"International law is clear: No matter who you are or where you live, your voice counts," Ban said in his message for the day. "On this day, let us unite to defend your right to make it heard."
In his message, Ban said there has been "undeniable" progress during the past century, but too many groups and individuals still face obstacles.
U.S. President Obama, in a proclamation recognizing Dec. 10 as Human Rights Day and this week as Human Rights Week, said, "Men and women everywhere long for the freedom to determine their destiny, the dignity that comes with work, the comfort that comes with faith, and the justice that exists when governments serve their people."
"These dreams are common to people all around the world, and the values they represent are universal," Obama said in the proclamation.
In Geneva, Switzerland, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said, "Millions of people have gone on to the streets over the past few years, some demanding civil and political rights, others demanding economic, social and cultural rights. This groundswell is not simply a question of people demanding freedom to say what they think. ... They have been asking for their right to participate fully in the important decisions and policies affecting their daily lives."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights "not just a catalog of rights and government obligations [but] a time-tested blueprint for successful societies."
"Those of us lucky enough to live in countries like the United States have an extra responsibility, first, to remain vigilant in ensuring that we honor and implement our own commitment to human rights at home, and second, to help others gain what we have, the chance to live in dignity," Clinton said in a statement.