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Human Rights Council Holds Panel Discussion on the Rights of the Child and the Sustainable Development Goals

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1 March 2021

MORNING

1 March 2021

Continues General Debate on the Oral Update of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Human Rights Council this morning began its annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child with a panel discussion on the rights of the child and the Sustainable Development Goals.

In her opening statement, Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said it was clear that realizing the rights of children was a requisite to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. However, discrimination, inequality, lack of political will, inadequate investment and other barriers meant children’s rights often remained a wish rather than a reality.

Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund and panellist, said that under the COVID-19 pandemic, children’s rights were under threat. The economic impacts of a looming and lasting recession would hit children hardest, as their families struggled to recover. The digital divide that kept millions of children from distance learning during school closures must be closed.

Fred, a child human rights defender and panellist, said that 90 per cent of children agreed that poverty, inequality and climate inaction pushed children to the streets. Stigmatisation, discrimination due to HIV and AIDS positive status, and a heavy handed COVID-19 response from the police had all had severe negative effects on street children.

Trisha Shetty, Chief Executive Officer of SheSays and President of the Steering Committee of the Paris Peace Forum and panellist, noted that the pandemic had forced all to pause and hit reset to try and adapt to the crisis. But they must remember that there was urgency, as the world was losing 150 to 200 species every day, while children were being treated as fair game in war zones - this could not be the new normal.

Mary Robinson, Chair of the Elders and panellist, said she was particularly concerned about the risks to the health and livelihoods of girls who had been forced to quit school and were then increasingly vulnerable to child pregnancy and child marriage. The Elders engaged very much on the child marriage issue and had helped to build the Girls Not Brides network which had addressed this issue.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers emphasised that the rights of the child were at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals. The Convention on the Rights of the Child was the most widely ratified human rights instrument, but significant gaps remained. Rising poverty, closed schools and lockdowns made children more vulnerable to abuse and violence, which had life-long, irreversible and trans-generational consequences. Speakers asked the panellists about the best practices for the meaningful engagement of children in policy processes - they must be able to participate and their voice had to be taken into account by States.

Speaking were Estonia on behalf of Nordic and Baltic countries, European Union, Croatia on behalf of a group of countries, Luxembourg on behalf of a group of countries, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Cameroon on behalf of the African Group, Azerbaijan on behalf of the Non Aligned Movement, Bahrain on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Slovenia, North Macedonia, Food and Agriculture Organization, Libya, Maldives, Thailand, India, Uruguay, United Arab Emirates, Viet Nam, Chad, Georgia, Niger, Poland, Malta and Qatar.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Defensoria del Pueblo de la Nacion of Argentina, World Vision International, Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, China Family Planning Association, Chinese Association for International Understanding, and China Soong Ching Ling Foundation.

The Council then continued the general debate on the High Commissioner’s oral update and country reports under agenda item 2.

During the debate, speakers said vaccine rollouts should consider the specific needs of trans and intersex persons, as well as persons living with HIV. In the context of the pandemic, it was critical that the Council curb authoritarian overreach by continuing its monitoring of the effects of COVID-19 on human rights. The promiscuity and insalubrity that prevailed in most places of deprivation of liberty had made it impossible to comply with the minimum necessary sanitary rules. This crisis offered an opportunity to denounce the pre-existing failings of the judicial and prison systems and to build institutions that respected human rights.

Speakers also broached human rights violations taking part in, or involving the following countries and regions: Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, United Kingdom, European Union, Mediterranean Sea, occupied Palestinian territories, Eritrea, Sri Lanka, Venezuela, Algeria, India, Russian-occupied regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali, Hong Kong, Cyprus, Xinjiang, Sahel region, Belarus, Russian Federation, Burundi, South Africa, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Tanzania, Tigray region, Brazil, Western Sahara, Morocco, China, Egypt and Tibet.

The following countries also discussed the human rights situation in their own territories, highlighting challenges and achievements: Syria, Tunisia, Nigeria, Turkey, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Ireland, Niger, Lao’s People Democratic Republic, Viet Nam, Guinea, Tanzania, Kazakhstan and Zimbabwe.

Speaking were Belarus, Azerbaijan, Paraguay, Syria, Tunisia, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Botswana, Uganda, Nigeria, Turkey, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Cambodia, Iceland, Ireland, Panama, Georgia, UN Women, Niger, Nicaragua, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Vanuatu, Burundi, Chad, Slovakia, Viet Nam, Guinea, Tanzania, Kazakhstan, Zimbabwe and Barbados.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: International Commission of Jurists, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, World Organisation Against Torture, International Lesbian and Gay Association, Instituto de Desenvolvimento e Direitos Humanos - IDDH, Right Livelihood Award Foundation, Human Rights Watch, International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, International Service for Human Rights, Centre Europe - tiers monde, International Federation of ACAT (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture), and African Green Foundation International.

Cyprus and Zimbabwe took the floor in point of order.

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-sixth regular session can be found here.

The Human Rights Council will meet at 3 p.m. to continue the second part of its annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child, with a panel discussion on securing a future for today’s children and generations to come: building back better with children’s rights upfront.

