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Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Virtual global consultation
28 May 2020
We have come together to explore ways to support actions by religious actors and faith-based organizations that can best address the impact of COVID-19.
This is vital work – helping to restore hope in societies across the world that are sorely affected by the pandemic's waves of death and medical harms; by the recession that it has caused; and by its devastating social consequences.
In the face of suffering and despair, we need to revive and nourish fundamental principles of solidarity, cooperation, compassion and mutual care. We need to restore the primacy of the deep values that connect all of us.
I am convinced that the future Pledge for Action can become a pillar for renewed confidence and care in communities across the world who today face many challenges.
Religious leaders, with their considerable influence on the hearts and minds of millions of people, have a powerful role to play in guiding responses to the pandemic.
By speaking out firmly against the intolerance and hate speech which is targeting multiple minority communities across the world, you can help to shape minds, and restore respect for the diversity and value of the world's peoples.
We need you to help combat the growing fear, anger and despair that we see in many societies deeply impacted by COVID-19.
By lending your voices to those who have been dispossessed and disproportionately affected by the pandemic – and by calling for concrete actions to prevent and address these harms – you can have lasting impact on local, national and global efforts to ensure that COVID-19 does not deepen inequalities and discrimination.
By helping to identify people who may otherwise be left behind in efforts to mitigate this crisis; by supporting the flow of accessible information to these groups; and by providing feedback to authorities on the impact of measures on these communities, you can save lives.
Many religious and ethnic minorities are being acutely affected by COVID-19.
Those who suffer long-standing marginalisation often live in over-crowded and under-serviced neighbourhoods. They may have little access to decent work, poor access to adequate sanitation, and underlying medical conditions shaped by inadequate health-care – making them highly vulnerable to contagion.
Their often perilous economic conditions mean these families may be disproportionately affected by the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic.
We are also seeing many minority communities being stigmatised as supposed carriers of the virus, and targeted by acts of discrimination, and physical and verbal attacks.
We need your far-sighted leadership; your sense of principle; and your voices of authority and concern to combat these hateful divisions.
The struggle for equality and justice is at the heart of the human rights agenda, and at the heart of the UN's work. Our virtual consultation today brings together as One-UN a wide range of initiatives, including two Secretary-General Plans of Action – on hate speech and on safeguarding religious sites; the Fez Plan of Action; the 18 commitments on “Faith for Rights”; and the recent Faith4Rights
toolkit. This peer-to-peer learning tool, which we have been piloting online together with Religions for Peace, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, includes exercises regarding the impact of COVID-19 on women, girls and minorities.
Today’s challenges related to COVID-19 may be followed tomorrow by other tests for humanity and for our universal values. My Office and our partners are committed to helping to make the Pledge for Action a powerful, results-oriented framework to advance the work of diverse faith actors at the grass roots level. Joining diverse faith actors within a shared vision and framework, we hope to nourish a community of practise, learning from each other and stimulating promising initiative based on human rights and mutual collaboration and respect.
I very much look forward to this exchange of ideas.