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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Opening remarks: Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights

14 July 2021

Ensuring a sustainable recovery that delivers on human rights and the 2030 Agenda
High-level Political Forum online side event
13 July 2021, 7:30am-9:00am EDT
meeting link

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to this High-level Political Forum side event. The focus of our discussion is a critical one: How we can work together to ensure a truly sustainable recovery from COVID-19 – a recovery that will help deliver on the 2030 Agenda by placing States’ human rights obligations front and center.

In this regard, I am particularly pleased we are bringing together so many partners today, representing such varied constituents: Member States, civil society representatives, national human rights institutions and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, among others.  

We are particularly grateful for the support of the Permanent Missions of Denmark and Costa Rica My sincere thanks go to all ten partner organizations that contributed to this event, and to the Danish Institute for Human Rights for leading its organization so ably.

Distinguished guests, colleagues.

As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, its impact and human rights scars on our societies run deep.

The pandemic is reversing progress achieved in many countries and regions. For the first time in more than twenty years, global extreme poverty is on the increase. Last year alone, over one hundred million people were pushed into extreme poverty1.

While the number of people going hungry and suffering from food insecurity has been gradually rising since 2014, the pandemic intensified this trend and is estimated to have pushed more than 80 million people into chronic hunger, moving the goalpost of eradicating hunger further away from us.

In the words of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, like a tsunami that follows an earthquake, the socio-economic crisis that follows the pandemic has long and far-reaching consequences. It has exacerbated every kind of inequality.

However, there are also hopeful aspects of the crisis that we can, and should, learn from: The pandemic has mobilized heartening community resilience, decisive Government action, and significant expansion of social protection as a temporary response measure. We have also seen efforts to place human rights at the center of COVID-19 recovery to build back better towards equal and just societies that will truly leave no one behind.

Because we should never forget that inequality is a policy choice. We can take action to dismantle it. This requires political leadership, courage and will.

It means dismantling the laws, policies and systems resulting in entrenching rather than eradicating inequalities. It means leadership that will move away from models of development that have generated inequalities towards a new social contract and a human rights economy that will promote equal rights for all, in particular for the most marginalized communities.

Starting with equal access to vaccines and increased investment in social spending, we must counter the two-speed economic recovery that is taking shape and work towards meaningful change. To do this, we need to ensure that all policy making is grounded in meaningful participation, social dialogue, transparency, and accountability. This requires expanding and safeguarding civic space – a core element of SDG 16, which is essential to guaranteeing fundamental freedoms and unlocking the 2030 Agenda. 

The recently launched Sustainable Recovery Pledge seeks to prioritize such an approach by placing human rights at the heart of building a better future. Acknowledging that there is strength in numbers, I wish to conclude by welcoming the Pledge joined by 47 countries to date.

The Pledge also speaks to the transformative vision of the Secretary-General’s Call for Action on Human Rights, which underscores the imperative to place human rights at the core of sustainable development and to protect civic space. It also emphasizes that human rights are essential to addressing the broad causes and impacts of all complex crises.

This is exactly what we are faced with today. Navigating the way out of the COVID-19 crisis, and towards an inclusive, green, sustainable and resilient future, is the responsibility – and opportunity – of all of us, but especially the leaders of today.

Thank you for your attention. I look forward to the discussion.

1 Data quoted here is available in the Report of the Secretary-General “Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals” E/2021/ advance unedited copy, available from