On Monday, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, expressed his regret that some countries used the epidemic as a pretext to suppress “dissenting voices” and silence the media.
In his annual speech before the Human Rights Council, the Secretary-General said, “The authorities of some countries have taken strict security measures and imposed emergency measures to suppress dissenting voices, abolish basic freedoms, silence independent media and obstruct the work of non-governmental organizations, taking the epidemic as an excuse.”
Guterres spoke in a previously filmed video recording on the occasion of the opening of the forty-sixth session of the Human Rights Council, which is being organized for the first time in its history completely virtually (until March 23) due to the Covid-19 epidemic.
If the hypothetical organization of the session limits discussions between delegates, “the positive aspect is that there is participation that we have never seen in the past” in the council, said the Swiss ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Jörg Luber.
In evidence of this, more than 130 heads of state and government or ministers will speak during the first three days of the session, including the Venezuelan Presidents Nicolas Maduro and Afghanistan’s Ashraf Ghani on Monday.
And US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken will deliver his speech on Wednesday, what constitutes the return of the United States, despite being an observer, to this international institution that it left in 2018 under the presidency of Donald Trump.
The Secretary-General devoted a large part of his annual speech to the Council to the Covid-19 epidemic, noting in particular that it “exacerbated vulnerabilities” and changed the lives of hundreds of millions of families who lost their jobs or had their income reduced.
He pointed out that “human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, activists and even workers in the health sector have been subjected to arrest, prosecution, intimidation and surveillance for criticizing the imposition of measures, or lack thereof, to confront the epidemic.”
Also, “vital information was sometimes withheld, and deadly misinformation was exaggerated, including by some leaders,” without mentioning any of them.
– ‘Moral bankrupt’ –
For its part, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, condemned “unlawful restrictions on public freedoms and the excessive use of emergency powers” in the context of the epidemic.
She said, “The use of force will not allow an end to this epidemic. Sending opponents to prison will not stop this epidemic,” but without mentioning any country.
Guterres also considered that the epidemic “exacerbated the vulnerability of the situation” and transformed the lives of hundreds of millions of families who lost work or whose incomes declined.
“The epidemic has affected to varying degrees on women, minorities, the elderly, people with special needs, refugees, migrants and indigenous peoples,” he said, and “extreme poverty has increased.”
“Measures related to the epidemic have been invoked to undermine electoral processes, weaken the voice of opponents, and suppress criticism,” he added.
“Years of progress in the area of gender equality have evaporated,” he said.
The Secretary-General also denounced the “national” tendencies in vaccination operations, as “ten countries alone received more than three quarters of the doses of the Covid-19 vaccine given so far.”
And he considered that “the inability to ensure equitable access to vaccines represents a new moral bankruptcy that takes us back.”
In his speech, Guterres called for “intensifying efforts against the return of neo-Nazism, white supremacy and terrorism motivated by racism and ethnicity” and for work to coordinate measures on a global scale to curb this “dangerous and growing threat.”
He considered that it “has become a cross-border threat” rather than an internal terrorist threat.
© 2021 AFP
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