Annual Full-day Meeting on the Rights of the Child

Panel on the Rights of the Child and the Sustainable Development Goals

Opening Statement

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said it was clear that realising the rights of children was a requisite to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. However, discrimination, inequality, lack of political will, inadequate investment and other barriers meant children’s rights often remained a wish rather than a reality. COVID-19 had made matters worse. Children were increasingly being exposed to physical and psychological violence, pushed into labour, child marriage, exploitation and trafficking. For many girls and young women, the threat loomed largest where they should be safest: in their own homes. Within the last year, the number of children living in poverty had increased by 142 million. At their height, lockdowns had affected 90 per cent of students – in a world where more than a third of all schoolchildren did not have access to remote education. Disruptions in health coverage were leading to higher rates of child and infant mortality, and nearly 100 million children under the age of one were missing out on routine, life-saving vaccines due to COVID-19 measures. The task ahead required urgently assessing which children were at greatest risk and identifying the most pressing implementation gaps and barriers. Around the world, children and young people were demanding this real change. With only 10 years left to reach the goal of transforming the world, the international community needed to move much faster.

Statements by the Panellists

HENRIETTA FORE, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund, said that under the COVID-19 pandemic, children’s rights were under threat. The economic impacts of a looming and lasting recession would hit children hardest, as their families struggled to recover. The digital divide that kept millions of children from distance learning during school closures must be closed. The Children Fund’s Giga initiative was gathering partners around its work to connect every school and community in the world to the Internet. The world needed to support families through and beyond this extraordinary time and expand global efforts to tackle climate change and protect the planet for future generations. Throughout, it was important to empower children as agents of change and create spaces and mechanisms for children and young people to help them shape policies and programmes, learn about their rights, and to help realize them.

FRED, Child Human Rights Defender, a sixteen-year-old from Uganda and a member of a Child Rights Club, explained that to ensure the meaningful participation of children, Save Street Children Uganda had built capacity to make their voices heard through Child Rights Clubs, advocacy programmes and the International Day of Street Children. Ninety per cent of children agreed that poverty, inequality and climate inaction pushed children to the streets. Stigmatisation, discrimination due to HIV and AIDS positive status, and a heavy handed COVID-19 response from the police had all had severe negative effects on street children. Fred recommended that governments ensure that they have access to quality health care, improve their standard of living, and promote their right to education, calling on world leaders to take poverty, inequality and climate action seriously.

TRISHA SHETTY, Chief Executive Officer of SheSays and President of the Steering Committee of the Paris Peace Forum, noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had forced all to pause and hit reset to try and adapt to the crisis. But they must remember that there was urgency, as the world was losing 150 to 200 species every day, while children were being treated as fair game in war zones - this could not be the new normal. When it came to the climate crisis, this pandemic and human rights, they were often at the mercy of political will, and it must be remembered that political will and politicians were renewable resources. Children and youth like Greta Thunberg and Disha Ravi, who was arrested by the Indian Government for speaking up during the farmers protest, were already leading all to fight the good fight – the world must be at least half as brave as them and speak up in solidarity.

MARY ROBINSON, Chair of the Elders, said she was particularly concerned about the risks to the health and livelihoods of girls who had been forced to quit school and were then increasingly vulnerable to child pregnancy and child marriage. The Elders engaged very much on the child marriage issue and had helped to build the Girls Not Brides network which had addressed this issue. The charity Save the Children, had warned that 2020 was a year of “irreversible setbacks and lost progress” for girls, with 500,000 more girls at risk of being forced into child marriage and 1 million more estimated to have become pregnant. Much had been made of the importance of sporting activity to children’s physical and mental wellbeing during the long months of COVID-19 restrictions. But what was often not mentioned in this context was the need to give greater attention to addressing abuses of children in and through sport.

Discussion

Speakers emphasised that the rights of the child were at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals. The Convention on the Rights of the Child was the most widely ratified human rights instrument, but significant gaps remained. Rising poverty, closed schools and lockdowns made children more vulnerable to abuse and violence, which had life-long, irreversible and trans-generational consequences. Speakers asked the panellists about the best practices for the meaningful engagement of children in policy processes - they must be able to participate, and their voices had to be taken into account by States. Children’s overall well-being should remain a core and shared objective, in particular in light of the challenges caused by the pandemic and lockdowns, as vaccine nationalism had the potential to cause a significant number of children to be left behind. Some speakers affirmed the important role of the family in caring for and protecting children. Children often felt overlooked despite calls to involve them, and statements about their role and importance in society - nothing about them should be decided without them.

Poorer countries needed the support of the international community, as speakers highlighted that the 2030 Agenda must be understood in relation to the rights of children. Despite the inclusion of children in the human rights approach, the fact remained that it must be strengthened, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the suspension of schooling. The growing role of private actors in the provision of social services had a devastating impact on the human rights of children, as privatisation and commercialisation of education resulted in restricted access and the exacerbation of inequalities - the pandemic had shown that privatised institutions were unfit to fulfil their role. Schools provided more than just education, but also access to water and sanitation, nutrition, care and safety which children in conflict zones or extreme hardship would not have otherwise. Some speakers noted the importance of protecting children in digital spaces, improving digital literacy, and counteracting cyber-bullying.

