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Human Rights Council Begins its High-Level Segment and Hears from 21 Dignitaries

22 February 2021

Human Rights Council

22 February 2021

The Human Rights Council this morning began its high-level segment, hearing addresses by dignitaries from 21 countries.

States outlined their national efforts to promote and protect human rights, challenges facing the multilateral order, and human rights violations globally. Many dignitaries highlighted the scale and scope of the challenges that States faced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the deteriorating situation of refugees around the world. They outlined their national programmes in combatting COVID-19 and concurred that global challenges such as the pandemic required a multilateral response. In that light, the role of the Council was more important than ever. Some speakers outlined other issues like the importance of the rights of girls and women, gender equality, domestic violence, the death penalty, and issues around digital space, and warned of the danger stemming from far right nationalism and white supremacy which were becoming international threats.

The following speakers took the floor: Shavkat Mirziyoyev, President of Uzbekistan; Iván Duque Márquez, President of Colombia; Gitanas Nausėda, President of Lithuania; Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, President of Afghanistan; Andrzej Duda, President of Poland; Nicolás Maduro Moros, President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela; Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Finland; Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Fiji; Aureliu Ciocoi, Acting Prime Minister and Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Moldova; David Zalkaliani, Vice Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Georgia; Mukhtar Tileuberdi, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan; Alfonso Nsue Mokuy, Third Deputy Prime Minister in charge of Human Rights of Equatorial Guinea; Pham Binh Minh, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Viet Nam; Sophie Wilmes, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, European Affairs and Foreign Trade of Belgium; Mustafa Al Ramid, Minister of Justice and Liberties of Morocco; Felipe Carlos Solá, Minister for Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Worship of Argentina; Ðorđe Radulović, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Montenegro; Heiko Maas, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany; Evarist Bartolo, Minister for Foreign and European Affairs of Malta; Katrin Eggenberger, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Justice, and Culture of Liechtenstein; and Alan Ganoo, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Regional Integration and International Trade of the Republic of Mauritius.

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 Council will next continue its high-level segment.

High-Level Segment

SHAVKAT MIRZIYOYEV, President of Uzbekistan, noted that Uzbekistan was participating at this meeting for the first time as a member of the Human Rights Council and was committed to close cooperation with Member States in advancing the United Nations initiative: A Call to Action for Human Rights. He outlined Uzbekistan’s priorities in its democratic transformation and work in the framework of the Council: ensuring fundamental human rights and freedoms was central in reforming Uzbekistan; increasing the role of women in the public, political and business life of the country; giving special priority to ensure the rights of people with special needs; protection of the rights of the youth, who made up more than half of the population of Uzbekistan; eradication of forced and child labour; and holding together with the High Commissioner’s Office a Global Forum dedicated to the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training. Uzbekistan was expecting a visit from the High Commissioner and had issued a standing invitation to all mandate holders.

IVÁN DUQUE MÁRQUEZ, President of Colombia, stressed that Colombia had welcomed close to two million Venezuelan migrants and launched the Temporary Status of Protection for Venezuelan Migrants, to enable their regularization and integration into the productive system. This decision had been catalogued by the High Commissioner for Refugees as the most important humanitarian gesture made in this continent since the 1984 signing of the Cartagena Declaration. Colombia received support from the Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the Secretary of State of the United States, and the international community. Colombia supported the International Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela. Colombia had started the National Vaccination Plan, with which they would immunize 35 million people, which was 70 per cent of the population. The implementation of the Peace with Legality Policy had made progress in transforming territories most affected by violence and poverty.

GITANAS NAUSĖDA, President of Lithuania, said the world was being routinely confronted with daily violations of human rights in many places of the world. There were a few words to say about the current situation in Lithuania’s immediate neighbourhood. More than six months had passed since fraudulent presidential elections in a neighbouring country. Security forces had been applying brutal force against peaceful protesters. Investigations must be carried out and accountability mechanisms for the human rights violations had to be elaborated. The poisoning attempt and subsequent incarceration and trial of Alexei Navalny, the politically motivated trial against human rights defender and historian Yiri Dmitriov, and many other examples painted a grim picture. The situations in the illegally annexed Crimea, in the non-government controlled eastern part of Ukraine, and the occupied South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions was also problematic. Lithuania called for an end to all violations of human rights. In 2014 and 2015, while a Security Council member, Lithuania had worked on the protection of civilians in armed conflicts, and promoted gender equality. They were now running for the Security Council membership in 2021/2022.

