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Source: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR)
17 March 2003

Geneva, 17 March 2003

Madam Chairwoman,
Director-General, Dear Friend,
Ministers, Excellencies, and particularly Ms. Calmy-Rey,
Ambassador Jakubowski, outgoing Chairman of the last Commission,
Distinguished Members of the Expanded Bureau,
Our NGO Friends, Members of the Press,
Distinguished Colleagues,

I hardly need to remind this audience, of all audiences, that the world has always been a place of turmoil. You, and those who sat here before you, have seen the ways in which nations can struggle, and the strife that brings.


Some, in fact an increasing number, of states implicitly or explicitly believe that security and a rigorous respect of civil and political liberties are mutually exclusive. But we also have a right to security when faced with the ambitions of states, whether our own or others. We cannot compromise our hard-won human rights to give states a free hand in fighting terrorism. There, again, we draw a line. Well established international norms -- the right not to be detained arbitrarily or imprisoned indefinitely, the right to due process of law, an impartial jury and an impartial judge, to legal representation, to be free from inhumane and degrading treatment -- these norms are under siege today. We have to draw a line and defend them. This too is a grave question of security. I urge you to address it squarely in the coming weeks. For when security is defined too narrowly – for example, as nothing more than a state's duty to protect its citizens – then the pursuit of security can lead to the violation of the human rights of those who are outside the circle of the protected. That circle may be defined in geographical or other terms. But the problem remains the same.

In this context, I think particularly of the situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. A human being has to be able to live free from the fear of sudden, utterly arbitrary attack -- free, in short, from terror. A human being also has the right to live in dignity and equality as well as security. There can be no security without real peace, and peace must be built on the firm foundation of human rights. This is as true in the Middle East as it is everywhere else. In recent weeks I have proposed to both the government of Israel and to the Palestinian Authority that I visit both, shortly after the commission has completed this session, to assess the situation for myself and to see how best I and my Office may be of assistance in protecting and promoting the human rights of all who are caught up in the nightmare of this conflict, perhaps the oldest and most divisive in contemporary history. My proposal has been well received and I am hopeful that I may be in a position to carry out such a visit in the near future.


I am grateful for being given the honor of addressing you for the first time. My colleagues and I will give you and the whole Commission every aid, and I expect that we will end these six weeks sharing the happiness of success.

If we do not, that old demon, world history, will have won again. We must not let the times devour our hopes. We must not let our quest for security be based on fear. That quest will only be completed if we are guided by what binds us all: the rights that you, the Commission, are sworn to protect and promote.

Thank you.

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