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The human rights movement is an affirmation of our basic humanity
by UN Human Rights Council, agencies
28 Feb. 20
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ remarks at the opening of the forty-ninth regular session of the UN Human Rights Council:
Human rights are under assault, everywhere. Autocracies are in the ascendant. Populism, nativism, racism and extremism are undermining societies. The COVID-19 pandemic, inequalities and the climate crisis are crushing the social and economic rights of entire continents and regions.
Divisions are deepening. Suspicion and self-interest are on the rise. We are here today to talk about solutions. Solutions that are anchored in our fundamental and enduring human rights and freedoms. Solutions rooted in the indivisible and interlinked political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights that are inherent and intrinsic to being human.
Human rights cannot be confiscated by dictators or erased by poverty. Nor are they a luxury that can be left for later. They are inescapable — and powerful. People everywhere know that intuitively. And autocrats, especially, know that human rights pose the greatest threat to their rule. That’s why they stop at nothing to deny, dismiss and distract people, as they trample on basic rights and freedoms.
Closing down a celebrated human rights organization with a proud history and global links is not the sign of a strong State. It is the sign of a State that fears the power of human rights. Abducting women’s rights activists and beating women on the street are the actions of a suffocating patriarchy that fears for its survival.
Oppressing and controlling minorities, denying them the freedom to speak in their own language and practise their religion in peace, demonstrates a State’s weakness, not its strength.
People are hard-wired to claim their rights and freedoms. Every march against oppression, every liberation movement, every protest against injustice is an affirmation of human rights. That’s why the United Nations works every day, everywhere, to uphold and promote human rights for all.
Last month, I presented my priorities to the General Assembly in the form of five alarms: COVID-19, global finance, climate action, lawlessness in cyberspace, and peace and security. The solutions to these crises are all rooted in human rights.
First, COVID-19. The pandemic is a clear demonstration of the universality and indivisibility of all human rights — civil, political, social, economic and cultural. The vulnerable and marginalized continue to suffer most. High-income countries have administered 13 times more doses per person than low-income countries. Vaccine inequality demonstrates an utter disregard for the human rights of entire countries and regions.
Health-care rights are human rights. Vaccines developed with public money must be used equitably for the public good. I urge all Governments, pharmaceutical companies, and partners, to give urgent political and financial support to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) global strategy to vaccinate 70 per cent of people in all countries. And I urge them to act now on patent waivers and technology transfers.
Meanwhile, the pandemic continues to undermine the economic and social rights of people everywhere, pushing hundreds of millions of people into hunger and poverty. It has also been used as cover for a pandemic of civil and political rights violations, from mass surveillance to discrimination and curbs on freedom of expression.
We can best address these human-rights abuses by centring our response around rights themselves — an approach set out in my Call to Action on Human Rights, the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We need rights-based solutions and inclusive, sustainable development, rooted in rights and opportunities for all.
Second, the unequal recovery from the pandemic has revealed the moral bankruptcy of our global financial system. That system has failed to protect the rights of millions of people in the global South. The pandemic has squeezed developing economies dry. Many face debt defaults. Few will be able to invest in a strong and sustainable recovery. Education is a crisis within a crisis. Years out of school could affect hundreds of millions of children for their entire lives.
The solutions to these self-defeating injustices lie in human rights. A new global deal that ensures power, wealth and opportunities are shared more broadly and fairly, is a human-rights imperative. This must include an overhaul of the global financial system so that developing countries can invest in the SDGs.
A renewed social contract, based on rights and opportunities for all, is essential to tackle poverty and hunger, invest in education and lifelong learning, and rebuild trust and social cohesion.
The rights of women and girls must be at the forefront. The recovery is an opportunity for targeted investments in women’s education, employment, training and decent work, to make up ground lost during the pandemic.
Third, the climate crisis is a human rights crisis. The triple planetary emergency of climate change, pollution and nature loss poses a threat to all human rights. Today’s report on adaptation from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is another death knell for the world we know.
Floods, droughts and rising sea levels will lead to even greater humanitarian catastrophes, food shortages and migration. Up to one fifth of the planet could be too hot for humans to survive. Let’s be clear: a few countries are trampling on the rights of the rest of the world. A few companies are reaping rich rewards, while ignoring the rights of the poorest and most vulnerable.
Young people, women and girls, small island States and indigenous communities are leading the fight back. We stand with them. I welcome this Council’s recognition of the right to a healthy environment — an important tool for accountability and climate justice.