MOHAMMAD ASHRAF GHANI, President of Afghanistan, said that the foundational right of the Afghan people and Government was the right to peace. Subjected to 40 years of violence, the toll on livelihood and lives in Afghanistan had been immense. The World Bank estimated the material loss between 1978 and 2001 at $240 billion. The human loss was commonly estimated at 1.5 million killed, 2 million internally displaced, and 9 million forced to become refugees. The Global Terrorism Index estimated the damage inflicted by the Taliban on Gross Domestic Product in 2019 at 18.6 percent. Afghan refugees living in Iran and Pakistan were estimated at 5 million respectively. The number of persons with disabilities was 152,000 and there were 400,000 internally displaced persons. Achieving peace was the national quest of Afghanistan. As a Council member, Afghanistan prioritized the areas where a significant gap existed, including the rights of migrants and asylum seekers.

ANDRZEJ DUDA, President of Poland, said that the pandemic had revealed that the issue of healthcare was a basic human right. For over a year now, most attention had been paid to combatting COVID-19, but it did not mean that other problems had disappeared. It was quite the opposite, especially in countries bordering Poland – Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. Following presidential elections in their homeland, thousands of Belarussians took to the streets and the scale of repression was alarming. The international community could not remain silent. The Belarussian authorities were called on to move from the policy of oppression to a policy of dialogue. A similar situation was ongoing in Russia. Treating this as a business as usual approach in Russia was naive. Proper dialogue implied that certain standards had to be present, and in Russia, standards were deteriorating. Russia should release Navalny and his supporters. Poland supported the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

NICOLÁS MADURO MOROS, President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, said that multilateralism was the only way to address global challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. This emergency had shown that public health was a fundamental human right. The pandemic had exacerbated social injustice and inequalities. Venezuela had managed to mitigate and control the pandemic, thanks to its pre-existing health and social policies. Despite the impact of unilateral coercive measures, Venezuela had stepped up its cooperation with the United Nations system. Venezuela would not accept any inquisitive mechanism against its people that would bring around change of regime. A few days ago, the visit of Alena Douhan, the Special Rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures, had finished and the conclusions of the preliminary report showed that the unilateral sanctions applied violated international law and all universal and regional human rights. Despite the boycotts organized by Washington, in December 2020, Venezuelans had elected their national legislation body. A multipolar world must be strengthened without hegemony and with respect for the right to self-determination.

SANNA MARIN, Prime Minister of Finland, said that inclusive societies were better able to overcome crises. Finland had built its society by including everyone. The priorities that Finland focused on were girls’ rights, climate change and digital space. There was a pushback on girls’ rights and all had to do more to combat trafficking of women and girls. Sexual based violence was still used as a tool in conflicts. Finland has seen an increase of domestic violence, as well as other countries. Women were powerful agents of change in recovery. Climate change had a severe impact on human rights. It was essential to bridge the digital divide and to allow everyone to use their voice without threat or hate speech. Recent attempts of many countries to limit freedom of expression, both offline and online, were alarming. Internet shutdown should not be used as a political tool in authoritarian countries.

JOSAIA VOREQE BAINIMARAMA, Prime Minister and Minister for iTaukei Affairs, Sugar Industry and Foreign Affairs of Fiji, was proud that Fiji, as a member of the Council, was taking a more proactive role in contributing to peacebuilding across the world, and bringing their voice and experience fully to the table as the world confronted its challenges. The success of Fiji in combatting the Coronavirus had come at a cost economically, as the country’s tourism industry which accounted for 40 per cent of the country’s economy had been shut down. Fiji was committed to ensuring vaccine access to all its citizens, and asked Member States to ensure that all people across the world had access to vaccines. He noted how climate crisis was a global crisis, and one that was happening now, and he called on all Member States to do what was needed to combat it.

