Australian Embassy
Lao People's Democratic Republic
Km 4, Thadeua Road, Watnak (P.O. Box 292)

Human Rights Day Speech 2018

Human Rights Day Speech

10 December 2018


  • Minister Bounkert [Boon-kurd], Ambassadors, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
  • I am delighted to be here to celebrate the significant milestone of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
    • An anniversary we mark with world Human Rights Day, as well as the last of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence.
  • Many of the government, civil society and diplomatic representatives here today are working to progress human rights, and so it is a privilege to be able to deliver remarks on behalf of the Australian Government
    • and to support this event in concert with the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the United Nations, and the European Union.
  • Australia believes that the protection and promotion of human rights is vital to global efforts to achieve lasting peace and security, and freedom and dignity for all
    • and I am proud that Australia was a founding member of the United Nations and instrumental in drafting the Declaration.
  • It took three years of work to enshrine the human rights provisions of the UN Charter into a separate, standalone document
    • listing those human rights and fundamental freedoms that all people, everywhere in the world, are entitled to without discrimination.
  • For Australia, the agreement of the Universal Declaration was particularly significant, 
    • the United Nations General Assembly was under the presidency of Former Australian Foreign Minister Dr Herbert Vere (HV) Evatt at the time of proclamation
    • and this was an early assertion of Australia’s voice on the international stage, one of the first times we spoke aloud on the importance of a rules based international order. 
  • But 70 years has not been enough for the words of the Declaration to become a global reality  
  • Most countries, including Australia, still struggle to live up to the Declaration’s promises
    • such as the right to equal pay for equal work, truly inclusive democracy, and respect and dignity for all.
  • And in today’s rapidly changing world, we are seeing more and more emphasis on protecting national security and national interests - at the expense of certain individual or collective rights.
  • Navigating these tensions and challenges is not easy for any country.
  • But the anniversary of the Declaration is an opportunity to celebrate our successes, and recommit ourselves to the principles outlined in the Declaration’s 30 Articles.
  • Here in the Lao PDR there are a great range of achievements to celebrate
    • I would like to congratulate the Lao Government for submitting its first report to the Human Rights Committee, and completing its appearance in July this year
    • And welcoming a Special Rapporteur last year, and another in 2019
  • The Lao Government has also made many advances in national legislation and policy, including
    • Adding a chapter on fundamental rights in the amended Constitution;
    • Adopting the national action plan on the prevention and elimination of violence against women and children;
    • Drafting a national disability policy, and disability law; and
    • Reducing the number of offences subject to the death penalty in the revised Penal Code
  • For a country younger than the Declaration itself this is significant progress
    • But like all nations around the world, there are still challenges to overcome
  • On International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women last month, Deputy Prime Minister Sonxay Siphandone acknowledged that - despite Laos’ success translating international commitments into domestic law – more action is required to tackle the problem of gender-based violence.
  • That is because true rule of law means not only having, but enforcing legislation, effectively and indiscriminately,
    • And that is a much more complex goal than first appears
  • In Australia, we have found the most effective way to drive implementation of human rights and development commitments is by
    • enabling citizens to engage and provide feedback to their government,
    • having responsive and representative members of parliament and access to justice, and
    • facilitating the operations of civil society organisations
  • and we encourage Laos to redouble its efforts in these areas.
  • But we don’t expect Laos, or any country, to do it alone.
  • We place a high value on our opportunity to discuss human rights issues like these in a dialogue with the Lao Government every two years.
    • And, like the EU, Australia is also providing practical support to the Lao Government for its international human rights treaty obligations.
  • Supporting today’s event is an important part of these ongoing commitments for us,
    • and I hope our discussion this afternoon will lead to new understanding on the opportunities and challenges we all face bringing the Universal Declaration into reality 70 years on.
  • I would like to finish with my thanks to the Chairman of the Lao National Steering Committee for Human Rights, His Excellency Minister Bounkert, for his leadership and support for this event
    • And to the excellent staff of the Department of Treaties and Law of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for their hard work and collaboration
  • I would also like to particularly thank our keynote speaker and Human Rights Committee member Ms Marcia V.J. Kran for attending, and our panel members for their participation. I am looking forward to hearing your reflections.
  • But perhaps most of all, I am looking forward to hearing the views of our audience today.
  • The meaning of universal human rights is that they exist everywhere, and involve everyone.
    • That means we all have an equal stake in this conversation.
  • And its importance cannot be overstated. Because respecting fundamental human rights and freedoms, and building them into the fabric of society, makes all of our nations safer, more stable, more prosperous, and more secure.
  • Khop jai lai lai