MIDDAY 23 February 2021
The Human Rights Council in its midday meeting continued its high-level segment, hearing addresses from 23 dignitaries, who spoke about their national efforts to promote and protect human rights, challenges facing the multilateral order, and human rights violations globally.
Many dignitaries called for COVID-19 vaccines to be made affordable and accessible to all, especially to the citizens of the poorest nations, and expressed concern over the increasing dissemination of false information about the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide. Despite the rhetoric of solidarity proclaimed by leaders when this Council met one year ago, the pandemic had accelerated inequalities. Research had found that over 1 billion people could be living in extreme poverty by the year 2030, a quarter as a direct result of COVID-19.
The following speakers took the floor: Don Pramudwinai, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Thailand, S. Jaishankar, Minister of External Affairs of India, Bogdan Aurescu, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Romania, Aïssata Tall Sall, Minister of Foreign Affairs and of Senegalese living abroad of Senegal, Adaljiza Magno, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Timor-Leste, Francesco Ribeiro Telles, Executive Secretary of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries, Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Nqosa Mahao, Minister of Law and Justice of Lesotho, Achim Steiner, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Ruslan Kazakbaev, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan, Vladimir Makei, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belarus, Aráncha González Laya, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Spain, Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development Cooperation of Iceland, Geoffrey Onyeama, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Nigeria, Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See, Palamagamba Kabudi, MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation of Tanzania, Jean Asselborn, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of Luxembourg, Motegi Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, Edgars Rinkēvičs, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Latvia, Pedro Brolo Vila, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Guatemala, Agron Tare, Vice-Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of Albania, and Rogelio Mayta Mayta, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bolivia.
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The Council will next continue its high-level segment.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Thailand, stated that Thailand had not been spared by the COVID-19 pandemic, and now more than ever it was time to recommit to the common core values in the protection of human rights. The response to COVID-19 could not be to "scale back" ambitions in political, social and economic areas. States must strengthen their efforts to find and strike the right balance between enhancing economic resilience, ensuring social inclusion and promoting active political and social engagement. States had to also refocus on people, sustainability and resilience when it came to the Sustainable Development Goals. There was a need to strengthen efforts to realize the right to health as a basic human right for all people everywhere, including all migrant workers.
Minister of External Affairs of India, noted that India had always played an active role in the global promotion and protection of human rights, based on its own experience as an inclusive and pluralistic society. Equal emphasis should be placed on both the promotion and protection of human rights. Violation of and gaps in the implementation of human rights should be addressed in a fair and just manner, with objectivity, non-selectivity, transparency and due respect to the principles of non-interference. Terrorism continued to be a severe challenge to the human rights agenda and the gravest threat to humankind, and as a long-standing victim, India had been at the forefront of global action against terrorism. Some of its internal achievements were the world's largest financial inclusion scheme and free health insurance coverage for 500 million Indians.
Minister for Foreign Affairs of Romania, emphasised that the unprecedented scale of the COVID-19 pandemic had been unthinkable for many, as migrants and refugees were stranded, people were confined, and pressure on health systems was pervasive. The spread of false information about COVID-19 inflicted real risks, and misinformation was unfortunately more acutely present than ever, raising the need for "digital democracy" tools. As such, digital regulation was one of the priorities of the current Romanian Presidency of the Community of Democracies. Mr. Aurescu raised concerns about the situations in Belarus, Syria, Eastern Ukraine and Myanmar. Following its longstanding tradition of its strong attachment to multilateral diplomacy and for the respect of international law, Romania had the honour to announce its candidacy to the Human Rights Council for the term 2023-2025.
AÏSSATA TALL SALL,
Minister for Foreign Affairs and Senegalese Abroad of Senegal, took the opportunity to thank all States that had voted to support Senegal's candidature to the Council for its second mandate 2021-2023. Today's meeting was held at an unusual and symbolic time because of the circumstances forced on everyone by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the twentieth anniversary of the Durban Declaration, and the seventy-third anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Senegal paid particular attention to the rights of women, children, elderly and persons with disabilities. This year, Senegal would appear before the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. In order to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, Senegal had launched a solidarity fund to promote economic and social resilience.
Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Timor-Leste, emphasised that Timor-Leste had ratified seven of the nine core human rights treaties. Like other small island developing States, Timor-Leste faced a double emergency of COVID-19 and climate change. Mutual and supportive cooperation from the international community was essential to overcome these challenges. Despite the lack of resources, only 103 positive cases of COVID-19 had been recorded in the country, with 81 persons recovering, 22 continuing isolation, and no deaths. In the national financial management system, a number of new gender indicators were included to better track funds spent on promoting gender equality. Alternative dispute resolution mechanisms were of great importance to Timor-Leste, as it put forward a bill on mediation. Ms. Magno called on all parties in conflict to respect human rights and vehemently rejected the use of sexual violence in war.
FRANCESCO RIBEIRO TELLES,
Executive Secretary of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries, stated that for the Community, "Leave no one behind!" was not just the affirmation of a rhetorical objective, but a humanistic purpose that was called on to reinforce the observance of the human rights agenda in the current situation and in the post-COVID-19 context. Mr. Telles advocated for the urgency of re-enforcing multilateralism and international cooperation in view of the pandemic, calling for a collective response to be guided by a respect for human rights. In this spirit, the Community reinforced its cooperation strategies in the areas of Sustainable Development Goals 1, 2 and 3 with emphasis on the sectors of food and nutrition security and health, with measures to mitigate social vulnerabilities based on human rights principles. The challenge continued to be the building of plural, inclusive, open, and free societies capable of providing a dignified life for all.
Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, congratulated Fiji, a member of the Commonwealth, on being both the first small island developing State and the first Pacific State elected President of the Council. COVID-19, which was fundamentally a human rights emergency, now loomed over everyone. The pandemic, and responses to it, collided with entrenched economic, social and cultural inequalities, exacerbating vulnerability, exclusion and exposure to harm or violence, especially amongst women, girls and marginalised groups. Although vaccines were a vital lifeline, they remained out of the grasp of far too many people, especially those in the poorest countries. Ms. Scotland emphasised that the world was in a seminally difficult time, a new paradigm from which there was no easy path out. The need for human rights had never been greater and the need for multilateral cooperation in achieving these human rights was pressing.
Minister of Law and Justice of Lesotho, said that this was an opportune moment to take stock of achievements, shortcomings and the challenges that lay ahead in the human rights arena. The Council had a lot of work to do, given a global history of exploitation and the struggle to protect human rights. To do its part, Lesotho had participated in the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review Mechanism in January 2020. The ensuing recommendations were continually being implemented and in due course, Lesotho would submit its voluntary mid-term report. Unfortunately, Lesotho continued to be beset by challenges, including a decline in agricultural production as a result of deteriorating rangeland conditions, soil erosion and droughts. The COVID-19 crisis had also left its mark, as the Government had to ensure that the health care system had the capacity to treat those infected, while ensuring the provision of normal health care services.
Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, said that global human development was on course to decline for the first time since 1990. Research had found that over 1 billion people could be living in extreme poverty by the year 2030, a quarter as a direct result of COVID-19. The United Nations Development Programme was serving as the United Nations system's technical lead of the socio-economic response to the pandemic and 119 Socio-Economic Response Plans had been completed, outlining recommendations for countries in areas of lost jobs and livelihoods to rising poverty, inequality, and strains in social cohesion. Over 60 per cent of countries had regressed on basic rights in 2020 due to measures to tackle the pandemic. Ensuring that the world had a "People's Vaccine" was the fastest way to end the pandemic and the Programme was helping governments to insert the "DNA" of a green, low-carbon economy into all recovery measures -- for instance through the ambitious Climate Promise.
