New Secretary-General at Human Rights Council tells human rights defenders: “And I am on your side”

February 28, 2017

On 27 February 2017 the new Secretary General, António Guterres, addressed for the first time the UN Human Rights Council. For 10 years, he was the “other” High Commissioner (for Refugees), just down the road from the Palais des Nations where he was speaking. Some of his remarks are quoted here (from SG/SM/18456-HRC/25), especially the last paragraph dedicated to  human rights defenders and journalists: sg-guterres

Disregard for human rights is a disease, and it is a disease that is spreading — north, south, east and west. The Human Rights Council must be part of the cure. You can be pivotal for prevention, sounding early warnings of crises. Commissions of Inquiry and fact-finding missions respond to serious allegations of human rights violations around the world. The scrutiny and recommendations of the Council’s independent experts shed light, enhance protection and guide policy. The Council’s growing engagement with civil society strengthens so much of your work and is especially vital at a time when civil society space is shrinking in so many places. And through the Universal Periodic Review, every country in the world has had its human rights record thoroughly examined.

…my support for human rights goes deeper. It’s personal. I grew up under the Salazar dictatorship in Portugal. I did not know democracy until I was 24 years old. I came of age seeing how the denial of not just civil and political rights, but also social, cultural and economic rights, corroded every aspect of society. It condemned many to a life of poverty. It triggered mass migration. Portuguese couldn’t vote through the ballot box, so many voted with their feet. And I saw the dictatorship oppressing not only its own citizens, but also the people of the African colonies, including by waging wars for 13 long and bloody years. And my passion for defending human rights has sprung both from the grass roots as a young man and later from the top as Prime Minister leading a country in pursuit of human rights and dignity for all its citizens. And it only grew stronger serving as High Commissioner for Refugees and witnessing the terrible consequences of ignoring — or blatantly trampling on — people’s fundamental rights and dignity….


We are increasingly seeing the perverse phenomenon of populism and extremism feeding off each other in a frenzy of growing racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred and other forms of intolerance. Minorities, indigenous communities and others face discriminations and abuse across the world. And the same applies to members of the LGBTI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons] community. The rights of refugees and migrants are under attack. Human trafficking is on the rise. And with so many people escaping war, the international community must not escape its responsibilities.

..We must do far more around the world. Hard fought gains on women’s rights are being chipped away, whether it is through a pushback on women’s reproductive rights or turning a blind eye to domestic violence or violently enforcing traditional gender roles. Let us say loud and clear: women’s rights are human rights.

As we work to promote all human rights, I want to express a final word of appreciation and admiration to those on the front lines. To human rights defenders, I say: thank you for your courage. The United Nations is on your side. And I am on your side. I remind Member States of their responsibility to ensure that human rights defenders can operate without fear of intimidation. Human rights defenders must be able to freely participate in the Council and engage more broadly with the United Nations without fear of reprisal. This is critical to our work and to the credibility of Member States. Journalists are an essential part of the checks and balances of any society. They, too, must be guaranteed full protection in law and practice to do their vital work independently and without interference.

Source: Secretary-General Urges Human Rights Council to Be Pivotal Part of ‘Cure’ in Addressing Growing Racism, Xenophobia Frenzy – World | ReliefWeb

One Response to “New Secretary-General at Human Rights Council tells human rights defenders: “And I am on your side””

  1. […] The 34th Session of the UN Human Rights Council started off last week (as usual) with the so-called “high-level segment” during which important officials addressed the Council [see:…]. […]

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