AFTERNOON - Human Rights Council Hears from 19 Dignitaries as it Continues its High-Level Segment, with Many Statements Focusing on Russia’s Attack on Ukraine and the COVID-19 Pandemic
The Human Rights Council this afternoon continued its high-level segment, hearing from 19 dignitaries who spoke about Russia’s attack on Ukraine, human rights, and the COVID-19 pandemic, among other issues.
Many speakers condemned the military aggression of the Kremlin against Ukraine, calling on Russia to immediately stop all hostilities, withdraw its military from Ukraine, and fully respect international norms and principles in doing so. Russia's aggression must stop immediately and those responsible for it must be held accountable. The upcoming urgent debate on Ukraine was welcomed. The priority was to prevent further escalation of the conflict. An independent international commission of inquiry must be established in order to investigate all violations and abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law. Russia's actions would have devastating consequences on the humanitarian situation in the region.
Emine Dzhaparova, First Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, said Russia’s attack against Ukraine had been made on the direct order of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, who, a few days before that, had shared a list of false claims and accused Ukraine of having committed a genocide. This showed that Vladimir Putin and the Russian leadership existed in an absolute parallel reality.
Thousands of homes had been damaged or destroyed or left without electricity; 352 people, including 16 children had died, the youngest being 18 months old; and thousands had been wounded. As the President of Ukraine had said, Russia must be considered a terrorist State.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was also highlighted by many of the speakers, who highlighted that equitable access to health care and vaccines was a global imperative. The road to recovery must include the elimination of discriminations and special attention should be given to safeguarding the rights of minorities, and other vulnerable groups. Many speakers also noted that human rights should be at the core of every day political action and special attention should be given to the rights of women and children. It was also widely agreed that nations should strive for a united position and for the right of each and every person to enjoy human rights to the fullest extent possible.
Speaking were Abdoulaye Diop, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Mali; Bujar Osmani, Minister of Foreign Affairs of North Macedonia; Ziyambi Ziyambi, Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs of Zimbabwe; Abdisaid M. Ali, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Somalia; Edgars Rinkēvičs, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Latvia; Gedion Thimothewos Hessebon, Minister of Justice of Ethiopia; Odongo Jeje Abubakhar, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uganda; Albrecht Freiherr von Böselager, Grand Chancellor and Foreign Minister of the Sovereign Order of Malta; Antonio García, State Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Honduras; Péter Szijjártó, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary; Akmal Saidov, Minister for Human Rights of Uzbekistan; Emine Dzhaparova, First Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine; Megi Fino, Deputy Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of Albania; Adv. Lekhetho Rakuoane, Minister of Law and Justice of Lesotho; Rogelio Mayta Mayta, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bolivia; Ingrid Ingrid Brocková, State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of Slovakia; Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth; Julissa Mantilla Falcón, Commissioner and President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States; Achim Steiner, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme; and Gillian Triggs, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection with the United Nations Refugee Agency.
The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-ninth regular session can be found here.
The Council will resume its work at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 3 March to conclude its high-level segment, hold its general segment, and then start its urgent debate on the situation of human rights in Ukraine stemming from the Russian aggression.
ABDOULAYE DIOP, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Mali, reaffirmed Mali’s unwavering commitment to democracy, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, good governance, women’s empowerment and the respect of rights and freedoms of all. This was the commitment of Mali’s century-long dedication to humanism, respect for human dignity, and uncompromising rejection of injustice. The ratification of almost all human rights instruments was evidence of this. The lesson learnt by Mali was that all should remember that these values could not be taken for granted; they were a permanent endeavour and required that all should be done to help Mali recover from the crisis, the causes of which were not only due to Mali. However, the primary responsibility for this rested on Mali, which struggled to play the role it should, to protect people and their goods within the territory.
The international community needed to support Mali, whose path was peppered with crises, which had shaken the State to its very foundations. Mali was working to minimise its impact and reign it in fully, as it was convinced that human rights were inextricably linked to the insecurity, which was the main cause of human rights violations. The security of the country against various barbaric attacks by terrorists and other evil groups on civilians was vital, and securing the territory was a national priority. The Government had stepped up its efforts to recruit, train and equip its security and armed forces, with a view to expanding their operational capacities, which had contributed towards tilting the balance on the ground and improving the situation in the country, including that of human rights. The Special Representative on Mali had contributed towards this. Mali would continue to support him in the proper execution of his mandate. The principles of universality, objectivity and the non-selectivity of human rights, and the principles for the respect of the right of each State to make its political choices and pursue freedom sat uneasily with the economic sanctions placed on Mali, which impeded it from enjoying its human rights.