President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, stated that despite the rhetoric of solidarity proclaimed by leaders when this Council met one year ago, the pandemic had accelerated inequalities. States struggled to respond simultaneously to national priorities and international cooperation. COVID-19 would not be the last crisis the world faced together. In 2021, the international community must work to address four key threats: nationalism at the expense of the most vulnerable, the rollback of norms that protected life and dignity, unmitigated climate change, and the misuse of information that fuelled violence. Respecting - and ensuring respect - for international humanitarian law under all circumstances was paramount. Neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian action was a lifeline to communities in distress, and must be supported, placing people at the centre of response. The International Committee of the Red Cross was ready to assist States with dialogue with the military and guidance of law enforcement agencies.
Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan, stressed that the freedom-loving people of Kyrgyzstan would never turn away from the path of democracy. The successful presidential election held on 10 January this year had been observed by 333 international observers representing 44 countries and 35 international organizations, as well as 96 media representatives from 11 States. The next steps of the transitional phase would be the constitutional reform and parliamentary elections. Fighting corruption, criminality and organized crime, and the reform of the judicial and law enforcement systems were the main priorities. The country was a party to eight of the nine core United Nations human rights treaties and in December 2020 it had issued a standing invitation to all thematic Special Procedures. From 2001 to 2019, the Kyrgyz Republic had been visited by 10 special mandate holders.
Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belarus, said that Western countries actively used sanctions to pressure other sovereign States. No other country in Europe was under as much pressure as Belarus and it was being brutally attacked because of the discontent of part of the population with the results of the presidential election. Destabilization mechanisms were being used to overthrow the authorities: fake news replicated in social networks, political and financial support of allegedly "spontaneous" protests from outside, and a range of political and economic sanctions. The All-Belarusian People's Assembly, held in Minsk on February 11-12, had gathered thousands of Belarusians and confirmed the support of the majority of the population for the State policy on the promotion of social and economic rights. Street riots in Belgium, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Poland, and France, accompanied by retaliatory police violence, had made front-page news. It seemed that no one in the United Nations cared about the situation of ethnic minorities in Latvia or the expulsion of Roma in France.
ARÁNCHA GONZÁLEZ LAYA,
Minister for Foreign Affairs of Spain, called for multilateralism through the together for stronger multilateralism initiative. Spain was a strong advocate of gender equality and feminist foreign policy as well as the promotion of digital technologies and addressing the challenges they were bringing. A rules-based order was needed and the strengthening of civil society was crucial. The 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development must guide work in the area of human rights. Spain would be working on protecting the rights of the most vulnerable, promoting gender equality, and combatting xenophobia, racism and human trafficking. Spain would also work on the protection of human rights in the face of the adverse effects of climate change, in line with the priorities outlined by the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General. Human rights defenders were agents of positive change and their rights had to be protected.
GUDLAUGUR THÓR THÓRDARSON,
Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development Cooperation of Iceland, said that human rights were a fundamental part of Iceland's foreign policy. Iceland would not shy away from calling on any of the Council members to live up to their human rights obligations. The decision of Saudi Arabia to respond to the international call for the release of a human right defender was welcomed. Iceland had worked with the Philippines on a joint resolution addressing their human rights situation, adopted by the Council in September. Recent developments in the Russian Federation – a newly elected member of the Council – gave serious cause for concern. There was a deterioration of respect for civil and political rights in many other States, including in Belarus and in Hong Kong. In Myanmar, the imperfect democracy had been done away with altogether.
Minister for Foreign Affairs of Nigeria, noted that numerous best practices had been adopted in Nigeria in order to educate the populace on the dangers of the COVID-19 virus, and to stop its spread. The Government had finalized its plans to procure and efficiently distribute the COVID-19 vaccines. The reform of the security system was one of the key priorities of the Government. Twenty years after the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, the world was still grappling with racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia. All must continue to discourage populist political narratives, the spread of fake news, hate speech, and incitement to hatred and violence, with a view to ensuring peace and harmony in all societies.
PAUL RICHARD GALLAHGHER,
Secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See, noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had challenged the promotion and protection of human rights, while at the same time reaffirming their relevance. The Holy See regretted that the Human Rights Committee's General Comment 36 on the protection of the right to life twisted the meaning of protection to promote assisted suicide and ending the life of unborn children. It was regrettable that the elderly, migrants, refugees and other vulnerable groups had been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Peoples' freedoms must only be restricted when strictly necessary as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and must be proportional.
MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation of Tanzania, stated that 60 years since independence, and guided by the Tanzania Development Vision 2025, the Government had focused on strengthening human rights, good governance and the rule of law. The decision by the World Bank in July 2020, to re-categorize Tanzania as a middle-income economy was a great achievement. This had fuelled the Government's efforts to ensure economic and social rights to all citizens, including improved access to health services, to clean and safe water, and to the right to education. The Government was committed to promote the rights of vulnerable groups such as women and children, improve judicial diversity, and improve practices of good governance in the country.
JEAN ASSELBORN ,
Minister for Foreign and European Affairs of Luxembourg, welcomed the return of the United States to the Council, and stated that during Luxembourg's mandate, it was committed to four priority areas: fighting for the rule of law, fighting for climate action, fighting for gender equality, and defending the rights of the child. Internationally, a number of areas were raising concern. Luxembourg called for the people of Belarus to be allowed to express their views in free and fair elections, regretted the shrinking of civic space in Russia, and denounced the detention of Alexei Navalny and other opposition members. In Turkey, civil society groups continued to face repression, and Luxembourg also regretted repression in Hong Kong and in Myanmar, and called for an end to discrimination on ethnic or religious grounds wherever it occurred.
Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, looked forward to hosting the Kyoto Congress aimed at advancing the rule of law globally, and the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, to mark the victory over COVID-19. Japan attached importance to both dialogue and cooperation, engaging in human rights dialogue with Iran, and in coordination with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia. While remarkable economic growth had been made in the Asia-Pacific region, achieving democracy and protecting human rights were ongoing challenges and the Minister raised the examples of Myanmar, Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and abductions by "North Korea" as situations to be remedied. Japan was promoting efforts to eradicate violence against children at home and abroad, eliminating discrimination against leprosy, and promoting women's empowerment and human rights internationally.
Minister for Foreign Affairs of Latvia, called for the unrestricted access of United Nations bodies to all territories and conflict zones. The human rights situations in the illegally annexed Crimea and Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia was worsening, and Latvia welcomed the High Commissioner's efforts to monitor the situation there. The Minister remained concerned about massive repressions against civil society in the Russian Federation and called for the release of Alexei Navalny and other peaceful protesters. He deplored the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus and called on the Council to create an international accountability mechanism to address these violations. Latvia warmly welcomed the United States decision to re-engage with the Council.
PEDRO BROLO VILA,
Minister for Foreign Affairs of Guatemala, stated that in the face of the pandemic, Guatemala had taken drastic measures to reduce its impact on health and the economy. Structural problems such as chronic malnutrition and poverty remained a priority for the Government, with programmes being implemented that targeted social protection, poverty reduction and access to health service. Ten social programmes had been implemented to help the COVID-19 recovery, including cash disbursements and employment protection measures. Guatemala had secured 800,000 vaccines, and a national vaccination plan had been published. However, Guatemala made an urgent appeal for the equitable distribution of vaccines for all.
Vice-Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of Albania, noted the importance of multilateralism, especially for smaller countries, and reaffirmed Albania's commitment and support for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Taking into account the situation in Syria, Iran, Belarus, Myanmar and South Sudan, Albania believed that the Council was vital in contributing to preventing further human rights violations. The Universal Periodic Review process was of utmost importance, and Albania remained committed to implement the recommendations from this process. Human rights and democracy promotion were of vital importance, and accession to the European Union was Albania's highest priority, providing a pathway to implementing justice reform, good governance and addressing discrimination and intolerance.
Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bolivia, regretted the political violence and persecution that had occurred in Bolivia in 2019, underlining that democracy had been re-established in fresh elections in October 2020. Following this, the Bolivian Government had developed several actions to achieve national reconciliation, including promoting the investigation of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts acting within the framework of the Protocol signed in November 2020, between the Bolivian Government and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, it was essential that all peoples of the world had access to vaccines. He called for global debt relief and an end to racism and discrimination in all countries.
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