Statement by the Permanent Representative of Cyprus
Ambassador Sotos Zackheos
on the occasion of the
50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights

December 10, 1998

It gives me particular pleasure to address this august assembly today, in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A document that we can surely describe as "like no other".

As we approach a new millennium in human history, at the end of a century that has witnessed immeasurable suffering for humanity and two world wars, the Universal Declaration emerges as a guiding beacon for conduct by countries and people in the sacred cause of the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The Declaration represents the common realization of the peoples of this planet that human rights are paramount, indivisible and universal. It is a yardstick that takes into account the diversity of our world, creating a common denominator that transcends civilizations, cultures and belief systems. This was aptly demonstrated, more than fifty years ago, by the long and arduous efforts of the representatives of the U.N. members in the Third Committee who have devoted eighty-five meetings in the preparation of the Declaration debating every word, phrase, clause and paragraph so as to present a draft that was truly universal in nature.

I take this opportunity to join the Secretary-General of the United Nations in paying tribute to those dedicated people whose relentless efforts have produced this landmark document. I also take this opportunity to bow my head in respectful memory to the countless victims of human rights abuse.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights established the principle that the protection of human rights is a matter of legitimate international concern. It consolidated the efforts of the international community in creating a comprehensive system whose formidable objective is the safeguarding of the values that inspired the founding fathers of the United Nations: freedom justice and peace in the world.

Since 1948, numerous international and regional human rights instruments have been adopted and tremendous progress has been made towards the achievement of the Declaration's noble aims. The proliferation of human rights instruments that we have witnessed since 1948 and the impressive achievements in mainstreaming human rights in all societies testify to that.

On this world-wide day of celebration let us also join hands in reflection of the half-century since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We note with satisfaction that the protection of individual human rights and freedoms has developed in parallel with the progressive development of international law. We are encouraged by the denunciation of the use of force in international relations, the rejection of the practice of occupation of territories and their annexation by the occupying power. We also welcome the increasing insistence of the international community on the right of refugees to return to their homes in full enjoyment of their right to property.

Over the last fifty years, our world has witnessed tremendous changes, from the confrontation of the cold war with its specter of nuclear annihilation and the intense clash of ideologies, to a world where new alliances are being shaped, fueled by the need for economic development in an increasingly interdependent and highly competitive international environment.

The new conflicts have demonstrated that we have a long way to go in order to fully realize the aims of the Declaration. Intolerance whether religious or ethnic has manifested itself in new forms of conflict with such gross violations of human rights that we had hoped would remain buried in the past. These conflicts, fully utilizing the psychology of terror on the civilian population, preeminent among them the abhorrent phenomenon of ethnic cleansing, have presented new challenges in the difficult efforts of the international community to create the conditions for achieving the aim of a better world for all.

In this respect, we welcome the development of international legal instruments whose objective is to enforce humanitarian law and prosecute violators of human rights. We reiterate our support for the speedy establishment of the International Criminal Court and for the efforts to reinforce human rights mechanisms.

As President Clerides stated, Cyprus regards this anniversary with particular significance since the basic human rights and fundamental freedoms of its people continue to be subjected to gross and ruthless violations resulting from the Turkish invasion and the continuing forcible division of our country in flagrant violation of United Nations principles and resolutions.

As a member-state of the United Nations, fully committed to the ideals upon which this organization was founded and to the aims of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as exemplified by our ratification of all instruments that have flowed from it, Cyprus seizes upon this joyous celebration to reaffirm its staunch commitment to the cause of human rights and to securing the Declaration's objectives. In conclusion, Mr. President, I would like to reiterate our conviction that respect for the rule of law and human rights for all people, regardless of race, religion, language or gender, remain the solid foundation for harmonious relations among states.

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