BUJAR OSMANI, Minister of Foreign Affairs of North Macedonia, strongly renounced and condemned the military aggression of the Kremlin against Ukraine. North Macedonia called on Russia to immediately stop all hostilities, withdraw its military from Ukraine, and fully respect international norms and principles in doing so. Humanity could not accept a war in the twenty-first century. Human rights should be at the core of interest and in particular care of any society. Everyday political actions would be judged in regard to the level of protection and promotion of the basic human rights as a universal value; and particularly of the most vulnerable groups, including minorities of all kinds. Special attention should be focused on the rights of women and children. North Macedonia strongly supported the work of the Human Rights Council and this was why it had presented its candidature for membership of this Council for the period 2025-2027.
Many challenges threatened peace, security and human rights in the world today. As if the existing threats on peace and security were not sufficient, the current COVID-19 pandemic with its devastating socio-economic consequences, had further increased the existing economic inequality, blindly manifested in the unequal access to vaccines globally. There was a fine line between the measures adopted to fight the pandemic and the restrictions of the fundamental human rights and freedoms. Being extremely vigilant not to cross this line, North Macedonia took all necessary measures to protect human health by providing regular vaccination for all age groups. On climate change and its impact on biodiversity, North Macedonia demonstrated its willingness to energetically act in this regard by promoting a green agenda at the national level, in order to achieve the goal of climate neutrality by 2050, in line with the European Union Green Deal. North Macedonia would chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2023 and in this capacity, it would continue to promote the human rights which were the birthright of all human beings.
ZIYAMBI ZIYAMBI, Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs of Zimbabwe, said the Government of Zimbabwe was committed to the Human Rights Council and the ongoing efforts to enjoy human rights for its people. Zimbabwe was determined to bring land reform to the country. Some 900 former farmers had been allocated land under various government initiatives and the Government continued to find funding for farmers who needed to resettle. An agreement was reached in 2021 with almost 4,000 individuals. Zimbabwe had been hard hit by the pandemic. In addition to the pandemic, climate change, drought and food insecurity had severely impacted the country. Budgetary resources had been redistributed to help alleviate the suffering of the people in Zimbabwe. In addition, a review of all social security benefits was also underway.
The national vaccination programme was launched in March 2021 and had reached many; close to 40 per cent of the population was fully vaccinated, with a booster programme underway. In order to enhance the participation of women in politics, the constitution provided for a 30 per cent quota for women in local authority governments. On electoral reforms, Zimbabwe was actively engaged in widespread consultation with political parties and civil society organizations to come up with an electoral amendment bill. The issue of reforming and improving election processes was being addressed. Illegal sanctions imposed by some on Zimbabwe had had a negative impact. Zimbabwe looked forward to the findings of a special report on the negative impact of these sanctions on the enjoyment of human rights in Zimbabwe.
ABDISAID M. ALI, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Somalia, said as a nation that had been recovering from conflict, Somalia was in a unique position to share its experience on human rights in a challenging environment; as part of the Human Rights Council, it could contribute greatly. Somalia had had African Union peace-keeping operations in the country for the last 15 years, where they had been instrumental in delivering peace and security. Somalia today was in a position to assume full responsibility for this security by 2023. The threat of Al-Shabaab today was different from that over the last 10 years; the threat had transcended borders and was transnational in nature, with sophisticated technologies and broader capabilities, including foreign fighters, improvised explosive devices, and access to drones. There was now consensus that the new African Union Mission would address the current threat, supporting the goals and objectives of the Somalian Transition Plan.
Piracy no longer posed a significant threat to regional and global peace, and the current resolution no longer had a role to play in that regard. The Federal Government of Somalia was trying to address the current threats, including illegal and unreported fishing, toxic waste dumping, and trafficking, including in human beings and charcoal. The suspected Somali pirates whose human rights had been violated were in most cases arrested or taken to foreign countries where they were denied due process and imprisoned for years. The international community had allowed certain actions in this regard, in order to counter piracy threats. Human rights were universal, and that meant they must be enjoyed by all, without discrimination. The Government of Somalia was committed to the Council’s Universal Periodic Review mechanism.