The Paris Agreement is intrinsically linked to human rights. Its limit of 1.5 degrees of warming is essential to preventing human suffering on a scale far greater than the worst crimes against humanity.
Fourth, digital technology is the wild west for human rights. From a yawning digital divide of 2.9 billion people to Internet shutdowns, disinformation campaigns and the proliferation of spyware, digital technology is often discriminatory and detrimental to human rights. Censorship and online attacks have been normalized, particularly against ethnic and religious minorities, members of the LGBTIQ+ community, young people, indigenous communities and women’s rights activists. Artificial intelligence (AI) enables algorithms to discriminate and exclude.
Science and reason are under siege as lies and conspiracy theories spread like wildfire. Cyberwarfare and the development of AI-enabled weapons pose an unprecedented threat to human rights. The Internet must be treated as a global public good. It should benefit everyone, everywhere. We need a digital public square that is inclusive and safe for all, and social media platforms that support human rights and freedoms.
While guardrails are essential, they must never be used to shut down legitimate debate. That is why regulatory frameworks must be anchored in human rights and agreed through inclusive consultations. This is the approach taken in my proposed global code of conduct to promote integrity in public information and my proposed global digital compact.
Fifth, the expansion of violence and conflicts around the world denies the human rights of millions of people. The escalation of military operations by the Russian Federation in Ukraine is leading to escalating human rights violations. We know the inevitable result of war: civilian casualties; women, children and men forced from their homes; hunger; poverty; and huge economic disruption.
Conflict is the utter negation of human rights across the board. Freedom of expression is under attack with reports of journalists and activists arrested. I have consistently called for the end of the offensive and return to the path of dialogue and diplomacy. Meanwhile, our Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine is continuing its work and our humanitarian agencies will step up their operations. We must show all people in Ukraine that we stand by them in their time of need.
Civilians caught up in conflict suffer not only violations of their rights to safety and protection, but often their rights to food, clean water, health care, education and jobs. The grim irony is that these conflicts are themselves frequently rooted in the denial of human rights, from discrimination against minorities to gaping inequalities and injustice. Protecting minorities and promoting their economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights are among the most important conflict-prevention tools we have.
Diversity defines the richness of human civilization. Around the world, we need a much sharper and more sustained focus on minority rights. I urge the authorities in countries from Myanmar to Afghanistan, Ethiopia and beyond to step up the protection of minorities and respect the equal rights of all their people, during and after war.
Refugees and migrants are a group that need special protection. More than 5,200 people died on migration routes in 2021. Hostile asylum and migration policies, and the xenophobic rhetoric that often accompanies them, threaten the lives of migrants and refugees and make hypocrites of those who purport to lead by example on human rights. Effective migration policies must be based on cooperation between States and on full respect for the rights and dignity of all.
I want once again to express my strong support for the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to enhance human rights everywhere.
The human rights movement is an affirmation of our basic humanity. Most human-rights work happens in cramped offices, courtrooms and newsrooms, detention centres and prisons. It happens wherever people are working to promote access to health care, education, shelter, food security, water and sanitation for the most vulnerable people in the world.
Environmental campaigners, many of them women and young people, are on the front lines of human-rights work. Through the daily grind of advocacy, monitoring and investigation, human-rights defenders — including journalists and lawyers — are standing up for our common humanity, often at great personal risk. Together, they are helping to build a world of dignity and equality for all.
28 Feb. 2022
49th session of the UN Human Rights Council - Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:
This Council session takes place at a time that calls for strong leadership. Throughout history, there have been moments of profound gravity, that cut the course of events between a "before" – and a very different, more harmful, "after". We are at such a tipping point.
Real progress that has been made over two decades in every region – in decreasing conflict, reducing poverty and expanding access to education and other rights – is in jeopardy.
Depleted by the pandemic, divided by growing polarisation, undermined by growing environmental harm and corroded by digital disinformation, hatred and distortions of democracy, and disregard of the rule of law, many societies are evolving – or plunging – into increased repression and violence; rising poverty; anger; and conflict.
The military attack on Ukraine is putting at risk countless lives. Between Thursday morning and last night, our Office has recorded 406 civilian casualties, including 102 killed –including 7 children – and 304 injured. Most of these civilians were killed by explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multi-launch rocket systems, and air strikes. The real figures are, I fear, considerably higher.
Meanwhile, millions of civilians, including vulnerable and older people, are forced to huddle in different forms of bomb shelters, such as underground stations, to escape explosions. UNHCR reported that 422,000 people have fled the country – and many more are internally displaced. My thoughts go out to them and to all those across the world who suffer.
