Human Rights Day 2020 Virtual Forum Theme: " Recover Better" - Stand Up for Human Rights

Human Rights Day 2020 is in collaboration between the UN in Malaysia, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Legal Affairs Division of the PM's Department and SUHAKAM

YB Dato' Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, Minister of Foreign Affairs

YB Dato’ Takiyuddin B Hassan, Parliament and Law Minister in Prime Minister’s Department

YBhg. Tan Sri Othman Hashim, Chairman, SUHAKAM


Esteemed Moderators and Speakers

My UN colleagues

Distinguished participants,

Thank you for joining us today, and a warm welcome to this joint commemoration of  Human Rights Day 2020 – that is being organised virtually during these difficult times,  with our esteemed partners – the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Legal Affairs Division, Prime Minister's Department, and SUHAKAM. I think it is very special that we celebrate this Day together.

We have come to the end of 2020, a year which began with much to celebrate -  with the UN turning 75, with the SDGs reaching its fifth year of implementation and with the launch of the Decade of Action by the UN Secretary General to accelerate SDG achievement by 2030.

However, the enthusiasm with which we welcomed this year has dissipated in the face of COVID-19.

The pandemic has caused catastrophic loss of lives and devastated economies around the globe. Equally devastating, is the impact it is having on the development and lives of the most vulnerable parts of our societies.

How we recover from this pandemic, is therefore critical. And if we are to achieve our shared aspirations for a better world, a more sustainable planet, where no one is left behind – human rights must be central to recovery.

The UDHR and its world-wide impact:

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today we are celebrating the 72nd anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (or UDHR) – one of the most influential documents in the history of mankind which embodies the core values of the United Nations and the work that we do.

Please allow me to refer to the preamble of the UDHR which emphasizes that – quote - “the recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world” - unquote

There is much wisdom in this sentence – linking the upholding of dignity and equal rights to our enjoyment of freedom, justice and peace. The evidence since the second World War has supported this connection. Indeed, the respect for human rights has served as a basis of peaceful and just societies.

The UDHR was the starting point for the great covenants and conventions, which further detailed what ‘equal and inalienable rights’ comprises of.  And it also led to further elaborations on how human rights must be applied in the context of vulnerable groups – minorities (CERD), women (CEDAW), children (CRC), and people living with disability (CRPD).

Finally, and importantly, this led to shaping our understanding that development and human rights are two sides of the same coin.

The culmination of this integration of development and human rights are the SDGs – SDGs include human rights as their DNA. This is why SDGs need to be linked to human rights to fully achieve Agenda 2030.

Building Back Better

Ladies and gentlemen,

Although news of promising vaccines brings a lot of hope to overcome the health aspect of the COVID crisis, it will take a mammoth effort to rebuild livelihoods and economies  - and to bring the SDGs back on track.

It will take unprecedented solidarity amongst nations and within countries – if we are to build back better.

But it is also true that opportunities for change usually arise out of crisis.

The boldest innovations of humanity were born out of the ashes of adversity.

Like other major crises, COVID presents us with a huge opportunity to change outdated, unfair and inefficient policies. Human rights must be at the centre of these policies, since this will ensure that people are always at the centre of development

Consequently, post-COVID progress should be assessed on the basis of:

  1. how countries treat its most vulnerable populations  - that is the principle of leaving no one behind;  
  2. how countries define checks and balances of the state vis-à-vis individuals – this is why institutions such as the Independent Police Commission and safeguards such as freedom of speech and freedom of media – are so important (SDG 16);
  3. and how countries ensure equal treatment for all groups of society, minorities and majorities alike, and foster inclusive societies (SDG 5, 16).

These are all essential aspects of the social contract between the state and individual and of national identity.

It is also very crucial to engage youth as a key agent of change during this unprecedented time. Youth are essential actors to shape the new normal for a more equitable, sustainable and just world.


I would like to acknowledge Malaysia’s commitment to Human Rights.

The United Nations have been proud to work in your beautiful country since before independence.

And we have been pleased to support Malaysia in various human rights efforts. In this regard we commend the recent development of an effective system to monitor the implementation of Universal Periodic Review (or UPR) recommendations that is mapped to the SDGs.  

We also recognize the important role of SUHAKAM for the promotion and protection of human rights. 

We stand ready to support Government and other partners now and in the future; and look forward to further strengthening our collaboration by signing the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework as soon as possible.

On this 72nd International Human Rights Day let us reinforce our commitment to work on the progressive realization of human rights. Let’s recover better and Stand up for human rights.


Thank you.


Speech by
Stefan Priesner
Resident Coordinator
Stefan Priesner
UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations Resident Coordinator Office