EDGARS RINKEVICS, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Latvia, condemned in the strongest possible way the unlawful, large-scale aggression against Ukraine as well as the involvement of Belarus in the attack on Ukraine and expressed his condolences to Ukrainian families. Russia's aggression must stop immediately and those responsible for it must be held accountable. All available means to this effect must be explored, including international courts and tribunals. It was also essential that the Human Rights Council was able to react immediately and effectively and use all available tools to do so.
Latvia welcomed the urgent debate on Ukraine. An independent international commission of inquiry must be established in order to investigate all violations and abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law. Russia's actions would have devastating consequences on the humanitarian situation in the region. The conflict in eastern Ukraine, and the illegal annexation of Crimea had already caused wide-spread human rights violations. Now the lives of millions in Ukraine had been put at risk by President Putin’s military action. Russia continued to suppress its own nationals and had detained thousands of anti-war protesters in Russia. The United Nations system must be ready to address all these challenges and help people in need. The priority must be to prevent further escalation of the conflict, civilian casualties, displacement and destruction of civilian infrastructure.
GEDION THIMOTHEWOS HESSEBON, Minister of Justice of Ethiopia, said this session of the Council was meeting at a time when the world was grappling with numerous human rights challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic, political instability and tensions, and an alarming rise in unconstitutional changes of government that were undermining human rights, in particular in the African continent. Ethiopia was one of the countries that had been affected significantly by these challenges. The attempts of a militant and rogue political organization to bring about an unconstitutional change of government through the use of force had resulted in a tragic conflict with disastrous consequences for the most vulnerable. This group had sent its troops and proxies on a rampage of wanton violence against civilians, looting schools and hospitals. The campaign of terrorising civilians in the Afar and Amhara regions had been carried out through the commission of various atrocities. The Government had managed to reverse the territorial gains made by this terrorist group. As part of an effort to avoid further bloodshed, the Government had put a halt to the advancement of its own troops.
Ethiopia had put in place an institutional and legal framework to erase the underlying political problems that gave rise to conflict through a process of inclusive national dialogue and deliberations. Ethiopia was trying to put an end to hostilities, ensure accountability and enhance the protection and promotion of human rights in very challenging circumstances. As they spoke right now, the rebel group was engaged in acts of violence in the Afar region, resulting in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians. Ethiopia had cooperated with the joint investigation team deployed by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission to investigate serious human rights allegations in the context of the conflict. Ethiopia was ready to engage with human rights mechanisms that were focused on the genuine promotion and protection of human rights. Ethiopia was committed to finding ways to work with all partners and mechanisms that respected its sovereignty.
ODONGO JEJE ABUBAKHAR, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uganda, said Uganda’s continued cooperation with the Human Rights Council’s special mechanisms was evidence of its confirmed commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights. It had submitted reports to the treaty bodies voluntarily. Its engagement with the Universal Periodic Review had been constructive. It was the spirit of constructive engagement that should permeate all the other mechanisms and organizations of the Human Rights Council. The theme of this year’s panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming was timely. The Voluntary Fund had helped with the participation in the work of the Council, as well as capacity building. During this session, pursuant to resolution 46/10, Uganda looked forward to the report of the Secretary-General on the realisation of all countries of economic, social and cultural rights and the impact of public policies put in place to combat COVID-19.
Implementing the United Nations “protect, respect and remedy” framework guaranteed labour and land rights. This year had started with hope for better health for all around the world. Uganda had had success in limiting transmission and fatalities due to COVID-19. The support of international partners, including with vaccines, was appreciated. The lack of access to vaccines had been a good lesson for Africa, as it taught it of the need to build local capacity, including logistics. Uganda was progressing well in the search for a vaccine and welcomed collaboration from other countries in this regard. Uganda was also focused on economic recovery by supporting small enterprises and increasing household incomes. All should remain realistic about how to assess progress made in the realisation of economic and social rights.
