Human Rights Update: Human Rights Day – Opening statement by HC Volker Türk

Volker Türk United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Opening Statement Press Conference

Geneva, 9 December 2022

Good morning, it is nice to see you again, on the eve of Human Rights Day 2022, when we launch our year-long campaign to mark 75 years since the adoption of the miraculous, transformative text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In the midst of war in Ukraine this week, it was particularly poignant for me to recall that, as the preamble of the Universal Declaration states, it is the “disregard and contempt for human rights” that “have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind”. In the many crises and calamities our human family is experiencing around the world, we are seeing these truths play out. But even where the challenges seem intractable, if the leaders in politics and society would only centre their responses on human rights, the solutions will be always within sight. This is what the Universal Declaration states, it is what I believe, and it is what I hear from human rights defenders I have met from around the world. I heard it in Sudan last month – where civil society, led particularly by women and young people – have changed the equation on the ground, challenged society to move and evolve for the better, with more liberties. I heard it in Ukraine this week. And I hear it resound every day through the work of my Office on the ground in 104 field presences globally. Human rights violations anywhere concern all of us, everywhere. As journalists, every day, you play an incredibly important role in ensuring that large-scale human suffering does not go unreported and that the demands of the people are amplified so that those with the power, influence and the funds hear it to make a difference. You will have seen my statement on Ukraine on Wednesday, and today I want to highlight for you a few other crises. In fact situations that have serious effects, and somehow have been forgotten. But don’t make the headlines.  Among these is Haiti. A crisis that has now actually forced its way back into the headlines. It cannot be ignored. This is a country where armed gangs, reportedly supported by economic and political elites, control more than 60% of the capital. Where some 4.7 million face acute hunger. Since the beginning of this year, a staggering 1,448 people have been killed, 1,145 injured and 1,005 kidnapped by gangs. And remember that behind each of these numbers are entire families and communities that are torn apart by the violence. Gang members are also using sexual violence to instill fear and exert control over the population, as a report issued in October by the Human Rights Service of the UN Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) highlighted.  This is a multifaceted and protracted crisis. But solutions exist. They require political courage and responsibility at a national and international level. The root causes of the crisis, especially social inequalities, rampant corruption, collusion between powerful elites and gang leaders, and endemic impunity, must be addressed.  It is unconscionable that there are people benefiting from this endemic insecurity and the suffering of Haitians. The recent Security Council sanctions regime and the targeted arms embargo against members of Haiti’s economic and political elites who reportedly support these gangs financially and operationally send a very strong message to those threatening Haiti’s peace, security and stability. I call for on States to ensure that all those who wish to seek asylum have access to fair and efficient asylum procedures.  Yemen. This seemingly interminable conflict must be brought to an end. The truce needs to be renewed and expanded to enable discussions on a path toward a more comprehensive settlement. While large-scale hostilities and airstrikes have generally stopped, we continue receiving reports of civilian casualties, especially of children near the frontlines due to landmines and other Explosive Remnants of War. Also of concern are allegations of gross human rights violations, including torture, arbitrary detention, trafficking, extortion and sexual abuse of people fleeing to other countries. The work of humanitarian actors must continue unhindered, and their freedom of movement ensured. And Afghanistan, where the continued systematic exclusion of women and girls from virtually all aspects of life is unparalleled in this world. It deprives the country as a whole of the benefit of the significant contributions that women and girls make. I also deplore the continued use of corporal and capital punishment, including the most recent instances of lashings and executions carried out in public this month – in flagrant violation of Afghanistan’s international human rights obligations. I urge the de facto authorities to establish an immediate moratorium on future executions and to abolish the death penalty Five years after the start of the conflict in Cabo Delgado, Northern Mozambique, civilians continue to be killed, and subjected to sexual violence, abductions, enforced disappearances, with ongoing destruction of property including schools, health centres and places of worship. Almost one  million people have been  displaced, more than half of them  children. Addressing the root causes of the conflict will require protecting economic and social rights, preserving civic space, ensuring access to justice and prioritising young people and women in socio-economic development and decision-making, including – and that’s very important in this context – on the use of natural resources that directly affect their lives. There is also Somalia which faces a humanitarian catastrophe amid the longest and most severe drought in recent history. My office has documented by my Office, a steep rise in civilian casualties – 76 % of which are attributed to Al-Shabab. The recorded casualties from January to November 2022 – 672 people killed and 1,082 injured – are 51% higher than those during the same period last year. Serious human rights concerns also include the arrest and detention of journalists, hindering freedom of expression, fostering self-censorship and aggravating preexisting human rights vulnerabilities. Protecting human rights is a key component of humanitarian action. These – and many other crisis situations that have faded from the headlines – not only have severe consequences for the people directly affected, but are likely to have ripple effects across borders, and risk further de-stabilizing their regions. One thing they – and so many other crises – have in common is disregard for human rights. They are marked – and sometimes triggered – by interlocking human rights violations. To name only a few: persistent racial and other forms of discrimination; violent crackdowns on dissent; violations of the right to an adequate standard of living – and as we are seeing now across each region a cost-of-living crisis that is leaving many not knowing how they will survive from one day to the next. Hate speech, including in unregulated digital environments, is only further contributing to setting back rights, such as gender equality, and there we have seen a big pushback. The brunt of the impact of these crises is always borne by the most marginalized, the most excluded, among those particularly: women, children, migrants, indigenous peoples, internally displaced people, people with disabilities, older people, ethnic and racial minorities and LGBTIQ+ people.   And globally, we are also seeing a crisis of trust. The rise in social movements and protests, across all regions, is a clear sign of the corrosiveness of institutions that are supposed to serve people. The world cannot afford for its leaders to consider human rights only as an afterthought or – worse – an instrument of geopolitics. What greater lesson did we glean from COVID-19 – and the climate emergency – than just how interdependent we truly are? That’s really a big lesson. That we must come together to protect our shared human rights values and our shared humanity. I am launching the UDHR 75 initiative, as an opportunity to recall the consensus this Declaration envisaged. To reset and strengthen the remarkable human rights infrastructure we have constructed. To rekindle the spirit, impulse and vitality that forged the UDHR 75 years ago and to rejuvenate a worldwide consensus on human rights – one that unifies us in the face of so many challenges. The initiative will be coordinated by my Office together with partners. It will involve activities and actions, including ways to renew people’s awareness of and commitment to human rights, especially among young people. And we are going to be finding ways to think in new and innovative ways about human rights challenges. Written and adopted by representatives from all regions of the world, the UDHR makes it clear human rights are universal and indivisible – and human rights are the foundation for peace and development.  UDHR 75 provides us with an opportunity for unity and hope, that mobilizes the world for the cause of human rights and that sets us on the path towards a better future, that is based on justice and equality for all.