CoNGO, WCC, and civil society groups, reiterate shared commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

During a webinar presented by the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CoNGO) and hosted by the World Council of Churches (WCC), civil society and faith-based groups explored their shared commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Speaking at the podium at the Main Hall of the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva is CoNGO President Liberato Bautista, delivering his presidential remarks at the 75th anniversary commemoration of CoNGO on December 15. The event was held in a hybrid format–in person in Geneva, online webinar, and live streamed via the CoNGO YouTube channel–with a little over 200 participants hearing the presentations in English, French, Spanish and Arabic. Photo: Gregoire de Fombelle/WCC

Geneva, Switzerland | 18 December 2023 — CoNGO, the Conference of Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations, is celebrating its 75th anniversary, as is the World Council of Churches (WCC)—and the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights itself. 

Among keynote speakers at the commemorative event held on December 15 at the main hall of the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva was Rev. Dr Kenneth Mtata, WCC programme director of Public Witness and Diakonia. He thanked CoNGO president Liberato Bautista for his leadership at a time when civil society space is closing up and getting restricted. 

We must indeed celebrate some considerable progress made in the advancement and reinforcement of the human rights protection mechanisms over the last years,” said Mtata. The establishment of the Human Rights Council and of the Universal Periodic Review mechanism could be listed among the efforts to strengthen the United Nations human rights machinery in a more democratic and transparent way.”

However, Mtata said, most human rights mechanisms do not yet adequately take into account the human rights violations amplified by perpetrators of climate crimes. Many governments encroach on the freedom of worship and numerous places of worship are attacked by non-state actors,” he noted. It is evident that there is still a huge gap between words and deeds, promises and action.”

Adopting and ratifying intergovernmental human rights instruments, although very important, simply does not suffice, Mtata continued. Governments must defend the rights of the people that are under their jurisdiction and must show their political will to seriously tackle the grave human rights violations that occur in various parts of the world,” he said. First, we must reiterate our shared commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to the principles enshrined within it, and advocate for its full adaptation to the human rights violations caused by climate destruction.”

UN officials pay tribute to CoNGO and civil society; no civil society without faith-based actors

Sophie Torelli-Chironi, head of the NGO liaison unit, speaking on behalf of Tatiana Valovaya, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, highlighted the partnership between the United Nations and CoNGO. “It is a longstanding and solid relationship which dates back to 1948 when the NGO was created. CoNGO has since played a major role in strengthening the relations between NGOs in consultative status with ECOSOC and various UN bodies. This is particularly true for us here at the United Nations Office at Geneva. We have collaborated with CoNGO for many years to reinforce the participation of civil
society in multilateral processes in Geneva in our areas of work – sustainable development, peace and disarmament, and human rights.”

Ibrahim Salama, chief, Human Rights Treaties Branch at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, was among several keynote speakers who underscored the importance of faith-based voices for human rights. There is no human rights without civil society,” he said. There is no civil society without faith-based actors.”

Lina Nykanen-Rettaroli, senior technical lead for human rights, World Health Organization, spoke about the human rights of women in low-income countries. A woman in a low-income country is about 30 times more likely to die from pregnancy or child-birth related causes than a woman living in a high-income country,” she said. They so often have the worst health outcomes.”

Ruth Marlyn Grace Sidabutar, project officer, World Summit on the Information Society at the International Telecommunication Union, the UN Agency for Digital Technologies, reflected on the challenges to human rights posed by artificial intelligence and other technology.

The opportunities for advancing human rights are enormous—but so are the challenges,” Sidabutar said. There are now more mobile phones than people in the planet.”

Barbara Reynolds, chair, United Nations Working Group of Experts of People on African Descent, also mentioned the importance of civic and faith-based groups in drawing the world together. The pursuit of human rights can be seen as a saving of our people today,” she said. 

Alejandro Bonilla, NGO Committee on Ageing Geneva, spoke of how ageism intersects with every other form of discrimination. In a world where many circumstances are beyond our control, we are eventually presented with a choice: how will we relate to our people, and how will we relate to others?” he asked. The divide between older and younger generations—age is one of the first things we notice about the others.”

In his presidential remarks, Liberato Bautista pointed to CoNGO’s organizational motto: “defining the present, shaping the future,” and the addition of a third phrase for the anniversary year, “making the change now,” The motto, he said, “indicates how crucial the role of civil society is in addressing the existential threats to people and the planet—including climate change that is compromising planetary sustainability and human rights violations that are threatening human dignity.”

“For all the lofty words we manufacture—whether at the UN or in our NGO circles—we must be willing to be the change we want and get ready to work on those changes now,” Bautista said.

CoNGOs 75th anniversary year was marked by four commemorative celebrations at UN centers in Vienna (April), Bangkok (May), New York (October), and Geneva (December) and six global thematic webinars which attracted a little over 3,500 participants worldwide. (Marianne Ejdersten/WCC and CoNGO InfoNews)


For more information about the event, including concept note, speakers and schedule, please visit this link.