Human rights have been battered in the COVID-19 pandemic but recovery represents a chance to improve on the status quo and finally ensure dignity for all, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the General Assembly on Wednesday.
We cannot create a better world for all if human rights are only available to the privileged.— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) February 24, 2021
We need concerted, global and meaningful determination to deliver human rights for everyone, everywhere, at all times. https://t.co/W1ZdmtLiHj pic.twitter.com/LTrVmQaYcd
Amid budget cuts and financial crisis, he appealed for support for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and related bodies, noting that funding is critical to achieve transformational change.
“Much like COVID-19 vaccines, human rights will not lead to a healthier world if they are only available to the privileged few”, he cautioned.
Pandemic exposes inequalities
The Secretary-General launched his Call to Action just weeks before the pandemic was declared.
The biggest international crisis in generations has exposed inequalities and discrimination, with women, minorities, older persons, and persons with disabilities, among those disproportionately affected.
At the same time, rights and protection systems have been tested, weakened, and even shattered, and emergency measures during the pandemic have even been used as a pretext to crush dissent or criminalize basic freedoms.
“In building forward together, we have a unique and historic opportunity to forge a world where every person is afforded dignity; where every society can withstand crises; where everyone’s future is built upon a foundation of inalienable rights,” said Mr. Guterres.
“All responses to the COVID-19 pandemic must be shaped by, and uphold respect for, human rights”, he said.
“Stakeholders need to participate in decision-making and provide feedback so that we can identify: who is suffering the most; why that has transpired; and how we can protect individuals and communities now and when we face the next global challenge.”
Human rights at the centre of response
Human rights are a top priority for people worldwide, according to a global survey conducted last year to mark the UN’s 75th anniversary, the Secretary-General reported.
“With your support over the last year, the Call to Action is making important progress”, he told ambassadors. “The United Nations family is working together to ensure that human rights are at the heart of COVID-19 socio-economic response plans.”
The UN has issued several policy briefs which outline action in vital areas that incorporates a human rights perspective, such as in maintaining food security or inclusion of refugees and migrants, or in dismantling outdated laws that discriminate against women.
A collective responsibility
UN teams in countries across the world have also been engaging with governments and civil societies, and children and young people are increasingly becoming part of the conversation on human rights.
“Building on the youth climate movement, I launched my Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change to amplify youth voices and draw on the energy and ideas of young people as we work to raise ambition and accelerate action to tackle the climate emergency”, Mr. Guterres said.
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“We are developing a plan of action to protect environmental human rights defenders, who have sadly often been victims of violence and abuse.”
Steps like these are just the beginning, he said, as the Call to Action extends beyond the UN “family” to countries, the business community, civil society and people everywhere.
“We shoulder a collective responsibility. Transformative change will take the full commitment and support of us all”, he said, adding “and, of course, it will take resources.”