The Human Rights Council heard UN chief Antonio Guterres launch a seven point Call to Action this week. Find out how Guterres plans to get things done.
These are tough times. I don’t mean that economically. The world economy has had a dozen years of stable economic growth. That’s a new record.
The malaise isn’t from not making ends meet. It has more to do with feeling robbed of hope.
Back in the 90s, the new millennium was on its way, and the cold war faded out. We thought we were headed for world peace and human rights. The arms race no longer separated the world into two armed camps.
THOUGHT WE WERE HEADED FOR WORLD PEACE AND HUMAN RIGHTS
Trade was lifting people out of abject poverty. The internet brought us together all over the planet in ways that seemed impossible.
These days, world events have dashed those hopes. We see racist nationalism rising. Civilians get trapped in war-zones. Women and girls get caught up in human trafficking in poor and rich countries.
We end up asking the age-old question “What can one person do?” I answered it by joining an Amnesty International program.
WE CAN’T LET THE PERFECT BECOME THE ENEMY OF THE GOOD
Every week I receive word of the abuse of someone’s human rights. My job is to write a letter to those responsible, telling them to knock it off.
I know it’s not much, Still, I believe that “just because we can’t do everything, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do everything we can.” We can’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.
I suspect that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is in the same mood. This week, he opened the 43rd session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. It’s the UN’s 75th Anniversary. Even so, his tone wasn’t celebratory.
GUTERRES DIDN’T SEEM TO BE IN A CELEBRATORY MOOD
He said that he’d decided to launch a Call to Action on Human Rights. The reason for his decision was that “human rights are under assault.”
He reminded the council that human rights are central to what the UN stands for. The United Nations enacted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948.
Guterres told them that human rights “expand the horizons of hope, enlarge the boundaries of the possible, and unleash the best of ourselves and our world.” Maybe that’s why some of us feel that it’s futile. We’re losing that hope.
THE DIGNITY AND WORTH OF EACH HUMAN PERSON
The Secretary-General explained that human rights stem from the dignity and worth of each human person. Yet, after 75 years, many people still feel robbed of their dignity. Others suffer pervasive human rights abuse.
The UN Chief quoted from the UDHR, calling freedom “humanity’s highest aspiration.” He pointed to new threats posed by the climate crisis, changing demographics, urbanization and technology.
The UN Call to Action is a seven point plan. Guterres warned the council that it will take more than words. “Success must be measured by the yardstick of meaningful change in people’s lives,” he said.
1. SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
The first point in the call to action is sustainable development. Achieving the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals requires eliminating discrimination once and for all. As he put it, “Nobody’s prospects in life should be determined because of age, gender, how they look, where they live, how they worship or who they love.”
2. CRISIS PREVENTION
The Call to Action’s second point is crisis prevention. Human rights stop most crises from happening. Even when prevention isn’t enough, it’s up to member states to protect civilians and restore the rule of law.
3. GENDER EQUALITY
Point three in the Call to Action is equal rights for women. Guterres pointed out that violence against women and girls is the world’s most pervasive human rights abuse.
The UN chief quoted “a noted expert”, “If women are not perceived to be fully within the structures of power, surely it is power we need to redefine rather than women.”
I think that this is the point most people miss on this issue. Also, gender equality in education is key to meeting the 2030 goals.
4. CITIZEN PARTICIPATION
The fourth point is citizen participation in civil society. Civic space is shrinking around the globe.
As this happens, human rights deteriorate. People can’t rely on their irreducible rights to freedom of expression, religion, assembly and association.
New technology has made civil society better organized. Sadly, authoritarian governments also have innovative means to monitor movements and restrict freedoms. That can outweigh the benefits.
5. RIGHTS OF FUTURE GENERATIONS
Point five deals with the rights of future generations. Guterres called on member states to look ahead for today’s youth and generations to follow. They can do this by protecting the future rights on which today’s youth rely.
The biggest threat to future rights is the climate crisis. The UN held events like the Youth Climate Summit last September. These created a space for youth to express themselves. Beyond that, youth participated in, and contributed to, decisions that will shape their future.
6. COLLECTIVE ACTION
The Call to Action makes collective action point six. We need to include more people when coordinating member states’ activities. This includes at forums like the General Assembly.
The UN chief called for more networking to discuss human rights concerns. He called on the UN to seize every opportunity for dialogue with those affected by humanitarian issues.
7. NEW PERSPECTIVES ON HUMAN RIGHTS
The seventh and final point in the Call to Action is new perspectives on human rights. The Secretary-General said that the digital era creates new opportunities for humanity. These have improved our well-being and helped us to learn about new discoveries.
Sadly, the powers that be often use new technologies to interfere with rights and privacy. They also use them for surveillance, harassment and hate speech.
Terrorists and human traffickers also take advantage of new platforms. Other areas of concern for human rights include facial recognition software, robotics, digital identification and biotechnology.
un chief’s SPEECH WAS A TOUR-DE-FORCE
As you can see, the Secretary-General’s speech was a tour-de-force. He committed to putting all of his energy and that of his organization behind this Call to Action.
There’s a lot of cynicism about the United Nations. That’s understandable, given its track record, but I’m not sure it’s justified
The UN isn’t a government, it’s an organization. Readers who’ve joined organizations know that results only happen if members participate.
results only happen IF MEMBERS PARTICIPATE
We need to learn new ways to match the Secretary-General’s commitment and get behind his Call to Action.
We always have more to learn if we dare to know.
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