ALBRECHT FREIHERR VON BOSELAGER, Grand Chancellor and Foreign Minister of the Sovereign Order of Malta, said that he was witnessing with great emotions the ongoing conflict in Ukraine which was currently causing an outbreak of displaced persons. In regard to the dramatic events in Ukraine and the many armed conflicts in the world, the Human Rights Council was the only international body tackling all issues related to human rights violations. He was confident that the work of the Council could help alleviate the suffering of many. The Sovereign Order of Malta remained strong in its commitment to uphold the rights of the most vulnerable, as the lives of many had been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The road for recovery must include the elimination of discriminations and special attention should be given to safeguarding the rights of minorities, and other vulnerable groups.
The Sovereign Order of Malta was fully engaged in various fora to protect freedoms of belief and thought and conscience, among many others, as it recognised the value of inter-religious dialogue to facilitate worldwide humanitarian action. The tragic events in Ukraine were highlighting the links between religion and diplomacy, and the necessity of negotiation rather than the use of force. At the end of 2018, 82.4 million people had been forcibly displaced due to conflicts and other disturbances of public order. Governments were responsible for protecting vulnerable people, particularly refugees and migrants who had the right to live in dignity, peace and safety. The Grand Chancellor of the Sovereign Order of Malta called on all Member States to ensure safe migration roads.
ANTONIO GARCÍA, State Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Honduras, said Honduras was working towards a new and helpful vision to promote various issues, including the non-discrimination of women, and the protection of the elderly and persons with disabilities. Moreover, it was working towards protecting human rights defenders and the vulnerable. Honduras had designed and implemented its first public policy on human rights and under a new government was working with the newly established human rights office. Honduras was experiencing internal displacement first-hand and was working to address the needs of the displaced people. It had also designed and implemented emergency assistance for returnees in need of protection and was helping them to integrate into the job market.
Honduras had also created a mechanism of protection for human rights defenders and journalists, designed to help them. Journalists had also shared their experiences so that a perspective of what it was like on the ground could be given to help promote policies in tune with what was happening. Honduras recognised the work of the Human Rights Council and thanked Member States for their support to enable Honduras to build capacity to help protect human rights. Honduras was committed to working with the Council to achieve further results, to recognise human rights violations, and to strengthen human rights on a global level.
PÉTER SZIJJÁRTÓ, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary, said Hungary had been facing security risks over the last few days. Its neighbour Ukraine was suffering from a war, which they did not want, nor did Hungary want it. Hungary wanted peace as soon as possible. It stood by Ukraine with regard to its territorial integrity and sovereignty. Hungary hoped and prayed for the success of the peace talks and had offered its capital or any other location as a safe location for these to occur. Both the Ukrainian and the Russian Governments had been informed of this offer. Hungary hoped the second round of talks would come soon, and that they would continue, as this was the only way to make peace again as soon as possible. The Government had made all the necessary measures to protect Hungary and the Hungarian people, deploying troops to the eastern border in order to prevent any paramilitary or military groups from entering, and had made all necessary decisions to avoid Hungary being involved in the war. It did not allow the delivery of lethal weapons to transit through Hungary as they could become the target of hostile military actions, which would put in danger the lives of Hungarians whether in Hungary or in the Trans-Carpathian region in Ukraine.
The most fundamental human right was the right to live life under safe and peaceful circumstances, and the right of the Ukrainian people in this regard was being violated massively. During the last less-than-one-week, Hungary had already accepted more than 100,000 refugees. All border crossings were open and fully operational. All could come in, both citizens and legal inhabitants of Ukraine, and they were being provided with food and accommodation. Hungary had even passed a regulation allowing citizens of third countries, be they students or workers with a job in Ukraine, to enter Hungary without a visa, and had organised transfers for them to the nearest airports so that they could return home. Hungary did not allow any illegal migrants to enter the territory. Hungary was carrying out the most robust humanitarian aid of its history.
