The UN human rights chief on Wednesday slammed recent “despicable incidents” of Qur’an burning in Europe.
They are “deliberate provocations… intended to drive wedges between countries and communities,” Volker Turk, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said at a high-level conference to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Madrid.
Turk also called on Europe to eradicate racism and stand up for the human rights of migrants and refugees.
“I wish there was a deeper understanding of history,” said Turk, reflecting on when the Human Rights Declaration was passed in 1948 after World War Two. “Europe had 60 million people displaced as refugees… the refugee legal regime was an important product of that experience,” he said.
“So countries came together to end the cycles of horror, destruction and poverty. The declaration showed the steps to enable reconciliation and build societies that were freer, fairer, more equal and resilient.”
But the high commissioner warned that human rights have been slipping away for many amid new technological developments, rising conflict and increased levels of discrimination.
“If we look around the world, we face towering challenges that compound each other, potentially creating disastrous consequences for all of humanity,” he said, adding that the crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution are the defining human rights threats of our generation
Turk pointed out how digital platforms have become “delivery systems for vicious hate speech,” warned of more “harsh restrictions” on the media and freedoms in countries around the globe, and said ungoverned technological advances like artificial intelligence, autonomous weaponry and surveillance “have “The rights of every individual are profoundly threatened.”
However, he insisted that these are all “unnatural disasters” caused by humans.
“We know that if there is political will they can be managed and resolved if people and states can overcome disputes and share the work of building a path toward solutions,” he said.
In his speech, Turk said human rights need to be rooted in every culture of humanity and fuse into all aspects of society — from economics to conflict resolution.
“I hope 2023 will be remembered as the turning point that renewed our commitment to solving challenges through human rights. “It is an opportunity to recapture the spirit that led to the adoption (of the universal declaration) and to project it into the future so we benefit from this coherent framework.”
Photo: United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk. (Credit: Jean-Marc Ferré/UN CC)