Prerecorded Statement by H.E. Mr. Volkan Bozkir, President of the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly
22 February 2021
I thank you, Madame President for inviting me to address the Human Rights Council today. I also avail of this opportunity to congratulate you on your election. Having advocated for gender equality, justice and transparency as both a jurist and diplomat, I am sure that you will continue to champion these values throughout your term.
I hope that the Membership will also look to you to learn more about the experience of Fijians as the climate crisis continues to affect the human rights of people around the world – particularly in Small Island Developing States and Least Developed Countries.
Seventy-five years ago, the world experienced devastation which fractured trust between nations. The people of the world were left divided and despondent. However, visionary leaders envisaged a path forward. The penholders of the Charter of the United Nations believed that all was not lost. A multilateral system, supported by robust institutions, and underpinned by the protection of and respect for human rights, would benefit all nations in its primary quest for peace and security.
Just three years later the General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”. Landmark human rights conventions followed and the Human Rights Council, a subsidiary body of the General Assembly was created in 2006.
However, the fact remains that although human rights and fundamental freedoms are universal and inherent in every person, in practice they are not universally protected, and perpetrators of human rights abuses are too often not held to account.
We have spent decades building a multilateral system strong enough to meet global challenges – but there is more work left to do. This is especially pertinent today, as the COVID-19 pandemic has provided a veil behind which more human rights abuses are being committed. For example, emerging data shows an increase in all forms of violence, and in particular a rise in gender-based violence.
As I have said before, this pandemic is not just a health crisis – it is also a human rights crisis. It is essential that all responses to the COVID-19 pandemic are centred around human rights, and promote the protection of our citizens, including the most vulnerable who need our care and consideration the most. This includes ensuring the equal and fair distribution of vaccines for all.
From the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Human Rights Council fully implemented its work – one of the few intergovernmental bodies which remained operational by holding regular meetings in hybrid format. I am proud that both the General Assembly and the Council stepped up to continue its vital work to deliver their mandates at a critical juncture in history.
As I have said before, this pandemic is not just a health crisis – it is also a human rights crisis. It is essential that all responses to the COVID-19 pandemic are centred around human rights, and promote the protection of our citizens, including the most vulnerable who need our care and consideration the most. This includes ensuring the equal and fair distribution of vaccines for all. It is critical that civil society, the private sector, and all stakeholders are facilitated to participate and provide feedback throughout the planning and assessment of responses.
We have nine years left to meet the targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Make no mistake – sustainable development and human rights are symbiotic: we simply cannot make gains in one area if we neglect the other. Because to leave no one behind means upholding the rights of everyone, everywhere.
As an International Gender Champion, I firmly believe that progress on SDG 5 – gender equality will create lasting change in society. Gender equality will enable us to implement sustainable development and uphold the rights and dignity of all individuals around the world.
I applaud your engagement in the Third Human Rights Council Inter-sessional meeting on the SDGs and human rights held on January 14th. I trust that all organs of the United Nations system took note of the concrete examples of how a rights-based approach will pave the way for a sustainable recovery for all.
Indeed, such interactions between the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, and the Human Rights Council will serve to benefit all areas of our work and make serious gains in this Decade of Action to implement sustainable development.
Three-quarters of a century ago ‘we the peoples’ entrusted the United Nations,
“To reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and
worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women,
and of nations large and small…”
It is, to be sure, a tall order. But it is a clear directive. It is our duty to fully respect human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, in times of peace, pandemic, conflict and crisis; to this end, I applaud your practice of special sessions to respond to situations requiring urgent attention, addressing most recently the issue of arbitrary detention and restrictions on the rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly.
The onus lies on us to create the United Nations we need for the future we want. We need to emulate the ambition shown by those who came before us, three-quarters of a century ago.
The world needs you to step up and tackle the most difficult human rights crises facing humanity in all regions. I trust that you will continue to improve inclusion throughout your work on the issues which affect the people we represent here at the United Nations.
You can count on the full support of the General Assembly throughout the 46th session of the Human Rights Council.
I thank you.