AURELIU CIOCOI, Acting Prime Minister and Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Moldova, stated that the COVID crisis had demonstrated how vulnerable and unprepared all were to a virus which had brought the world to a standstill and changed lives beyond recognition. It showed how fragile health and education systems were, whilst even countries with good gender equality had shown that women continued to be disproportionately impacted by the crisis. Moldova was confident the crisis would bring countries closer together, and the successful roll out of a vaccine program would require this. Moldova had implemented a number of judicial and societal reforms over the past year and had taken measures to bridge the digital gap in the education system. Mr. Ciocoi also drew attention to the grave human rights situation in the Transnistria region of Moldova and called on the international community to speak out against the violations and give hope to the people of that region.

DAVID ZALKALIANI, Vice Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Georgia, condemned human rights abuses in Georgia’s regions occupied by the Russian Federation as well as in Ukraine, where it had illegally occupied and annexed territories. He raised the case of a Georgian citizen, Zaza Gakheladze, who was shot, and illegally detained by Russian forces last July, as one of many abuses of human rights. Georgia would be re-tabling a draft resolution on “Cooperation with Georgia” during the current session and asked the Council members for their support. He recalled the judgement by the European Court of Human Rights in the case Georgia v. Russia, which confirmed Russia’s occupation of the territories in question, and its responsibility for human rights violations in the 2008 Russia-Georgia War.

MUKHTAR TILEUBERDI, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, honoured the more than 2 million lives lost globally due to COVID-19, and noted the serious threat posed to economic and social progress around the world, and particularly in landlocked countries. This year marked 30 years of independence for Kazakhstan, a good opportunity to reiterate the country’s commitment to human rights. Political reforms to ensure the protection of freedom and human rights launched in 2019 included halving the registration barrier for starting political parties, introducing a 30 per cent quota for women and youths on party lists, decriminalisation of defamation, and adopting new laws to make it easier to organize and participate in peaceful assemblies. Kazakhstan was considering abolishing the death penalty, having ratified the second optional protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights early in 2020, and would work with the International Commission against the Death Penalty to do so. Mr. Tileuberdi reiterated Kazakhstan’s firm commitment to raising standards for human rights.

ALFONSO NSUE MOKUY, Third Deputy Prime Minister in Charge of Human Rights of Equatorial Guinea, reaffirmed Equatorial Guinea’s commitment to dedicating resources to achieve human rights across the world. Despite efforts to implement previously agreed reforms, the Government had had to adopt exceptional measures in response to COVID-19. A COVID-19 vaccination plan had been established, and special hospitals had been identified for handling these cases. Universities were being established across the country to ensure education was being delivered. Other reforms were underway, including judicial reforms which had seen an anti corruption act approved, as well as measures foreseeing the abolition of the death penalty. As such, the Government of Equatorial Guinea had reaffirmed its commitment to upholding human rights.

PHAN BINH MINH, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Viet Nam, reaffirmed that ensuring safety against the pandemic was the best way to secure human rights and fundamental freedoms for all people. As a result, COVID-19 had largely been controlled in Viet Nam. International cooperation was essential to ensure progress was made, and as such Viet Nam was grateful for the support it had received from governments and non-governmental organizations. As proposed by Viet Nam, the United Nations had adopted a resolution proclaiming December 27 as the International Day of Epidemic Preparedness, to help raise awareness on the importance of responding to epidemics. Viet Nam was also honoured to have been endorsed as the Association of South-East Asian Nations’ candidate for membership of the Human Rights Council for the coming session.

SOPHIE WILMES, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Affairs, Foreign Trade and the Federal Cultural Institutions of Belgium, said the COVID-19 pandemic had worsened inequalities and was a stark reminder of the importance of human rights and their universality, adding that guaranteeing this universality was the best approach. Human rights were not a favour granted by States, but an obligation for all. Belgium agreed with the Secretary-General that gender equality was perhaps the greatest human rights challenge in the world, and the COVID crisis had shown that progress was still needed. Belgium was drawing up a national action plan against racism, and welcomed the dedicated panel on racism at this meeting. Belgium would also table a new resolution on the death penalty at the September session of the Council. The Government would take stock of the human rights situation inside Belgium as part of the Universal Periodic Review mechanism. Ms. Wilmes reaffirmed Belgium’s commitment to the Council.

