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Overcoming challenges to universal human rights: developing prospects for new alliances?




Reference number



Programme Director
Julia Purcell


In the aftermath of World War II, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights set out clear foundational principles for an international human rights system, the architecture of which has subsequently been developed through a range of instruments both internationally and nationally, progressed amidst an evolving global landscape. There have been many notable achievements over the decades with advancements in legal, political and diplomatic spheres to promote and protect human rights, prevent their violation and hold those responsible to account.

However, 75 years on from the Declaration, human rights violations persist and the human rights system is under pressure. The geo-political landscape is changing, with new alliances and powers emerging. Major issues facing the international community include the impact of climate change, fall out from the COVID pandemic, global inequality and ongoing armed conflict and insecurity in all regions around the world.

We are seeing increasingly robust actions by autocratic regimes, attacks on democratic institutions, and states previously relied upon to uphold multi-lateral systems threatening to withdraw from some aspects of the international order. Amidst these atmospherics, the universality of human rights is being questioned, with some states articulating a view of state sovereignty which undermines fundamental human rights principles and seeks to avoid accountability for violations of human rights. Civic space is shrinking, human rights defenders are being targeted and the rights of women, indigenous peoples, minority groups and others in vulnerable situations are under attack.

Purpose of meeting

In the context of this rollback, and grounding discussion in the practical experience of those directly impacted by human rights violations, the conference aims to:

  • explore tactics and strategies being deployed by those seeking to recast their obligations in multi-lateral fora, across different sectors (i.e. through the charge of cultural relativism directed against the very concept of universal human rights.)
  • re-energise, broaden and deepen alliances amongst key actors engaged in defending, promoting and safeguarding human rights
  • identify commonalities, share successful strategies and develop prospects for new alliances.

This is the 18th conference in the annual human rights series.

In partnership with

Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs logo
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Finland logo

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