AKMAL SAIDOV, Minister for Human Rights of Uzbekistan, said Uzbekistan supported the call for action to human rights, which were central to the ongoing reforms in social, legal and socio-economic situations in the country. Uzbekistan did so in full comprehension of the United Nations principle to leave nobody behind. A resolution should be adopted to ensure that Parliaments could support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and attaining human rights. Uzbekistan had worked to reduce the number of stateless people, granting more than 70,000 inhabitants of the country Uzbek nationality. Uzbekistan took a balanced and neutral position with regard to the ongoing conflict, with traditionally close relationships with both Russia and Ukraine, and was interested in maintaining peace in the region. All disagreements should be dealt with in the framework of the norms of international law. Uzbekistan was taking steps to ensure the development of civil society organizations. A new law on religious organizations had been adopted. A plan for gender equality had been approved. Civil society institutions actively participated in the national human rights strategy. Steps were being taken to strengthen the position of the business community in the area of human rights.
Uzbekistan intended to continue to educate on the establishment of an Asian human rights mechanism; it had made significant progress in its collaboration with the United Nations human rights institutions in the regard. All should support the Uzbek initiative to create a global environmental charter that would create a new United Nations environmental perspective, post-pandemic. Uzbekistan was committed to dialoguing with all, including the United Nations and its institutions.
EMINE DZHAPAROVA, First Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, said that seven days ago, Ukraine had woken up to a new reality: in the middle of Europe, in the twenty-first century, at 4 o'clock on 24 February, Russian armed forces, supported by Belarus, had attacked Ukraine with all their strength. She had woken up early in the morning due to the sound of an explosion and had seen fire, far away from the place where she had stayed that night, and had understood that the war had started. The attack had been made on the direct order of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, who, a few days before that, had shared a list of false claims and accused Ukraine of having committed a genocide. This showed that Vladimir Putin and the Russian leadership existed in an absolute parallel reality.
Thousands of homes had been damaged or destroyed and left without electricity; 352 people, including 16 children had died, the youngest being 18 months old; and thousands had been wounded. As they spoke today, Russian armed forces were continuing to attack maternity wards, orphanages and hospitals. As the President of Ukraine had said, Russia must be considered a terrorist State. Russian attacks were not only targeting Ukrainians but also foreigners staying in Ukraine. Ukraine understood the will of foreign citizens to leave the territory of Ukraine and was committed to provide as much assistance as possible. It wished to remind that there was no discrimination based on race when it came to crossing the border for foreign citizens. Russia must be accountable for its manipulation of the very notion of genocide to justify its aggression and the war.
Tomorrow, the Human Rights Council would hold an urgent debate on the situation of human rights in Ukraine stemming from the aggression of Russia. It was crucial to have mechanisms to hold those violating human rights accountable, Ms. Dzhaparova said. She had been asked many times what was the mood in Ukraine lately. Ukraine was under attack, but this was not the time to cry tears. Ukraine would cry for sure when they were victorious and their eyes would be full of tears of happiness when they started to rebuild the cities that were being destroyed. The Government was fully operational and on behalf of the Ukrainian Government she said: "we don’t need a ride, we need your help".
MEGI FINO, Deputy Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of Albania, said despite all diplomatic efforts, Russia was blatantly invading a sovereign country in serious violation of law and order. Albania strongly condemned the unlawful attack on Ukraine. For the psychological damage caused to millions of Ukrainians, including children, Albania said there was no way to be silent and the perpetrators of the war must be condemned. Albania reiterated the need for the full respect of humanitarian law. This year was the first year that Albania was a member of the United Nations Security Council and it valued its participation there. Human rights were among Albania’s priorities, as well as the promotion and protection of human rights, as they were crucial to sustainable development and lasting peace. This made the work of the human rights system in Geneva vital.
The COVID-19 pandemic had exposed deep inequalities and had affected vulnerable groups, whether based on gender, political identity or age, amplifying hate and discrimination. Albania stood ready to join forces with all countries to stand up and protect human rights. The advancement of gender equality and the rights of women and girls was one of Albania’s first priorities and it was committed to protecting women activists and human rights defenders. Albania would also engage with Council initiatives for those who were vulnerable and risked falling further behind, including persons with disabilities. Albania was aware of the turbulent situations in different parts of the world impacting different groups.
