People’s rights are under fire “in many parts of the globe,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the Human Rights Council on Monday 25 February 2019, before insisting that he was not “losing 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, Mr. Guterres underlined the Council’s key role as the “epicentre” for dialogue and cooperation on all human rights issues: 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”.
Milestones have been reached in recent years, that are key to human rights, 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 UN chief 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.”
Human rights ‘is DNA of UN’s founding Charter’
In his 15-minute address, Mr. Guterres touched on his own experience living under the dictatorship of António 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 Organization’s founding Charter. And it is vital to addressing the ills of our world.”
‘Clear threats’ must be addressed: General Assembly President
The Secretary-General’s concern about conflict and instability around the globe was echoed by the President of the UN General Assembly, María Fernanda Espinosa, in her address.
“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.
In common with the UN chief, Ms. Espinosa expressed concern about the widening gap between the planet’s haves and have-nots.
“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.”