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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Prince Mahidol Award Conference 2022 The World We Want: Actions towards a sustainable, fairer and healthier society

26 January 2022

Delivered by

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Greetings. Thank you to the Prince Mahidol Award Foundation and its partners for convening this event. It is a pleasure to be participating.

The world is at a critical juncture. We are entering the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, and at the halfway point in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we are encountering serious setbacks.

The triple planet-wide challenge of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss is harming communities – and human rights – across the world. And the pandemic has torn societies apart, left millions without their loved ones, and exposed and exacerbated existing inequalities.

At the same time, we can, and must, turn these crises into a window of opportunity to explore a future that is fairer, healthier and more sustainable.

To ensure our survival, and to recover better, we must learn lessons from the pandemic and the environmental harms that we are suffering. The most central of them is that human rights provide a powerful set of tools for States and societies to respond to threats and crisis.

As a former Head of State, I have seen directly that human rights produce better policy outcomes. Human rights protect people, especially the most marginalized and discriminated who are often most impacted during crises.

We have witnessed far too often the dreadful cost of inaction and neglecting human rights. The global inequity in access to COVID-19 vaccines reflects entrenched and systemic inequalities and discrimination. It is profoundly unjust and deeply counterproductive.

Vaccine inequity is also leading to highly divergent recoveries – pushing less-developed regions, and countries, further behind.

We need States to urgently prioritize action, through COVAX, to ensure that vaccines reach everyone. Barriers, including cumbersome and restrictive licensing processes and export bans preventing the necessary flow of vaccines need to be addressed – and, as far as possible, eliminated. Steps towards a TRIPS waiver are welcome, and I encourage States to pursue this further in discussions at the World Trade Organization.

States and relevant stakeholders should also be working towards integrating a human rights-based approach in the prospective World Health Organization convention, agreement or other international instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.

Selfish, narrowly national approaches will only prolong the crisis. As Dr. Tedros has reminded us – “No country can boost its way out of the pandemic.”

We need collective action for the common good.

The effects of COVID-19, and of climate change, have made evident how interconnected our lives and rights are. No country can respond to these challenges alone. We need increased global solidarity and partnerships, among States, international organizations, civil society and the private sector.

As laid out by the UN Secretary-General last year, the Common Agenda calls for renewed solidarity between peoples and future generations - a new social contract anchored in human rights.

This new social contract is about restoring trust, and about building the foundation for societies that more equitably share power, resources and opportunities.

The world we want has an economy that enhances human rights and works for everyone. We need to reinvest in economic and social rights. We must create more effective and inclusive social protection measures, develop universal access to health care, and ensure the enjoyment of the rights to education and work.

With these measures, we can reverse development inequalities, alleviate poverty and raise the status of women and girls.

Public health policies now and in the future must place human rights front and centre, and they need to encompass – and prioritise – the needs of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.

Governments should be ensuring much wider civic and democratic space, so that everyone is empowered to raise their voices – including critical voices – and participate in creating the most effective, most relevant solutions for their communities and nations. I deeply deplore the backlash that we've seen in some States against civil society groups and perceived critics.

The world is at a crossroads. Can we come together to change this course?

If, together, we take stock of our failures in managing the pandemic, and learn from our mistakes, we can emerge in a stronger position to tackle the next crisis.

I strongly urge States to build today's response and recovery policies on the firm ground of human rights law and standards.

Because the next disaster will not wait for us to do so.

We can still rise out of this crisis with measures that prepare and deliver a more equitable, sustainable, and resilient world.