Human Rights Day celebration in Brussels

HRD butterfly

On 10 December every year, we celebrate the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We remind each other that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights – but also that there are many challenges in the world that continue preventing many people from the full enjoyment of their human rights.

This year, the UN Human Rights Office in Brussels celebrated Human Rights Day by welcoming the public to a special screening at Bozarof Virunga – a documentary that explores the role that extractive industries have played in feeding the conflict and violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Hailed as a work of heart-wrenching tenderness and suspense, the film’s beautiful images of the Virunga National Park in the DRC have captivated audiences all over the world.  Moreover, Virunga illustrates the inter-connectedness of human rights with other policies, such as development and environmental protection, and with issues such as governance and corruption, organized crime, armed conflict, and the role of business. It effectively shows that promoting and protecting human rights cannot operate in a vacuum.

The theme of this year’s Human Rights Day is “Human Rights 365”. Every day should, in fact, be a Human Rights Day – the enjoyment of human rights should be part of everyone’s everyday reality. To make this reality come true, it is vital that effective mechanisms are in place to ensure the protection of human rights. Businesses play an integral part in this. With the adoption of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in 2011, there is an increasing international consensus recognizing the responsibility of businesses to respect human rights.

These issues were intensely discussed at the post-screening discussion of Virunga, with Liz Throssell (Media Officer from the UN Human Rights Office) moderating the discussion with  panel speakers Joanna Natasegara (producer of Virunga) and Scott Campbell (Chief of the West and Central Africa Section from the UN Human Rights Office.)  Both speakers agreed that progress was being made in the DRC despite great challenges and grave difficulties.  Mr Campbell said that the film conveyed this by capturing not only the root causes of the conflict, but also the hope that exists in the country. Both panelists also stressed that the point of shedding light on the role of business is not to “punish” companies or prevent them from operating, but to make sure that companies conduct their business in line with human rights and environmental protection. 

Moreover, this year’s celebration saw the release of a new illustrated version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  In this version, each article is brought to life by Elyx – a virtual character created by French artist YAK. Over 1000 paper butterflies, created and painted by children with autism, further adorned the venue as part of Yun-Mo Ahn’s art exhibition “Become a Butterfly.” All in all, this was a very special evening. We are thankful to our partners and to the audience who joined us and made this celebration a success.

The celebration of Human Rights Day 2014 was done in collaboration with BOZAR, the European Union, the UN Regional Information Centre and Ciné-ONU.