Greetings to all of you. It is a great pleasure to be able to take part in this festival. These events – which have become so important to the city of Geneva that we love – are very helpful in maintaining an emphasis on the human stories of human rights.
Yes, human rights are about laws, policies and regulations. Yes, they’re about governments and international bodies. But above all, they’re about people.
About young people of every gender, colour and ethnicity yearning for justice. Women warriors for equality who are arbitrarily jailed. Children, forced into exploitation. Stories that are as varied, and as important, as all the human beings in our world.
Every one of the 30 Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stands for the destiny, the pain, the joy and generosity, of millions of individuals. And at this Festival, it is their stories which are shared.
But this event today is a little different. It is about music – an orchestra of voices that has been put together by the visionary Max Richter and Yulia Mahr, to contemplate and celebrate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
It weaves people’s voices, and messages, in their mother tongues, into a tapestry of sound that is also like a river – a single flowing creation made up of many small and vital things.
This is a message of community and care. A message of endurance. It speaks to us of eternal and universal values – principles which are essential to the existence of humanity and the purpose of our lives.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
It is both a deep and simple truth – and a complex, and endless, struggle for justice. It is a message that encompasses all the stories this Festival has ever featured. And at its core, it presents solutions to many – perhaps all – the economic, social and policy dilemmas of our world.
The careful cadence of this performance – its subtle use of many languages – and its universal messages call us to reflect, deeply, about the nature of our values and the meaning of what we do.
All around us, things are changing very rapidly. The pandemic of COVID-19 has upended our lives, our workplaces, our families and loved ones, our schools.
And it has brought home a number of essential lessons.
We can see how the pandemic raced through the fault-lines in society that have been created and maintained by generations of harsh discrimination and unprincipled exploitation.
We can see how it expanded those fractures, and used them as drivers to propel its contagion.
We can see how the failure to uphold the fundamental rights to social protection, to health-care – rights that are enumerated clearly in the Universal Declaration – has increased the pandemic’s spread and impact.
COVID-19, like all crises, speaks to the universality of human rights, because it shows us how violations of human rights harm everyone.
And it shows us how upholding human rights protects everyone.
Nobody could claim to see a positive side to this devastating pandemic, which has caused so much death and poverty.
But I hope very deeply that we will gather the strength to apply its lessons, as we begin to rebuild systems and policies that are better than before.
Better, because they are more fair. Because they are more inclusive. Because they embrace and advance people’s rights to speak out, to shape public decisions, to access essential resources and services, and to share the benefits of development.
We need, all of us, to stand up for human rights – perhaps now more than ever before.
Every woman, man and child is born free, and equal, and should remain so.
And it is long past time to build the structures that will deliver those rights to everyone.
Music, like art – and like human rights – speaks to all of us.
United in this music, drinking in the power of these words, I hope you will have a memorable evening.