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Network 20/20 : The Future of Human Rights
State of the world's human rights after COVID-19
Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights


29 October 2020

Greetings. Thank you for inviting me to speak to this audience at this very challenging moment for every country.

We are facing a global pandemic, climate catastrophes and – linked to both of them – massive global recession.

With COVID-19, a fast-moving and global health crisis has collided with many slower, and more entrenched, political, social and economic crises around the world. Those multiple underlying fractures, which have made us more vulnerable to this virus – and create entry points for its harms – result from gaps in human rights protection.

Discrimination and inequalities create intense suffering for affected communities – and increase the vulnerability of all of society.

Repression and crackdowns on people who criticise, or speak up about policies deprive all of us of the benefit of people's experiences, contributions and views.

COVID-19, which zeros in on these vulnerabilities and failures of protection, is shaking the foundation of our world, bringing turmoil and uncertainty to every country. But COVID-19 is also teaching us a number of lessons. You've asked me to reflect today on what the world's landscape of human rights will look like, after the pandemic. But I think that depends very much on how well and quickly we grasp and implement those lessons.

To me, the first lesson of COVID-19 is its demonstration of the profound value of human rights-based approaches.

COVID-19 is like a heat-seeking device which zeroes in on gaps in human rights protection, and is fuelled by those gaps - enlarging them and threatening societies.

Inequalities and discrimination don't only harm the individuals who are directly, and unfairly, impacted They also create shock-waves that damage all of society, and with COVID-19, we see this very clearly.

Policies that uphold our equality, and which deliver universal and equal access to social protections and health care. Institutions which promote respect for the views and rights of all members of society. Laws that require accountable policing and access to justice support greater social and economic resilience: these principles, in action, are the foundation of prosperity and political stability.

They protect vulnerable people – and all of us – from the worst impacts of crises, which means they also help to avert the escalation of tensions and grievances into violence and conflict.

In other words, in order to navigate this pandemic in security, we need more empowerment, and more participation by civil society. We need to build up human rights-based systems to protect and cherish the people, who are the greatest resource of any country and the only bottom line that really counts. We need to devise policies that are grounded in right, democracy and rule of law, so that we can minimize the devastating social, economic and humanitarian consequences of COVID-19 – and build back societies that are resilient and fair.

There's a second lesson that I want to highlight – an old lesson, but it is just as relevant and life-changing how as it was in 1963, when Martin Luther King wrote in his letter from a jail in Birmingham, Alabama – that all of us “are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all."

To effectively protect us from crises, all of us need not only national, but also regional and global policies that prioritise civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

We should be building global support for sustainable, inclusive and climate-sensitive growth – both at home and around the world.

Because no-one is safe if everyone is not safe. And it should be clear to all of us that a greater effort by everyone to fulfill the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development would have mitigated a great deal of the suffering we see today. We badly need to strongly advance on that agenda in the coming decade.

Because yes, the world will recover from COVID-19. The question is, will we recover better. This will be among the great challenges of our lifetimes.

We can rebuild in ways that uphold human rights, knowing that these principles will create more resilient, inclusive, sustainable and greener societies. In that case, we will not be able to prevent or deflect every crisis – but we will survive those crises in better shape. Because it is these principles that build more stable, more peaceful and more adaptable societies, with dialogue, cooperation, and respect.

I look forward to our discussion.



5 - 10 mins: H.E. Bachelet will start with a remark on the state of the world on human rights after the pandemic
20 - 25 mins: Moderated conversation (details will come later. Either Courtney or Sava will moderate the conversation)