Human Rights Day speech by Maria Jose Torres, UN Resident Coordinator

UN Resident Coordinator Maria Jose Torres speaking at an event to commemorate the International Human Rights Day in Zomba

On 10th December, International Human Rights Day we commemorate the 70th anniversary    of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). The world’s most widely translated and most influential human rights document proclaims that we are all born free and equal in dignity and rights.

The 70th anniversary campaign launched by the UN calls on everyone to take a pledge to respect the rights of others, including those we disagree with, to stand up for human rights and raise our voice and take action in the defence of the human rights of others.

Human Rights Day provides an opportunity to celebrate the work of many individuals and institutions in Malawi who courageously stand up for the rights of others including, women and girls, persons with disabilities, including albinism, people with HIV, the LGBT community, prisoners and refugees.

The importance of space for autonomous civil society cannot be overemphasized in Malawi, as a prerequisite for a vibrant, free and well-functioning democracy.  Similarly, a strong Human Rights Commission is also an important part of the human rights architecture in Malawi and we hope that the outstanding appointments of Commissioners to the Human Rights Commission can be soon finalized. Commissioners are key in the provision of the strategic direction of such an important entity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Gender-based violence and discrimination, against women and girls is an injustice of epic proportions and remains one of the most widespread violations of human rights.

We need to break the vicious cycle of harmful practices, early pregnancies and marriages, school drop outs and generational poverty. Nearly half (47%) of girls in Malawi marry before reaching 18 years of age and there are striking levels of violence revealed in the Children and Young Women in Malawi Survey. The UN warmly welcomes therefore adoption of the National Strategy on Ending Child Marriages 2018–2023 to guide national efforts; the progress made with the Chiefs’ by-laws framework aimed at strengthening implementation of Gender related laws and the amendment to the Constitutional age of marriage.

Increasing literacy rates, implementing and enforcing gender related laws, including the Gender Equality Act, Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act, the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act is an opportunity to eliminate harmful cultural norms that perpetuate discriminatory practices against women and girls.

Today, we also stand against corruption because it is a serious crime that undermines democracy, the realization of human rights, sustainable development and prosperity. Corruption has a catastrophic impact on societies; it stifles opportunities, denying vulnerable people access to infrastructure, and condemns them to lives of inequality and inequity. The victims of corruption are not from a single generation. This crime haunts successive generations impacting on countless numbers of people.

Corruption is not one person’s fight. It is not the fight of one institution though effective, accountable and transparent institutions are important. Corruption erodes the societal fibric undermining the potential of citizens to fully contribute to sustainable development. It is society’s fight and is a commitment that must cross party lines and it must be supported through the public and private sector. We welcome the strong calls across Malawian society to take action on the fight against corruption. We stand ready to support you in this fight.

The 2030 transformative agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals, provides a framework to redouble our efforts to reduce corruption and bribery as part of the efforts to build peaceful and inclusive societies, eradicate extreme poverty and hunger in Malawi, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and women’s empowerment and improve maternal health, while leaving no-one behind and reaching the furthest behind first.

The enduring power of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the power of ideas to change the world and empower its citizens, inspiring us to stand up for someone’s rights and hold duty bearers accountable. Together, we can together make a real difference.

Thank you for listening.