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Guterres says pandemic drives vicious circle against human rights

The global spread of COVID-19 has a devastating effect on human rights as it fuels poverty, divisions, repression and hatred.

Antonio Guterres
UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres

UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, told the UN Human Rights Council on Monday, February 22, 2021.

“We are seeing a vicious circle of violations,’’ he said in his opening speech as the top UN rights body started a month-long session.

The pandemic crisis deepens the economic divide between those who are privileged and those who are marginalised, such as women, minorities and migrants, according to Guterres.

He also criticised that some governments are using the pandemic as an excuse to crush political dissent.

White supremacist and neo-Nazi movements have exploited the pandemic to boost their membership by polarising and manipulating politics, Guterres charged.

“They are becoming a transnational threat,’’ he said, calling for global coordinated action against these growing groups.

The Human Rights Council, which is meeting online instead of in Geneva, is also discussing the crackdown on political dissent in Myanmar and Belarus, and the ongoing violations amid Syria’s decade-long civil war in the coming weeks.

The session is marked by the return of the U.S. and deep divisions over the outlook of the council.

Washington gave up its seat in the top UN rights body in 2018 while Donald Trump was U.S. president.

The new administration of President Joe Biden decided to end the U.S. boycott and to attend the Human Rights Council as an observer country.

However, Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has made it clear that the U.S still has deep misgivings about the council’s unrelenting focus on Israel, and about the problematic human rights records of some council members.

Blinken is scheduled to address the session on Tuesday.

Council members China and Russia, along with previous member Saudi Arabia, recently nearly derailed the appointment of Fijian diplomat and former high court judge, Nazhat Shameem Khan as Human Rights Council president.

According to diplomats in Geneva, the stand-off over Khan highlights the different attitude towards human rights among council members such as Russia, China, Cuba, Venezuela, the Philippines and Pakistan.

These members frequently argue that the council should not meddle in internal matters of other countries by censuring them for rights abuses or by launching investigations.

Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro also said that he would not cooperate with the council’s investigators, who have linked him with crimes against humanity.

Their work is a “political tool in order to bring about a change of government or force a change of regime in our country,’’ Maduro said. 

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