LEKHETHO RAKUOANE, Minister of Law and Justice of Lesotho, said the session had placed an important introspection on the meaning of the universality of human rights. Lesotho held the Human Rights Council in high esteem, and it was doing commendable work in the protection and promotion of human rights worldwide. However, it still had a lot of work to do, given the history of exploitation around the world and the road the concept of human rights still had to travel. There was need for strong political will from States and for United Nations efforts to fulfil the reason for which the Human Rights Council had been established. The reporting process was an important tool to evaluate the domestic implementation of treaties. Lesotho had participated in the Universal Periodic Review mechanism in 2020, and an Action Plan was drafted in 2021 to fulfil its recommendations; Lesotho had applied to the Voluntary Fund for funding to help with this implementation. The Government had submitted its list of issues prior to reporting to the Human Rights Committee under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and was preparing to fulfil its treaty obligations.
The rights of persons with disabilities were being mainstreamed in Lesotho, with inclusive education, and a Disability Public Fund was being established. Food insecurity and high prevalence of HIV/AIDS were stumbling blocks to the enjoyment of human rights in Lesotho, along with the prevailing menace of the times - the COVID-19 pandemic. Drastic measures had to be taken to contain the spread of the pandemic, which impacted the enjoyment of human rights for certain communities. The lesson learnt by the international community so far was that human rights violations affected all human rights, and the approach to the pandemic must be done in a spirit of inclusivity. As Lesotho worked to guarantee its citizens the full spectrum of rights, human rights could not be overlooked. As it struggled to maintain the Sustainable Development Goals, all should ensure that human rights were at their heart.
ROGELIO MAYTA MAYTA, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bolivia, said Bolivia intended to contribute to upholding the existence of indigenous languages and knowledge, and their connection with the earth. It had created an institute to fulfil this goal. The international community could not continue to treat its ancestral home as it had done in the past: climate change and pollution were threatening the lives of most humans, with fires and floods; the most vulnerable were losing their lives. More and more were on the move because of climate change. Climate migrations were causing loss of life. Nothing overcame the escalation of war and the severe events that could be a threat to human beings’ existence as a species. All shared a planet, and all were affected.
Any war killed the innocent and was a breakage in the right to life. In a war, civilization was lost. The conflict in Ukraine could not be a solution to anything. The deaths and destruction had many perpetrators, all parties involved, who instead of talking were causing more death and more human rights violations. The war in Ukraine was a tragedy and could not be ignored. There needed to be dialogue and diplomacy. Bolivia had suffered many wars of aggression and had lost more than half its territory, and despite this bitter experience it had chosen peace and was a pacifist State. The Council, based on the powerful idea of respecting life as a fundamental human right, needed to call on those involved to put down their arms and give diplomacy, dialogue and life a chance.
INGRID BROCKOVA, State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of Slovakia, condemned in the strongest possible terms the ongoing aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine. Unjustified and unprovoked military operations by Russia were a manifest violation of international law. Slovakia fully supported and recognised the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. Slovakia strongly called for the immediate release of all detained people in Russia for participating in protests against Russia's military operation in Ukraine. The State Secretary expressed her deep concern about the increasingly deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus with more than 1,000 political prisoners, and more than 260 non-governmental organizations closed, and independent media wiped out.
According to the 2020 Manifesto of the Government of Slovakia, the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as the promotion of the rule of law, were key criteria in advocating the foreign policy interests of the country. The Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs had appointed the first ever Slovak Ambassador for Human Rights. The creation of this position underlined Slovakia’s deeper commitment to protecting and promoting human rights. However, the year 2021 was also a year of self-reflection to rectify the wrongdoings of the past. The Government had issued an apology for victims of sterilisation of women carried out not fully in accordance with the law between 1966 and 1989, and also for some practices which continued between 1990 and 2004, affecting mostly Roma women. Slovakia had decided to provide a special contribution of 100,000 euros to the Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, a contribution primarily focused on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.
PATRICIA SCOTLAND, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, said human rights were enshrined in the charter of the Commonwealth, both as a central obligation, and as a cornerstone of its wider commitment to peace, democracy and championing the most vulnerable. The Commonwealth’s devotion to human rights was more than an abstract pledge. Human rights put people front and centre. The pandemic had been previously described by the Commonwealth as a human rights emergency. This had been borne out directly in the threat to life, health and livelihoods. It had also been borne out more broadly in the exacerbation of existing vulnerabilities and inequalities and in new forms of exclusion; and in the intensification of exposure to harm or violence, especially amongst women, girls and marginalised groups. The reality was that every kind of global emergency was a human rights emergency. It followed that human rights must be at the heart both of the international community’s immediate response and at the heart of the long-term efforts to build back better, stronger, fairer and more resilient.
