"Our Surge for Diplomacy Is
Promoting Human Rights,"
U.N. Sec.-Gen. Antonio Guterres
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres
The following are excerpts from the remarks to the Human Rights Council by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Feb. 25, 2019, in Geneva, Switzerland. - Ed.
The Human Rights Council is the epicenter for international dialogue and cooperation on the protection of all human rights - civil, political, economic, social and cultural. Every door you open helps promote opportunity. Every right you secure is another brick in the building of a better world. Your efforts underscore how human rights are of value in themselves and should never be instrumentalized, and that they are also essential to advancing peace and human dignity. To empower women and girls. To deepen develop-ment. And to spark hope. The rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights belong to everyone, everywhere. They are independent of nationality, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, belief or any other status. In my inaugural speech as Secretary-General, I said that prevention must be a priority in everything we do. Human rights are a template for this – building resilience and preventing crises. Every measure to uphold human rights helps ease tensions, deliver sustainable development and sustain peace. Our surge for diplomacy is also about promoting human rights. If the ceasefire holds in Hudaydah, if the recent peace agreement takes root in the Central African Republic, if conflict ends in South Sudan – we will dramatically reduce human suffering and pave the way for a much needed justice for victims. Of course, the primary responsibility to uphold and champion human rights rests with Member States – and I am encouraged by those who are leading the way, especially in these challenging times. One of your key mechanisms is through the Universal Periodic Review, which brings to this Council the realities on the ground and collective commit-ments for progress. I speak from experience. I lived under the Salazar dictatorship in Portugal which oppressed not only its own citizens, but also the peoples of the African colonies. And 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. 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. Let us be clear. The human rights agenda is losing ground in many parts of the globe – but I am not losing hope. Yes, we see troubling trends - but we also see powerful movements for human rights and social justice. Youth, indigenous people, migrants and refugees are demanding their rights and making their voices heard. Journalists are fearlessly getting their stories out. Women are bravely standing up and saying "me too". The largest number of countries in history have now abolished the death penalty or no longer practice it. More people are speaking out about the indispensability of cultural rights for protecting the diversity of beliefs and practices on our planet – recognizing these rights as an essential tool for preserving diversity and our common heritage. And we are seeing greater recognition of the imperative to ensure rights for persons with disabilities. We have proven the case that it is only possible to fight terrorism successfully when human rights are upheld. Our own Human Rights Up Front initiative is becoming more systematic in the capacity to spot early signs of crises and improving how we respond to them. One billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty in just a generation. 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%. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely ratified interna-tional human rights instrument, and it is a rallying point for intensifying efforts to ensure we leave no child behind. It is in this overall context of progress and concern that I want to focus on a few human rights challenges as I scan the global horizon. The understanding that underpins these efforts reflect the indivisible and interdependent nature of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Let's begin with those that hold up half the sky. We can celebrate tremendous progress in the fight for women's rights and gender equality in recent decades. In every continent, women have been elected to lead and occupy key positions in governments. Gender gaps in education are closing around the world. Maternal mortality has dropped by nearly half. And I am proud that for the first time in U.N. history we have already achieved parity in the Senior Manage-ment Group and among Resident Coordinators around the world. But much remains to be done at the United Nations and around the world. Untold women and girls still face insecurity, violence and other violations of their rights every day. Doors of economic opportunity remain closed. Glass ceilings abound. And let's never forget gender equality is a question of power. At present trends, it will take two centuries to close the gap in economic empowerment. 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. I am also deeply alarmed by the shrinking civic space in every region of the globe – and every corner of the internet. And we must not tolerate the out-rageous near impunity for crimes against journalists and other media workers. Respect for human rights is just a game of words if there is no respect for people. We must also work to close the gaps in discriminatory laws and practices that target people – in the workplace, in accessing public services or in the community – simply because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics.★