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Human rights at risk globally – UN chief

6 March 20190 comments

Human rights are under fire across the globe with civil, political, economic, social and cultural freedoms coming under threat from authoritarian rule and the rise of hate speech, according to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

Mr Guterres, speaking at the recent UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, pointed out that among those most at risk of being denied their human rights were displaced refugees and asylum seekers.

But he said he was not “losing hope”, thanks to the progress made by powerful grassroots movements for social justice.

Mt Guterres underlined the Council’s key role as the “epicentre” for dialogue and cooperation on human rights issues.

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”, he said.

Mr Guterres said 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… while glass ceilings abound,” he said.

“It will take two centuries to close the gap in economic empowerment.

“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,” he said.

In his 15-minute address, Mr Guterres spoke of his own experience living under the dictatorship of Antonio Salazar, the authoritarian ruler of Portugal who oppressed both his fellow citizens at home and the people of the then-Portuguese colonies in Africa.

“It was the human rights struggles and successes of others around the world that moved us to believe in change and to make that change happen,” Mr Guterres said of Portugal’s struggle to rid itself of the Salazar regime.

“Human rights inspire and drive progress. And that truth is the animating spirit of this Council. It is the DNA of our Organisation’s founding charter and it is vital to addressing the ills of our world,” Mr Guterres said.

But he said milestones had been reached in recent years that are key to human rights.

“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,” Guterres said.

The Secretary-General’s concern about conflict and instability around the globe was echoed by the President of the UN General Assembly.

UN General Assembly President Maria Fernanda Espinosa, in her address, spoke of concern about conflict and instability around the globe.

“Political crises, wars, transnational organized crime, social exclusion and lack of access to justice, constitute clear threats that demand adequate answers from this Council and from the entire international system for the protection of human rights,” she said.

Ms Espinosa also expressed concern about the widening inequality gap in the world.

“Perhaps one of the most sensitive challenges for the human rights agenda is inequality,” she said.

“The concentration of wealth has increased to such an extent that, in 2018, 26 individuals had more money than the 3,800 million poorest people on the planet.”

Mr Guterres also expressed concern 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,” he said.

“It spreads like wildfire through social media, the internet and conspiracy theories. It is abetted by public discourses that stigmatize women, minorities, migrants and refugees and any so-called ‘other’.

“Indeed, hate is moving into the mainstream, in liberal democracies and authoritarian States alike,” Mr Guterres said.

He announced the creation of a fast-track strategy to scale up the organisation’s response to hate speech and present a global plan of action.

He said 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.

“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,” Mr Guterres said.




Laurie Nowell 

AMES Australia Senior Journalist