Sweden: “Do Not Dare To Tell Me Human Rights Are Not Universal”

Anna Lindh Lecture delivered by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein

Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein argued in a speech Monday night in Sweden that those who doubt the universality of human rights want to let States off the hook.

Hundreds gathered at the annual Anna Lindh lecture at Lund University on Monday to listen to the UN High Commissioner deliver an emotional defense of human rights where he forcibly rebuked critics of the international human rights system.

27 November 2017, main University Building, Lund University


Professor Sorensen

Director Kjaerum,

Colleagues and Friends

I am honoured to be delivering the Anna Lindh Lecture, in recognition of the life and work of the extraordinarily talented late Foreign Minister of Sweden, and I am very grateful to the Raoul Wallenberg Institute, the Association of Foreign Affairs and Lund University for this kind invitation.

When I arrived in the United Kingdom 30 years ago to pursue my postgraduate studies, we – the foreign students were made to first register at the local police station.  It meant queuing up under a sign which read: foreign aliens here. Welcome to the United Kingdom – aliens.

I am here to tell you this: there are no aliens.  In human rights terms, the only qualification of relevance, the only issue that matters to the law, is being human.   Whatever the other descriptions lighting up the many identities we hold – whether we speak of gender, nationality, belief, ethnicity, sexual orientation or any other characteristic, they cannot disqualify us from the species we all belong to – or from the rights we all hold.  Much as it may surprise Aung San Suu Kyi, the Rohingya do have rights.

You may think: so obvious is this point, why even bother to mention it?  Our curse today, the tragedy of the hour, is that I am forced to.  Because the universality of rights is being contested across much of the world.  It is under broad assault from terrorists, authoritarian leaders, populists and those who claim to back “traditional values”.  All seem only too willing to sacrifice, in varying degrees, the rights of others, for the sake of power.  Their combined influence has grown at the expense of the liberal order.

Read the full speech via Raoul Wallenberg Institute