The UN human rights chief urged countries on Monday to work together to defeat threats such as war and pollution at an event to mark 75 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that risks being overshadowed by the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Ministers, diplomats and activists attended the Geneva event where Volker Turk invoked the spirit in which the newly-formed United Nations adopted the declaration in December 1948, in response to what the document calls "barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind".
"I view today's event as a call to hope, and a call to action," said Turk, an Austrian, who said the declaration had inspired successes such as the end of racial segregation in the United States and apartheid in South Africa.
"At a time of so little solidarity, and so much divisive and short-sighted vision, I view it as a call to overcome polarisation."
But he also lamented failures in the struggle, such as war, referring to "millions of people suffering unbearably in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, notably in Gaza, and Israel" as well as famine, discrimination, repression and pollution.
Never before in the period after World War Two has the world seen so many conflicts, with 55 now active, including a war between rival military factions in Sudan and Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the United Nations said.
In communications about the two-day event, Turk's office has avoided the word "celebrate" in referring to the anniversary, preferring instead the term "mark".
Other UN officials were more downbeat than Turk, according to Reuters.
Lynn Hastings, the UN humanitarian coordinator in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said human rights were under assault more than two months after Hamas' deadly cross-border attacks on Israel on Oct. 7, followed by a retaliatory Israeli bombing campaign.
"In 2023, I should not have to issue such a statement," she said. "It is as if we have learned nothing in the past 75 years."