Human rights have been battered in the COVID-19 pandemic but recovery represents a chance to improve on the status quo and finally ensure dignity for all, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the General Assembly on Wednesday.
The UN chief addressed ambassadors exactly one year after he issued a Call to Action for Human Rights, a seven-point blueprint aimed at boosting equality and reducing suffering everywhere.
Amid budget cuts and financial crisis, he appealed for support for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and related bodies, noting that funding is critical to achieve transformational change.
“Much like COVID-19 vaccines, human rights will not lead to a healthier world if they are only available to the privileged few”, he cautioned.
The Secretary-General launched his Call to Action just weeks before the pandemic was declared.
The biggest international crisis in generations has exposed inequalities and discrimination, with women, minorities, older persons, and persons with disabilities, among those disproportionately affected.
At the same time, rights and protection systems have been tested, weakened, and even shattered, and emergency measures during the pandemic have even been used as a pretext to crush dissent or criminalize basic freedoms.
“In building forward together, we have a unique and historic opportunity to forge a world where every person is afforded dignity; where every society can withstand crises; where everyone’s future is built upon a foundation of inalienable rights,” said Guterres.
The President of the UN General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, underlined that a human rights-based approach is always the right choice, whether in times of crisis, conflict, peace or pandemic.
“All responses to the COVID-19 pandemic must be shaped by, and uphold respect for, human rights”, he said.
“Stakeholders need to participate in decision-making and provide feedback so that we can identify: who is suffering the most; why that has transpired; and how we can protect individuals and communities now and when we face the next global challenge.”
Human rights are a top priority for people worldwide, according to a global survey conducted last year to mark the UN’s 75th anniversary, the Secretary-General reported.
“With your support over the last year, the Call to Action is making important progress”, he told ambassadors.
“The United Nations family is working together to ensure that human rights are at the heart of COVID-19 socio-economic response plans.”
The UN has issued several policy briefs which outline action in vital areas that incorporates a human rights perspective, such as in maintaining food security or inclusion of refugees and migrants, or in dismantling outdated laws that discriminate against women.