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Opening remarks by Ambassador Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger (Austria), President of the Human Rights Council (2020), at virtual informal conversation with the High Commissioner for Human Rights


09 April 2020

Thursday, 9 April 2020


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to today’s World Premiere of a virtual informal conversation with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Michelle Bachelet on the implications of the COVID-19 crisis on human rights around the world. I am very grateful to the High Commissioner for having accepted my invitation - in the midst of what many people call the biggest challenge of our generation.

I am also pleased and very grateful for your support in this endeavour and for your continued interest and engagement in the work of the Human Rights Council.

I also wish to thank UNOG and the Council’s Secretariat for all their efforts in making the necessary arrangements for this virtual meeting. And since this is the first time we are organizing this kind of event, I would like to ask everyone to bear with us in the event of any technical hiccups - which I am afraid we may not be able to avoid entirely.

I would also like to ask for your understanding that - even though we tried very hard - it was not possible to provide interpretation for this meeting. There are still some technical shortcomings, which we have not managed to sort out. We hope we can do better next time.

Dear colleagues,

More than three weeks have passed since we had to suspend the 43rd session, and most delegations and stakeholders are now working from their homes relying on the brave new world of modern technologies. This is a challenge, but let us try to look at it as an opportunity for being innovative and thinking outside of the box.

The COVID-19 crisis is what some call a black swan. It has unexpectedly thrown the global community into unchartered waters. We are witnessing a disruption of societies and economies affecting every corner of the globe.

A little later today the UN Security Council will equally hold a virtual meeting on the subject matter - no doubt from a different angle. But it is for us here in Geneva to look at the human rights impact of this crisis which is evident in many ways:

The Council’s Special Procedures have been very active, publishing news releases and recommendations almost daily. They looked at the crisis from a variety of angles, raising everybody’s awareness to the fact that this crisis is in a way a magnifying glass for a number of human rights issues.

Mandate holders have insisted – among other things - on increased risks for vulnerable groups: older people, persons with disabilities, minorities, indigenous peoples, refugees, asylum seekers, migrants and internally displaced persons, detainees, homeless people, and those living in poverty or in regions which are already facing humanitarian crisis.

They have pointed out that women are disproportionately at risk because they are often the main caregivers, because they keep societies going during the crisis and because the crisis further increases the risk of domestic violence.

We have seen that the usual problems with social media become even more apparent: fake news are as frequent as ever, but this this time they can put lives in danger, e.g. when they help spreading misleading information or counterfeit medical supplies. And hate speech specific to this pandemic has the potential of increasing discrimination and scapegoating.

These days societies have to make excruciating trade-offs between saving lives and livelihoods, between health on the one hand and privacy, the freedom of movement and the right to peaceful assemblies on the other hand, and many more.

So there is a lot on the Council’s plate to analyse and discuss.

As you know the Bureau held its first virtual meeting on the 1 April and considered it of critical importance for the Council to touch base and come together virtually in order to address the implications of the COVID-19 crisis on human rights around the world. We are very happy that we can hold this informal meeting with the High Commissioner today and we – that is to say the whole Bureau – hope to organize more informal events in the near future, as long as technical constraints keep us from resuming a fully-fledged session.