People’s Rights are under Fire - UN Chief at Opening of Human Rights Council

People’s rights are under fire “in many parts of the globe”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the Human Rights Council on Monday, before insisting that he had not lost “hope”, thanks to the progress made by powerful grassroots movements for social justice.
Addressing the Geneva-based forum on the opening day of its 40th session, Guterres underlined the Council’s key role as the “epicentre” for dialogue and cooperation on all human rights: civil, political, economic, social and cultural. Beyond its doors, other key voices were also demanding their rights and making their voices heard, he said, particularly “youth, indigenous people, migrants and refugees”.
Other major human rights successes have happened in recent years, the UN chief maintained. “One billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty in just a generation,” he said. “More than two billion people have gained access to improved sanitation. And more than 2.5 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water resources. The mortality rate for children under five has declined by almost 60 per cent.”
Despite this, the Secretary-General insisted that ongoing gender inequality remains a major modern-day challenge.
“Untold women and girls still face insecurity, violence and other violations of their rights every day,” he insisted, while glass ceilings “abound”.
“It will take two centuries to close the gap in economic empowerment,” he continued. “I do not accept a world that tells my granddaughters that economic equality can wait for their granddaughter’s granddaughters. I know you agree. Our world cannot wait.”
In addition to improving women’s rights, the UN Secretary-General expressed alarm about the “shrinking civil space in every region of the globe” – and a rise in harassment, attacks and inflammatory rhetoric.
“Hate speech is a menace to democratic values, social stability and peace,” Guterres said. “It spreads like wildfire through social media, the internet and conspiracy theories. It is abetted by public discourses that stigmatizes women, minorities, migrants and refugees and any so-called ‘other’. Indeed, hate is moving onto the mainstream, in liberal democracies and authoritarian states alike.”
To tackle this, the UN chief announced the creation of a fast-track strategy to scale up the organization’s response to hate speech and present a global plan of action, headed by his Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng.
This kind of initiative was necessary in light of the political capital earned at the expense of migrants and refugees, who some leaders had blamed for a rise in crime and terrorism, the Secretary-General insisted.
“We must re-establish the integrity of the international refugee protection regime and continue to work for common values and international cooperation to reassert rights and help protect people from ruthless traffickers, smugglers and other predators,” he said.
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