United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres arrived in Geneva on Sunday, 24 February, for a visit to chair a humanitarian pledging conference for Yemen and to speak at high-level segments of the Human Rights Council and the Conference on Disarmament.
On Monday, 25 February, the Secretary-General spoke at the opening of the fortieth session of the Human Rights Council and said that the human rights agenda is losing ground in many parts of the globe — but added that he was not losing hope. (See Press Release SG/SM/19473.)
Although we see troubling trends, he said, we also see powerful movements for human rights and social justice. The Secretary-General warned that we are also seeing a groundswell of xenophobia, racism and intolerance – including rising anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred. Hate speech is a menace to democratic values, social stability and peace, he said.
He said that we must re-establish the integrity of the international refugee protection regime and continue to work for common values and international cooperation to reassert rights and help protect people from ruthless traffickers, smugglers and other predators. He added, noting the anniversary year of the Geneva Conventions, that we must all recommit to upholding international humanitarian law.
He then held separate meetings with the Tunisian President, Béji Caïd Essebsi; the Swiss Foreign Minister, Ignazio Cassis; the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Qatar, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani; the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Denmark, Anders Samuelsen; the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia, Marise Payne; the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergey V. Vershinin; and the President of Fondation pour Genève, Ivan Pictet.
The Secretary-General later spoke at the Conference on Disarmament, saying that key components of the international arms control architecture are collapsing. The Secretary-General said that the demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, should it be allowed to happen, would make the world a more insecure and unstable place. He called on the parties to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty to use the time remaining to engage in sincere dialogue on the various issues that have been raised. It is very important that this treaty is preserved, he said. (See Press Release SG/SM/19474.)
After that, the Secretary-General spoke against violence against women in conflict at an event with Peter Maurer, President, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and Julienne Lusenge, Director of the Fund for Congolese Women and President of Women’s Solidarity for Peace and Integrated Development. The Secretary-General and Mr. Maurer jointly committed that their organizations would increasingly focus on preventing and responding to conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence and engage more with the survivors/victims of these crimes by supporting them and local organizations, in particular women’s organizations. (See Press Release SG/SM/19475.)
That evening, the Secretary-General spoke to the journalists of the Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents about press freedom and journalists under attack. He said that civic space has been shrinking worldwide at an alarming rate. In just over a decade, he said, more than a thousand journalists have been killed while carrying out their indispensable work. And 9 out of 10 cases are unresolved, with no one held accountable. (See Press Release SG/SM/19476.)
In 2018 alone, the Secretary-General said, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reported that at least 99 journalists were killed. Many thousands more were attacked, harassed, detained or imprisoned on spurious charges, without due process. “This is outrageous,” the Secretary-General said, “This should not become the new normal.”
On Tuesday morning, the Secretary-General held a bilateral meeting with Yemen’s Prime Minister, Maeen Abdulmalek Saeed.
He then opened the pledging conference for Yemen. The Secretary-General said that Yemen remains the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. As the conflict continues, he said, 24 million people – 80 per cent of the population – need humanitarian aid and protection. (See Press Release SG/SM/19477.) But while there is still a long way to go, he added that there are some signs of hope. The Secretary-General said that the Stockholm Agreement had led to a ceasefire in Hodeidah that continues basically to hold. And he told the plenary that he had received confirmation that the United Nations has gained access to the Red Sea Mills.
The Secretary-General later told reporters in Geneva that the pledging conference could be considered a success, with a 30 per cent increase in donations from last year to help address the dramatic humanitarian situation in Yemen. This year, he said, $2.6 billion was pledged, with large contributions coming in from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The Secretary-General emphasized to reporters that there is no humanitarian solution for humanitarian problems. He said it is very important to address the dramatic needs of Yemeni people in this terrible situation, but more important is to end the conflict.
Before departing Geneva for New York, the Secretary-General met with a delegation from the city of Aachen in Germany, which awarded him this year’s Charlemagne Prize.
Upon meeting the delegation, the Secretary-General said that he believed that the most important contribution that Europe has given to the global civilization are the values of the Enlightenment – the primacy of reason, tolerance. And we see those values today more needed than ever. And so, he added, he felt very humbled but also very happy to receive this extremely prestigious award.
He then departed Geneva and returned to New York later that evening.