The Secretary General – Remarks at the Human Rights Prize Award Ceremony





New York, 15 December 2023 


It is a pleasure to join you to honour the achievements of human rights defenders across the globe.


Three quarters of a century ago, in a world decimated by war, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed that:


“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a clarion call to act in accordance with a fundamental truth: that each of us is an equal member of a single human family.


Seventy-five years on, the world must recall that wisdom. And it must act on it.


Because human rights are under attack around the world.


Conflicts are raging, with appalling consequences for civilians as we are dramatically witnessing every single day with immense death and suffering in Gaza after the horrors of the 7 October attacks.


Inequalities are deepening.


Hunger and poverty are rising.


Women’s rights are stalling, and in some cases, going into reverse.


Civic space and media freedom is being rolled back.


New threats are blossoming – from catastrophic climate disasters, to artificial intelligence, which holds the potential for immense possibility, but also for immense peril.


And age-old hatreds are resurging with a vengeance – from racism, to xenophobia, and religious intolerance.


People are being violently targeted solely for their religion, their ethnicity or who they love.


But across the world, human rights defenders are lights in the darkness.


They are changing lives:


Fighting, educating, and holding power to account, to make human rights a living, breathing reality.


This is deeply dangerous work.


Last year, almost 450 human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists were killed. Forty percent more than the previous year.


Thirty-three vanished without a trace – a staggering three hundred percent increase from 2021.


So, Excellencies,


In this context, today’s Human Rights Prize is all the more important.


This prize has recognized the achievements of human rights defenders since 1968.


It has honored luminaries such as Nelson Mandela, Malala Yusafzai and the International Committee of the Red Cross.


I pay tribute to each of the recipients of the prize today for their extraordinary work, their humanity and their courage:


Julienne Lusenge from the Democratic Republic of the Congo;


Julio Pereyra from Uruguay;


The Amman Center for Human Rights Studies;


The Human Rights Center “Viasna”, working in Belarus;


And the Global Coalition of civil society organizations, Indigenous Peoples, social movements and local communities for “the universal recognition of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment”.


Congratulations to you all. And thank you for everything you are doing.


I would also like to pay tribute tonight to the thousands of unsung human rights defenders around the world.


We see you; we honour you; and we thank you.




Leaders of all kinds must take inspiration from you – our prize recipients today –and defend all human rights – political, civil, social, economic, and cultural.


The world needs leaders of countries, corporations, political parties, religious and civil organizations and beyond, to speak out against antisemitism, anti-Muslim bigotry, attacks on minority Christian communities, and all forms of hate and abuse.


It needs them to protect human rights defenders, and bring those who threaten them to justice.


It needs them to embrace our common norms and values, to act on them, and be guided by the spirit of humanity and dignity embodied by the Universal Declaration – to prevent conflict, protect the planet and heal divides.


I urge all Member States to use the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Universal Declaration, to strengthen their commitment to making human rights a reality.


And to place human rights at the front and centre of efforts to update our international institutions at the Summit of the Future next September.




Once again, I congratulate all those awarded the prize today.


Fight by fight, case by case, you are making the vision of universal human rights a reality.


But you cannot do it alone.


As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we need leaders of all kinds to embrace their role as human rights defenders too.


Thank you.