today it’s an honour to lead the United Nations in Timor-Leste as we mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and also recognise the work of one of the UN’s great humanitarians, Sérgio Vieira de Mello. 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the light which grew out of the darkness of the Second World War where almost every country on earth suffered at the hands of despots and tyrants. Timor-Leste made an enormous sacrifice for freedom, and continued to fight for its human rights all the way to Independence.

The universal declaration was an agreement by all the world’s leaders at the United Nations Headquarters stating once and forever the rights which every human being -- regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status – is entitled to.

Human rights are not a series of words on a document. The great American leader Eleanor Roosevelt told us to remember where human rights begin: ‘’In small places, close to home -- so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. [...] Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. “

We know that Human rights are under threat in many countries around the world: the rights of the most powerless people are neglected in virtually all countries; in many places women, girls and people with disabilities are abused; in many countries we have seen the rights of civil society groups to organize, advocate and carry out peaceful protests, being curtailed. We have had cases of journalists and reporters being murdered and humanitarian workers killed and harassed; children ignored and many cases of people discriminated against far too often.

Today we remind ourselves that we must all strive to strengthen human rights for all.

In this context, It is a credit to the leaders of Timor-Leste that human rights have been central to the country’s democratic process since independence. This country can be proud of its global leadership in championing human rights.

Over the next year (2019) Timor -Leste has further opportunities to strengthen human rights practices. The Government of Timor-Leste is preparing its Voluntary National Review on the internationally agreed Sustainable Development Goals, which will be presented at the High Level Forum in mid 2019. Timor-Leste will also report on its progress on the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, and next year also is the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child adopted by the United Nations in 1959.

The eyes of the world will be watching the country’s progress in these and other areas of development and human rights. These are all good opportunities for the country to demonstrate its continuing commitment and global leadership on human rights, especially as the country prepares to celebrate the 20th anniversary since the referendum in Timor-Leste.

Today also we see the legacy of the great human rights campaigner, Sergio de Mello, who led Timor-Leste in the years up to independence. It is a credit to the Timor-Leste people that one of its highest public awards is named after this champion of justice and freedom. I would like to congratulate all the nominees and of course the winner of this prestigious award and we at the UN in Timor-Leste look forward to continuing our work with you to advance the aspirations of people in this country. 


Sérgio Vieira de Mello was a Brazilian United Nations diplomat who worked for the UN for more than 34 years, earning respect and praise around the world for his efforts in the humanitarian and political programs of the UN. He was posthumously awarded a United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights in 2003.

He was killed in the Canal Hotel Bombing in Iraq along with 20 other members of his staff on 19 August 2003 while working as the Secretary-General's Special Representative in Iraq.

Mr de Mello he was the UN Transitional Administrator in East Timor from December 1999 to May 2002, guiding the former Portuguese colony occupied by Indonesia, to independence in 2002.


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