MUSTAFA AL RAMID, Minister of State for Human Rights of Morocco, said Morocco had adopted a national approach for fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, which struck a balance between measures taken and the need to meet the challenges of the pandemic. It had mobilised all its resources to provide care for the vulnerable and those most affected by the pandemic, and as of last month, a free COVID vaccination programme had been in place in Morocco. Morocco had also extended support to 15 friendly African countries to help them deal with the pandemic. An invitation had been extended to the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation to visit Morocco this year to find out more on the issues and the country’s measures to address them.

FELIPE CARLOS SOLÁ, Minister for Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Worship of Argentina, reaffirmed Argentina’s commitment to building more just and inclusive societies, noting that its response to the COVID-19 pandemic was guided by a human rights approach. Highlighting the importance of gender equality for a thriving democracy, Mr. Sola noted that the pandemic made everyone more aware of instances of gender based violence and underlined that Argentina’s response was framed with a gender focus, including ensuring that the labour quota for transgender individuals was met. Argentina called on all Member States to accede to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and expressed its conviction that the Universal Periodic Review remained fundamental to the work of the Human Rights Council.

ÐORĐE RADULOVIĆ, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Montenegro, appreciated the actions of the High Commissioner in keeping the focus on the importance of the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide. It was clear that the pandemic had exposed the fragility of human rights, especially of vulnerable groups, therefore policies that provided universal and equal access to healthcare, facilitating the dissemination of the COVID-19 vaccine, were welcomed. The role of the Council at the global level was even more important in light of the pandemic, and Montenegro reiterated its commitment to actively participate in its work, already submitting its candidacy for membership in 2022-2024 and increasing its voluntary contribution. Strongly condemning attacks on civilians, journalists and human rights defenders, Mr. Radulović highlighted the importance of strengthening cooperation with the International Criminal Court.

HEIKO MAAS, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany, highlighted that human rights could not be taken for granted; the quest for human rights started at home, thus Germany stepped up efforts to counter racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia. A new human rights sanctions regime adopted by the European Union was part of this effort. New challenges such as climate change and the digital revolution also posed increasing risks to human rights. A stronger United Nations human rights architecture with the Council at its core was required to tackle these challenges, especially during the global pandemic, which was why Germany was increasing its voluntary contribution by almost 50 per cent in 2021. Inclusiveness strengthened the Council’s credibility, but Member States could not hamper its work on the basis of different national or cultural perspectives.

EVARIST BARTOLO, Minister for Foreign and European Affairs of Malta, welcomed Fiji as the first small island Pacific State to take up the presidency of the Human Rights Council. Noting that the pandemic highlighted critical human rights aspects with regards to vaccine distribution, Mr. Bartolo stated that where you lived should not be the reason whether you lived. Human rights were universal and applied to irregular migrants traversing the Mediterranean. At the same time, weaponizing human rights against particular governments benefitted no one. Mr. Bartolo noted that the empowerment of women and girls was a priority for Malta, highlighting an incoming bill on gender quotas in the parliament. The investigation of the alleged killers and mastermind of the assassination of Daphne Caurana Galizia was ongoing and the judicial process had started.

KATRIN EGGENBERGER, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Justice, and Culture of Liechtenstein, was pleased that the Council was able to function and fulfil its programme of work last year despite the pandemic. The increased exposure of women and children to domestic violence as a result of the measures addressing the pandemic was concerning. Liechtenstein called on the Council to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, and on the Myanmar military to immediately lift the state of emergency. Expressing concern about the situation in Syria, Ms. Eggenberger reiterated that it should be referred to the International Criminal Court by the Security Council. Liechtenstein had signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and was working on ratifying the Istanbul Convention. Civil society actors were key players in ensuring that the Council could fulfil its mandate.

ALAN GANOO, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Regional Integration and International Trade of Mauritius, reiterated that the values and aspirations of the Council were present in its national policies, such as the new landmark Children’s Bill which would better protect children’s rights in line with the recommendations set by the United Nations. The pandemic had taken over many of mankind’s priorities and was feared by all actors. A resilient system that prioritised human dignity, diversity and equality was necessary to combat COVID-19 and any future pandemic. Mr. Ganoo thanked the COVAX initiative that was working to ensure universal dissemination of the vaccine. As such, Mauritius expressed its support for the proposal made by India and South Africa at the World Trade Organization for a temporary waiver to ensure better affordability and accessibility of the vaccines.