Concluding Remarks

MARY ROBINSON, Chair of the Elders, said she was glad to hear that so many participants noted the importance of listening to children. In order to ensure the meaningful participation of children, Ms. Robinson highlighted that children were already speaking out intensely and scientifically about the risks of climate change. Regarding vaccine nationalism, the COVAX initiative was encouraging, however, not enough progress was taking place. She hoped that States would pay attention to the fact that COVID-19 had shown that market-driven systems were unfit to provide education. All were out of their comfort zone with COVID-19, and Ms. Robinson preferred the idea of building forward to building back, given that the pandemic had exposed and intensified existing inequalities.

TRISHA SHETTY, Chief Executive Officer of SheSays and President of the Steering Committee of the Paris Peace Forum, stated that more than one billion children were victims of violence and neglect. Actual lives and people were on the other side of these statistics – the world had to be cognizant about how much they were sanitising the image of Member States that were not doing enough. Child activists were celebrated globally, but in the Global South they were often villainized, facing real threats to their voice and autonomy. Ms. Shetty reiterated that public healthcare services, education and infrastructure needed more investment. The on-the-ground activists knew all the solutions - there was no need for innovation, instead, it was important to combat the sometimes complicit ignorance of political leadership.

FRED, Child human rights defender, thanked the Council for the opportunity to speak about this issue. Children of the street had no shelter and had to sleep outside, exposing them to the risk of being arrested by the police. Children continued to experience many forms of inequalities, making them unable to feel that they were children. Governments should ensure that children had access to clean water, health, medical care and education. Governments must also support children and uplift their voices, especially in relation to climate change. Without the protection of children’s rights, the world would be like a pencil without lead.

AFSHAN KHAN, Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia of the United Nations Children’s Fund, highlighted the three key elements of the discussion today: leaving no child behind, empowering children as agents of changes, and tracking progress. Inequalities had been further exposed and deepened due to the pandemic, therefore achieving child rights required a deliberate strategy of reaching those furthest behind. Schools must be the last to close and the first to open. A key dimension was the right of every child to express their views freely and participate in matters concerning them, something that was often neglected. It was a collective responsibility to make sure that children were given the opportunity and space to speak up, to teach children about their rights, and to engage them as agents of change.

General Debate on the Oral Update of the High Commissioner

Michele Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights, presented her oral update last week and her presentation as well as the beginning of the general debate can be found here and here.

General debate

Speakers said the Office of the High Commissioner should consider more closely human rights violations in Western developed countries, rather than adopting subjective narratives that ignored the impact of unilateral coercive measures, in line with the principles of non-selectivity and objectivity. The debt burden on developing countries should be alleviated to facilitate recovery from COVID-19, which threatened the progress achieved in the past decades in authoritarian States and democracies alike. The distribution of vaccines should be equitable, and the response to the pandemic should see women at the table. It was paramount to address the issues of unpaid domestic work and violence against women. Those living in dire humanitarian situations should not be forgotten by the international community as they suffered more from the pandemic’s detrimental effects. Arbitrary detentions must never be used to silence opposition figures, speakers stressed. The exercise of the freedom of expression must be grounded in the historical, social and political context of each country.

Some speakers added that sovereign States had a legitimate right to regulate local and foreign funding of local non-governmental organizations. States should endorse South Africa and India’s waiver proposal to the World Trade Organization’s Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Council. Violations of international humanitarian law and human rights violations and abuses associated with armed operations were matters for multilateral discussion. Drawing attention to overcrowding in prisons, speakers said it led to riots and greater vulnerability in the face of the pandemic. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people were amongst those most affected by the pandemic. Vaccine rollouts should consider the specific needs of trans and intersex persons, as well as persons living with HIV. In the context of the pandemic, it was critical that the Council curb authoritarian overreach by continuing its monitoring of the effects of COVID-19 on human rights. The promiscuity and insalubrity that prevailed in most places of deprivation of liberty had made it impossible to comply with the minimum necessary sanitary rules. This crisis offered an opportunity to denounce the pre-existing failings of the judicial and prison systems and to build institutions that respected human rights.

Speakers also broached human rights violations taking part in, or involving the following countries and regions: Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, United Kingdom, European Union, Mediterranean Sea, occupied Palestinian territories, Eritrea, Sri Lanka, Venezuela, Algeria, India, Russian-occupied regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali, Hong Kong, Cyprus, Xinjiang, Sahel region, Belarus, Russian Federation, Burundi, South Africa, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Tanzania, Tigray region, Brazil, Western Sahara, Morocco, China, Egypt and Tibet.

The following countries also discussed the human rights situation in their own territories, highlighting challenges and achievements: Syria, Tunisia, Nigeria, Turkey, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Ireland, Niger, Lao’s People Democratic Republic, Viet Nam, Guinea, Tanzania, Kazakhstan and Zimbabwe.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/03/conseil-des-droits-de-lhomme-la-pandemie-de-covid-19-risque


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