For the pandemic, that meant urgent action to ensure equitable access to vaccines across the world, as the fastest way out of the acute phase of the crisis. It also meant long-term support for all nations to build strong, resilient, high quality health services to which everyone had access. This focus was at the heart of the Memorandum of Understanding signed last month between the Commonwealth Secretariat and the World Health Organization. Strengthening the whole enabled every nation, every community, in every part of our world, to be more peaceful, more secure, happier, healthier and more prosperous, with the pandemic reminding everyone of how important – and how fragile – security, health and prosperity could be.
JULISSA MANTILLA FALCÓN, Commissioner and President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, said the COVID-19 pandemic had a severe and ongoing impact on human rights throughout the world. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had monitored the situation and made its reports available. Persistent discrimination against women, and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, children and adolescents and social leaders had taken place. Severe humanitarian crises had added to the more than 84 million displaced around the world. Anti-democratic endeavours persisted in societies.
Concerning Cuba, there were several violations with regard to the institution of representative democracy, with negative impact on human rights and with the right to free expression circumscribed. In Nicaragua, there was a new state of repression in the country, putting an end to general participation in elections. The climate of oppression showed how the Government aimed to keep itself permanently in power in a situation of structural impunity. The situation in Venezuela was also of concern, with the absence of the rule of law, the lack of independence of the different branches of the government, and the concentration of power in the executive branch. The situation in Bolivia was also of concern and needed to be remedied. It was important to continue to strengthen the democratic institutions in the Americas as a whole.
ACHIM STEINER, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, said that COVID 19 was not an equal opportunity bearer as shown with the unequal access to the vaccine. Boosters after boosters were given in some countries while millions of people in developing countries were unprotected. Ensuring vaccine equity was crucial to protecting all humans. Mr. Steiner condemned every act of violence against human rights defenders, stating that when governments suppressed dissenting voices, this led to conflicts and turmoil. Countries must find a way to end the acts of intimidation, violence and murder and must do more to applaud the vital contribution that human rights defenders made to the world. On climate change, Mr. Steiner said it was the single biggest threat to human rights today. Having a clean and healthy environment was indeed a human right, and there was a need to respect that human right of the next generation.
It was crucial to amend the digital gap so that everyone could have their say on climate change. At the United Nations Development Programme, they were leveraging human rights as a problem-solving tool. Human rights mechanisms provided the world with guidance as to how to protect and promote human rights, yet there was a gap between the world of human rights and the reality on the ground. Ninety per cent of the Sustainable Development Goals were linked to human rights yet they often remained an afterthought. Guided by the Programme’s ambitious new strategic plan, they were proud to play their part within the United Nations family and would continue to work with countries and integrate human rights in their advocacy.
GILLIAN TRIGGS, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection with the United Nations Refugee Agency, welcomed the opportunity to highlight the specific protection needs of asylum seekers and refugees and of all those forcibly displaced in their own country or who were stateless. People who had been forcibly displaced - today about 84 million people, 50 per cent of them children - were highly vulnerable to persecution, discrimination, abuse and violence. They were in desperate need of the protection that international, regional, and national human rights laws and mechanisms could and did offer. The COVID-19 pandemic had taught many lessons. It was crystal clear now that equitable access to health care was a global imperative; that a pandemic did not respect the legal status of citizenship or nationality; and that asylum seekers and those who were stateless must be included. As the world recovered from the immediate health impacts of the virus, they were left with a legacy of long-term socio-economic crises that threatened the recovery of all those forcibly displaced when compared to nationals in the same situation. The resilience and capacity of a displaced person to bounce back was slower, and their access to education, housing and livelihoods would be more restricted.
Although many had hoped the pandemic might pave the way for ceasefires and for opportunities for peace, political upheaval and conflict across the globe had shown no signs of abating. Conflicts continued to be unresolved, and political violence, repression, and fault lines had become further entrenched. Deep societal divisions, made worse by poor governance and a lack of respect for the rule of law, had given voice to discrimination, racism, and xenophobia, especially against people who had been forcibly displaced.
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