THE UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL began its 46th session on 22 February 2021. In her opening statement,  the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, called for stronger support for social protections, a free press and public participation in decision making.

Ms Bachelet said: “Last year brought us an exceptionally clear picture of our countries, communities and world. The pandemic ripped the mask off the deadly realities of discrimination; deep inequalities; and chronic under-funding for essential services and rights, all largely ignored by many policy-makers. It demonstrated how severely the neglect of human rights endangers societies. And it also showed us the profound protective value of human rights-based approaches.

“Today, the medical impact of the pandemic is far from over – and its effects on economies, freedoms, societies, and people have only just begun. The global rise in extreme poverty, accelerating inequalities; setbacks to women’s rights and equality; to education and opportunities for children and young people; and to the Sustainable Development Agenda are shocks that could shake the foundations of societies.

“We must now urgently act on the clarity of 2020 vision, as we face year two of COVID-19. To combat the pandemic, we need to acknowledge and repair the fractures that have undermined the resilience of our societies. We need to prepare our recovery – because now, as States extend massive efforts to shore up and rebuild, we have the possibility of rebuilding better, more inclusive systems, which address root causes and prepare us to meet the challenges we will certainly face.

“This means prioritising the construction or reinforcement of systems to deliver the right to health and the right to social protection – vital investments in social support for all that in many cases have been corroded by decades of austerity.

“It means eliminating every form of discrimination – the costly, humiliating, unprincipled and entirely counterproductive systems and stereotypes, which harm health, generate injustice, and prevent women, people from ethnic, religious or caste minorities and many others from contributing to societies in full enjoyment of their rights.

“It means encouraging meaningful public participation to build policies that are more effective, because they are grounded in people’s realities and needs.

“It means marshalling the full operational capacity of every UN body to support States; working in solidarity to uphold good governance, the right to development, democracy, and all other human rights.

“Because I think we all realise that the use of force will not end this pandemic. Sending critics to jail will not end this pandemic. Illegitimate restrictions on public freedoms, the overreach of emergency powers and unnecessary or excessive use of force are not just unhelpful and unprincipled. They deter public participation in decision-making, which is the foundation of sound policy-making.

“What will end this pandemic – and accelerate a durable and resilient recovery – is the effective application of human rights principles, based on public trust. And to build trust, there must be transparent, accountable and inclusive government, grounded in a free press, effective democratic institutions and the public’s meaningful participation in policy.”

* Read the full statement here.

* Source: Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights