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Side Event: Global Pledge for Action by Religious Actors and Faith-Based Organizations to Address the COVID-19 Pandemic in Collaboration with the United Nations

High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development
Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

7 July 2021

Excellencies,
Colleagues,
Friends,

I am delighted to open this event, together with my colleagues Alice Nderitu and Miguel Ángel Moratinos, on the Global Pledge for Action by Religious Actors and Faith-Based Organizations to Address the COVID-19 Pandemic in Collaboration with the United Nations.

When we jointly launched the Global Pledge for Action in May 2020, I expressed the hope that this shared vision and framework will nourish a community of practise. A community in which we learn from each other, and which stimulates promising initiatives based on human rights and mutual collaboration and respect.

I welcome the concrete outcomes and action-oriented recommendations that have arisen from each of our monthly peer-to-peer learning events.

Together, we have piloted the methodology of the “Faith for Rights” toolkit, moving away from ad hoc events to a strategic process of peer-to-peer learning. This implies listening to each other, sharing experiences what works and what doesn’t, and responding jointly to needs at the grassroots level.

I particularly value the fact that UN human rights mechanisms have been integral to this process, as is illustrated by today’s participation of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, and the Vice-Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

I also appreciate the gender-balance of the speakers in this series, as well as its thematic focus on gender equality and hate speech in the context of COVID-19.

The main lesson of the pandemic is that we will only “build back better” when human rights, and human rights bodies, are at the heart of the recovery.

As highlighted in the compilation of recommendations, the UN can facilitate “safe spaces” in which religious actors and others can engage on issues of faith and human rights, based on the normative human rights framework, soft-law standards and peer-to-peer learning methodology. 

Given the increasingly harsh restrictions on the civic space in many countries, it is vital to build networks and coalitions involving religious or belief minorities. We all know of cases in which members of majority communities have stood up for the right of religious or belief minorities to participate equally and effectively in cultural, religious, social, economic and public life. This was true long before COVID-19, and we have seen many such good examples during the pandemic, too. This solidarity and sense of shared humanity can be an essential contribution to inclusive, effective, sustainable and resilient recovery from the pandemic – a recovery that promotes fundamental freedoms and the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.

Nelson Mandela famously said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion.” Incitement to national, racial or religious hatred does serious harm – and releasing the world, and our communities, from it can unleash tremendous potential. This underlines the importance of inclusive peer-to-peer learning on faith and human rights.

I am hopeful that the Global Pledge for Action will be the beginning of a structured and sustainable partnership between faith actors and the United Nations, and that together we can advance people's rights and dignity everywhere.

Thank you.