The calls for peace and human rights that are coming from individuals all over the world warn us that our future must not be a world that has become unmoored from the jointly agreed obligations of international human rights law, and from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Over the next three days, an unprecedented number of officials will participate in this high-level segment. This is a vital opportunity to come together and meet this grave and pivotal moment with action. I ask that as we do so, all of us place, first and foremost, the world's people – their shared, and universal, aspirations and rights – at the centre of our deliberations.
It is precisely at a tipping point, or time of crisis, when investment in multilateral and human rights-based action brings swift and effective solutions – as well as laying out the path towards greater, more shared development and peace.
Our constant refrain has been that more needs to be done to prevent conflict and human rights crises. It is time, now, for strong preventive action that will match our words.
Action to end conflict, respect the UN Charter, and abide by international law.
Action to establish the fundamental justice, services, opportunities and rights that build development, resolve grievances and re-establish trust.
Action to eradicate discrimination, which impedes people's exercise of every kind of right, and is at the root of so much misery and despair.
Action to ensure that digital technology advances rights – rather than undermining them – everywhere.
Action to enable the full participation of the people in decision-making – so that they can believe in and trust their institutions.
Action to revive the health of our planet, whose destruction is at the root of growing poverty, displacement and harm.
We must also, with unprecedented vigor, fight corruption, which robs the public treasury for private gain – creating predatory élites whose interests may sharply diverge from the well-being of the people.
Tackling the root causes of grievances and instability, and investing in justice and human dignity is urgent to the task of guiding societies – in every region – away from reckless, and escalating, violence.
It will help create deep and long-term solutions to the harm that has been done by the pandemic. This preventive work is also essential to meeting the challenge of climate change, and the scourges of extreme poverty and forced displacement.
There are no winners and no losers here. We are all diminished by conflict. Already, conflict is creating humanitarian need on a scale that far exceeds our capacity for assistance. It is shattering lives and economies, driving people from their homes and creating both bitter grievances, and despair.
We know that once violence begins to escalate, options for solutions become increasingly difficult. This is true both within societies, and between countries.
Decisions that are taken at this crucial time will have lasting impact. We can, and we must, re-establish a trajectory that benefits all of us. One that will establish a sound and shared basis for development and stability, in line with fundamental principles of international law, and human rights.
This is a call that demands solidarity. There are no sidelines to sit on, and there is no room for mixed signals. The UN Charter, the Agenda for Sustainable Development, our shared environmental crisis, and the pandemic all require global responses that live up to the commitments we have made.
Every day that passes while both conflict and the pandemic are allowed to inflict senseless deaths and despair is a day that moves us further away from creating the better world we have all committed to achieving.

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World Day of Social Justice 2022
by Guy Ryder
ILO Director-General
Feb. 2022
On the occasion of World Day of Social Justice 2022, ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, says international community has a rare chance that must not be missed to shape a recovery from COVID-19 that delivers social justice for people and protects the planet we all depend on.
'It is hard to think of a time when the demand for social justice has been clearer, or greater. The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated inequalities, both within and between countries. It’s being called the ‘great divergence’.
Economic and social divisions have increased. Those who were disadvantaged before the pandemic have been worst affected - youth, women, informal and migrant workers, small businesses. But none of this inevitable. It depends on the choices we make; the decisions we take.
The 2022 World Day of Social Justice comes at a point of inflexion. As policy makers are shaping our recovery from the pandemic. Their choices will set the direction of change. And by choosing the right measures we can shape the recovery the way we want.
We need a response that focuses on people. That promotes social justice for all while protecting the planet we all depend on.
One priority must be formalizing the informal economy, where 60 per cent of the world’s workers still earn their living, often in poverty, with few rights or protections.
Other key steps must include:
Universal social protection. Improving workers' protection and enterprises' sustainability. Promoting decent jobs and inclusive economic growth. And, creating a just transition towards a carbon-neutral global economy.
To bring it all together we will also need greater and more coherent co-operation between countries and between multilateral organizations. It’s an enormous challenge. But, we already have a roadmap to guide us.
The ILO’s Member States have unanimously adopted a Global Call to Action on COVID-19 recovery . It calls for a recovery that is human-centred, and based on principles of inclusivity, resilience, sustainability, and decent work for all.
We are at a pivotal moment. Not just for COVID rebuilding, but for the future of our societies. We have a rare chance to shape a recovery that also delivers greater social justice. We must not miss this opportunity.


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