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UN chief worries about human rights ‘taken over’

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres was alarmed on Monday to see human rights “under attack” from all parts of the world, especially for women with notably “alarming levels of femicides”.

“Human rights face growing challenges,” said Guterres at the opening of the annual session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, adding “that no country is not safe from this drift.

“Fears are progressing” and “Human rights are under attack” everywhere, added the former Portuguese prime minister, calling on the international community to “act” to reverse this trend.

In her speech to the Council, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, also called for urgent action to avoid leaving “our young people and their children a gigantic, uncontrollable fire of crises human rights that mix and worsen.”

The UN secretary-general did not mention any country in particular in his speech, even though he alluded to situations such as the conflict in Syria or the plight of migrants wanting to go to Europe.

He highlighted the case “of civilians trapped in enclaves in war-ravaged regions, starving and bombed despite international law”, and denounced the “trafficking in human beings, which affects all regions of the world”.

Guterres also worried about “women’s rights setbacks, alarming levels of femicide, attacks on women’s rights defenders, and the persistence of laws and policies that perpetuate submission and exclusion”.

“Violence against women and girls is the most widespread human rights violation,” he said.

– Repressive laws –

“Repressive laws are increasing, with increasing restrictions on the freedoms of expression, religion, participation, assembly and association,” added Mr. Guterres.

He also alluded to the growth of populism, deploring a “perverse political arithmetic” consisting of “dividing people to multiply the votes” and “undermining the rule of law”.

“Journalists, human rights defenders and environmental activists – especially women – are facing increasing threats, even as their engagement is essential to the achievement of justice,” he added.

He also deplored that new technologies make it possible “to give the authorities new means to control the comings and goings of each one and to restrict freedoms”.

As for the climate crisis, it constitutes “the greatest threat to the survival of our species” and endangers “human rights around the world”, he added.

Mr. Guterres also defended the persecuted “religious and indigenous minorities” as well as members of the LGBTI communities victims of “acts of hatred”.

These speeches come after multiple criticisms against Mr. Guterres, accused of not being incisive enough on human rights issues, and of sparing powerful countries like the United States, Saudi Arabia or China.

The predecessor of Mrs. Bachelet, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, wondered at the beginning of February in the journal Foreign Policy if over time this reluctance to name countries would not be assimilated to a “weakness”.

Human Rights Watch NGO chief Kenneth Roth told AFP last year of his “huge disappointment” that Mr. Guterres “only talks about human rights in generic terms”.

The UN chief said there were “times when we will speak out loud to identify the violations and those who commit them. At other times we will work behind the scenes.”

The goal is not to “make headlines” but to achieve “significant changes in people’s lives,” said Guterres.

He added in his speech that state sovereignty, often invoked by many capitals, “could not be used as a pretext for human rights violations”, and challenged “the false dichotomy between human rights and national sovereignty”.

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