Press Release

The Universal Declaration offers Ukraine a way forward, Türk says

07 December 2023

Statement delivered by Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, at the International Human Rights Conference “Freedom or Fear”

Kyiv, Ukraine


Distinguished delegates,

Thank you for the invitation to participate in this important event.

When the United Nations Charter was adopted in 1945, its commitments were clear. Prevention of conflict. Peaceful resolutions between countries. Respect for the sovereignty of each nation, and for the fundamental principles of justice, equality and cooperation.

In the context of the Russian Federation’s armed attack on Ukraine launched nearly two years ago, these commitments and principles have been flouted.

And the people of Ukraine have experienced daily pain, suffering, displacement and destruction, as I could see when I visited your country about a year ago.

More than 10,000 civilians have been killed in less than two years, and this is a conversative estimate. More than six million have fled.

Homes, schools and medical facilities, along with energy infrastructure, have been destroyed, in violation of international law. Humanitarian needs are growing – particularly as temperatures begin to drop this winter – leaving the most vulnerable, such as older people, people with disabilities and displaced people, at enormous risk.

To say the least, these are extremely painful times for human rights.

Indeed, around the world we are witnessing levels of violent conflict not seen since 1945. Today, one quarter of humanity lives in areas affected by conflict. That amounts to two billion people.

Add to this deepening geopolitical tensions and a determined pushback on human rights at the global level.

It is easy to lose hope.

But I am firmly convinced that history can offer us a way forward.

Seventy-five years ago, shaken by two world wars, by genocide, by the nuclear threat, and by the Great Depression, States committed to protect and advance the rights of every human being.

They came up with a blueprint to do so: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The purpose of today’s event is not to celebrate, but to reflect. To ask why and how this document helped shape a future of hope and how it paved the way from fear and want, to freedom.

And how we can use it as a way forward to address today’s challenges.

In the face of the scale, complexity and pace of these challenges, notably here in Ukraine, we know that maintaining the status quo is no longer tenable.

It is more critical than ever that we return to the promises of the Universal Declaration.

To recall the universality of rights, and to advance towards a vision of rights as solutions.

Even amidst the utter human tragedy that is war, it is important to remain committed to this vision.

Leadership that lives up to these ideals – where human rights underpin policy, economy and governance – is leadership that brings dignity, freedom and justice.

My Office continues its human rights monitoring in Ukraine, where we aim to establish the facts and document violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.

For too long, the people of Ukraine have been living a nightmare of bloodshed and loss. Yet I have been impressed by Ukrainians that I have met over the years, who have not lost hope in building a future shaped by the values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of each member of the human family.

To achieve this, there must be enduring peace, in line with the United Nations Charter and international law.

Thank you.

 Krzysztof Janowski

Krzysztof Janowski


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