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Annual Report 2021: Global upheaval deepened inequalities

14 June 2022

Karabo Precious Khoele is a youth participant at the Kitso event in remembrance of victims and survivors of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre in South Africa.

As the pandemic entered its second year, discrimination and inequalities increased, conflicts erupted, and countries continued to face the devastating and fatal impacts of climate change in 2021, said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, when presenting the Annual Report of the work of her office.

“Global upheaval was a clear marker of the world’s status quo in 2021,” she said. “The COVID-19 pandemic continued its rapid spread, with new and more dangerous variants destroying lives and livelihoods. It exposed — and deepened — existing inequalities.”

While the pandemic created massive shocks and setbacks for human rights around the world, UN Human Rights continued to advocate for prioritizing human rights in the response and recovery efforts.

The Office pushed for Governments to strengthen social protection, health, and other economic social rights, including a focus on vulnerable and marginalized groups. For vulnerable groups, the Office provided awareness information on COVD-19 to people with disabilities and minority communities.

The Office expanded its monitoring, reporting, tracking and advocacy efforts to address human rights concerns during the crisis. Building on the success of 2020 advocacy efforts to prevent the rapid spread of COVID-19 in places of detention, 62,300 people were given an alternative release or an alternative to detention in 2021.  

UN Human Rights also worked on providing timely and accurate information for decision-making and advocacy for key stakeholders. For example, the Office partnered with UNICEF and UN Women to implement COVID-19 Rapid Gender Assessments to measure the impact of the pandemic on women and girls such as the distribution of unpaid care work, education, discrimination, and violence.

Key areas of focus in 2021

Some of the top priorities for UN Human Rights in 2021 included the protection of the right to access information on COVID-19 and its impacts; building and sustaining peace; fighting for the human rights of those impacted by conflict; dismantling systemic racism and racial discrimination; placing human rights in the center of climate change adaptation and migration policies; promoting the rights of women and girls; and protecting freedom of expression in the digital sphere.

As the world continues to navigate through this period of massive upheaval and crisis, investment in human rights work will become even more crucial.

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

To support people impacted by human rights violations in conflict, the Office continued its work in risk analysis, early warning, and accountability through six emergency response teams to support UN Country Teams on these processes.   

UN Human Rights continued to raise awareness on the link between human rights and the environment, which led to the adoption of the first ever landmark resolution that recognizes the human right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment at the Human Rights Council.

In 2021, to address inequality and discrimination, Bachelet pointed to her report where she launched a four-point agenda towards transformative change for racial justice and equality. In response to her report, the Human Rights Council established an international independent expert mechanism to advance racial justice and equality in law enforcement and the Permanent Forum for People of African Descent.

Vital training and technical assistance

As a way to leverage better data, the Office trained more than 3,000 people from 145 countries from statistical offices, government ministries, NGOs, academia and the UN on data collection for 20 Sustainable Development Goals 16 indicators.

Additionally, UN Human Rights organized 83 capacity building activities worldwide with over 2,300 participants to support the integration of human rights in the development agenda. The Office also provided technical assistance to support the establishment or strengthening of 70 national mechanisms for reporting and follow-up.

More funding required to meet the demands of the Office

In 2021, the Office received the highest-ever level of voluntary financial support of US$227.7 million. However, Bachelet stressed the current level of funding remains insufficient, if UN Human Rights were to address all assistance needs, both requests received and those identified by the Office.

The resources required in 2022 amount to US$400.5 million, she added. Now, even though many Member States provided additional funding to support the Office’s work in Ukraine, some of our largest donors announced significant cuts to the rest of the Office’s funding, which could reach up to US$25 million. These funding cuts will have an impact on our work on the many ongoing crises worldwide and affect our ability to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable.

“As we stand amidst a global crisis, we all have an opportunity to do better, and to use human rights as a tool to reverse the setbacks we face,” she said. “The legacy we must leave for future generations is not only that we listened, but that we took action for real and sustained change.”