The realisation of human rights is central to successfully achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights told a Commonwealth audience in London last Friday.
In his address to High Commissioners and civil society groups at Marlborough House, Zeid said particular emphasis should be placed on combatting discrimination, an issue also outlined in the recently-released UN Human Development Report. Achieving the SDGs requires working together, he added, noting that the Commonwealth is well-placed to provide such collaborative support.
Ahead of the event, Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said: ‘Human rights are meant as a shield against abuse of power, and to empower each individual – particularly those who are vulnerable, disadvantaged, or marginalised - to pursue a life of dignity. They are universal, enduring, indivisible, and inalienable. This understanding of human rights underlies all that the Commonwealth is and does, and they are paramount amongst the principles and values enshrined in our Commonwealth Charter.’
The Secretary-General also placed a high value on the Commonwealth’s partnership with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, highlighting in particular efforts to support small island developing states participate effectively in the work of the UN Human Rights Council.
In a wide-ranging Q&A session, discussions touched on the role of parliamentarians and parliamentary networks in the protection of human rights, gang violence, the safety of human rights defenders, decriminalisation of consensual same-sex relationships, sexual and reproductive health, and the death penalty. Commonwealth High Commissioners queried the High Commissioner on the scope for collaboration between his office and the Commonwealth, and the challenge presented by the overwhelming volume of need to protect human rights in a context of resource constraints.