Header image for news printout

Forward Together: A Conversation with Former Presidents of the Americas

The Inter-American Dialogue

Video by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet

10 December 2020

It is my pleasure to join you on this Human Rights Day.

My warmest greetings to Tom Shannon, Michael Shifter and all those participating in today’s discussion, including Presidents Chinchilla, Lagos, Santos and Zedillo.

This conversation could not be timelier.

We have now a much clearer picture of the impact of COVID-19, including the biggest global recession since World War II and the largest economic contraction in Latin America and the Caribbean in 100 years.

Countries, multilateral and regional entities are under pressure to come up with swift and effective measures to mitigate the consequences.

And they are significant.

According to a joint study by the ILO and ECLAC, 47 million jobs will be lost in 2020, affecting particularly women, young people and migrants. 

Two decades of progress in reducing poverty and inequality are at risk and may bring a new wave of social unrest.

But the challenges faced by the Americas pre-date COVID-19.

Inequality, migration, climate change, environmental degradation, organized crime and weakened rule of law and institutions are but a few.

Many countries in the region are in crisis and few solutions have been found.

Multilateralism is crucial for these challenges to be overcome.

In that regard, I welcome President-elect Biden’s intent to revitalize the commitment of the US to human rights, domestically and abroad, including his pledges to work with countries in the Americas on climate change, clean energy, human rights and combatting corruption.

I also welcome new and improved strategies to reduce poverty and violence, throughout the region, but particularly in Central America. I hope that attention is also centred on some of the human rights crisis in the region, which garner less attention. 

Fortunately, some recent developments provide hope for a resurgence in regional consensus and leadership.

Last month, at ECLAC’s 38thSession, Foreign Ministers and High Level Authorities of the Americas signed a declaration reaffirming their commitment to international cooperation, multilateralism and solidarity in the global response to the pandemic, as well as to the effective implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

This cooperation is at the core of the “new social contract” that the Secretary General and I have been calling for.

As part of these efforts, it is essential that countries support initiatives that ensure the COVID-19 vaccine as a global common good.

Other good news for regional cooperation is the forthcoming entry into force of the Escazú Agreement, the first environmental human rights treaty in Latin America and the Caribbean.  It is a ground-breaking agreement that not only aims to combat pollution and secure a healthy environment, but also require states to prevent and sanction attacks against environmental defenders, who are at high risk in the region.

These initiatives show the potential for leadership and coordinated action at the Inter-American level.

Today, we face many uncertainties, yet one thing we know for sure: we must recover better from the pandemic.

And for that, we must all work together.

This is the focus of this Human Rights Day.

I trust you and all leaders throughout the region will work to reinforce multilateral efforts at a time of serious regional and global challenges.

Thank you.