Opening the Human Rights Council, Türk launches new human rights solution


Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

President of the General Assembly,
President of the Human Rights Council,
Distinguished delegates,

This Council enters into session at a time of seismic global shocks. Conflicts are battering the lives of millions of civilians, and carving even deeper fault-lines across and between nations.

The pain and the slaughter of so many people in the Middle East, Ukraine, Sudan, Myanmar, Haiti and so many other places around the world are unbearable. And when we discuss, in the coming weeks, country after country, we must remember their faces and their anguish.

At a time of such atrocious violations, is it naïve to demand that all States uphold their human rights commitments?

Or is it crucial – the most important, the most consequential, the most urgent task that any of us could possibly undertake?

Are these not, in reality, our only guarantees, essential, and profoundly rooted, anchoring our societies in the midst of turbulence and disarray?

Member States and many partners came together at the December high-level event to commemorate 75 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This was an important moment of reflection on the successes and failures to implement human rights, and how we can do better in the future. It was the culmination of a rich, year-long engagement across the world which resounded with demands that the world deliver on the promises of the Universal Declaration.

Demands for action to end conflicts. To eradicate discrimination. To heal our distorted economies and our battered environment. Demands for quality services, such as education and healthcare. For an end to corruption. For a voice in one’s own future. And over and over again, demands that States change course – to bring humanity the benefits of greater justice, more inclusive development, greater equality, and peace.

By the end of that two-day event, 153 Member States had issued concrete pledges, alongside civil society groups, UN bodies, businesses and others: over 770 pledges, in all. They ranged from commitments to increase women’s leadership and employment equality, to tackling extreme poverty, ensuring transitional justice, and improving access to education, healthcare and social protections.

Just as important was the outpouring of support from members of the public, in every corner of the globe. The Open Society Barometer – a survey of over 36,000 people in 30 countries – found that the vast majority agreed that human rights have been a “force for good.” In other words, the silent majority holds to the human rights principles that ensure progress and justice across all societies, and which keep our world safe.

Today, I am pleased to launch “Human Rights: A Path for Solutions“, the distillation of the work that has gone into our commemoration year, in the hope that it will inform the Summit of the Future. It sets out eight messages to guide renewed action for peace; economies that work for people and planet; effective governance; and guardrails for digital and scientific progress. Itbroadens the way we think about rights, in ways that can transform societies and our global community.

The Secretary-General’s announcement of the UN’s Protection Pledge, and the Agenda for Protection, will ensure that the entire UN gives priority to advancing human rights in every circumstance, no matter how challenging. I look forward to working with colleagues across the UN to implement this Pledge.

I will address various country situations throughout this Council session, and in particular, in the global update next Monday. But this morning I would like to flag two overarching concerns that have potential impact on all countries.

First, negotiations on treaties on pandemic prevention and on cybercrime, as well as on plastic pollution; and global discussions about the regulation of artificial intelligence – all these talks tare currently underway, but they are not sufficiently taking into account human rights obligations, and the human rights harms that could be done.

Second, I am disturbed by attempts to undermine the legitimacy and work of the United Nations and other institutions. They include disinformation that targets UN humanitarian organizations, UN peacekeepers and my Office. The UN has become a lightning rod for manipulative propaganda and a scapegoat for policy failures. This is profoundly destructive of the common good, and it callously betrays the many people whose lives rely on it.

The UN is uniquely equipped to enable States to discuss and resolve pressing global issues – and this convening power is particularly vital now, when the magnitude of conflict, planetary peril and digital transformation requires urgent solutions. UN humanitarian agencies assist hundreds of millions of people to stay alive. The UN’s development and peace work is absolutely crucial to all nations. My Office is mandated to monitor and report on human rights because States have agreed that rights and justice are the best, and only, way forward. The work of opening dialogues and protecting rights is not comfortable for everyone – but it is essential to all of us.

We need to overcome the binary view that if you are not for us, and against our enemies, then you too must be an enemy. Within countries, the “us versus them” illogic is creating increasingly dangerous and combustible divisions, especially in pre-electoral periods, of which there are many this year. All this is a politics of distraction, of warmongering, which slowly numbs our deepest sense of compassion. Especially at a time of deep division and fear, seeing the humanity in the other is the lifeline that can tug us away from disaster.

I draw strength and hope from last year’s powerful tributes to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the testimonies we heard from so many people, and the significant pledges that were made.

The power of human rights is rooted in their universality – the equal value of every human life that is at their core. The same human rights standards must be deployed everywhere, and they must be benchmarks for future progress – not high-water marks from which we can recede.

Every human being is born equal. All victims are equally deserving of justice. No-one can be left behind. And nobody is above the law.

Courtesy United Nations.

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