The United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay has released a statement marking Human Rights Day, in which she praised the "groundbreaking" improvements of human rights across the world.

Pillay said that since the Vienna Declaration, which was issued 20 years ago, significant achievements have been made in ensuring basic rights for all people, "regardless of political, economic and cultural systems", but also emphasised on the serious need for progress.

She said that the key to further success is for countries to implement international law and standards, citing the lack of political will, human and financial resources as main setbacks.

"In several instances where deplorable, large-scale violations of international human rights law were occurring, the international community was too slow, too divided, too short-sighted – or just plain inadequate in its response to the warnings of human rights defenders and the cries of victims," she said in a statement released on December 10.

"The Vienna Declaration should be viewed as a blueprint for a magnificent construction that is still only half built."

"Women continue to suffer discrimination, violence and persecution. So do ethnic, racial and religious minorities, and migrants, as well as individuals because of their sexual orientation. This shows how far we still have to go."

"Internal conflicts continue to produce horrendous and widespread human rights abuses. Peaceful protests by people exercising, and calling for, their legitimate rights are being ruthlessly crushed by authorities virtually on a daily basis."

"Changing and shifting populations, fuelled by rising poverty, refugee movements and volatile global economics, make countering ‘fear of the other’ a priority."

Technological impacts

Pillay also praised the expansion of civil society organisations and individual rights activists over the last 20 years, but expressed concerns that they are facing increasing harassment and intimidation worldwide.

While noting that modern technologies have helped "magnify" the voice of human rights advocates, she said they have also facilitated the violation of rights.

"In breach of international law, mass electronic surveillance and data collection are threatening both individual rights, and the free functioning of a vibrant civil society."

"A Tweet or Facebook post by a human rights defender can be enough to land him or her in jail."

"Drones can be, and are being, used for positive purposes. But armed drones are also being deployed, without due legal process, for the remote targeting of individuals. So-called “Killer robots” – autonomous weapons systems that can select and hit a target without human intervention – are no longer science fiction, but a reality."

She called on states to ensure that new technologies are used to advance human rights rather than repress them.

Source: Agencies