The recognition of the inherent dignity and equal rights of human beings is still far from universal.

That was the message from the United Nations Secretary General at an event to mark the 70th anniversary since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Antonio Guterres called it one of the most profound and far-reaching international agreements that proclaimed the inalienable rights of every human being regardless of race, colour, religion language or other status.

“We stand today at the threshold of a great event, both in the life of the UN and in the light of mankind. This universal declaration of human rights may well become the international magna carta of all men everywhere.”

This was part the submission to the General Assembly by the former first lady of the United States Eleanor Roosevelt who played a pivotal role in the Declaration’s adoption.

Seventy years later much has been achieved but its universality remains in question, at least according to the UN Chief, Antonio Guterres.

In practice, recognition of the inherent dignity and equal rights of human beings is still far from universal.

Millions of people continue to suffer human rights violations and abuses around the world.

And human rights defenders still face persecution, reprisals are rising and the space for civil society action is shrinking in very many nations. But the founders of the United Nations were right.

Lasting peace and security can never be achieved in any country without respect for human rights.

While the declaration has had a direct impact on people in many parts of the world – be that in terms of greater freedoms and equality – there are concerns that human rights are being eroded elsewhere.

General Assembly President Miroslav Lajcak says, “Our celebrations must be short-lived because there are still people in the dark, who have not yet felt any of these benefits. And, that is why I welcome the initiative of the UN Office for Human Rights to launch a year-long campaign, which rallies us all to Stand Up for Human Rights. If we follow the news; if we talk to people from different backgrounds and countries; if we attend events in this building – then we know that a campaign like this is needed now more than ever.”

Former High Commissioner for Human Rights, South Africa’s Navi Pillay warned that rights were even being undermined in some of the oldest and most powerful democracies in the world.

“Since retiring I have addressed many universities particularly in the South and it’s a matter of great concern that these young people said to me, don’t come and talk to us about human rights, go and speak about human rights in the United States, so there is a great deal of disappoint, fear and anxiety about anti human rights statements coming from very powerful leaders, including in this country. So leaders must be very careful on what they say,” says Pillay.

As part of a year-long programme, several events are planned globally to reflect on the continued importance of the Declaration.