On this #HumanRightsDay I invite everyone to join efforts to enhance equality for everyone everywhere, so that we can recover better, fairer and greener from this crisis, and rebuild societies that are more resilient and sustainable.#StandUp4HumanRights pic.twitter.com/iqugY0bZuM
— Michelle Bachelet (@mbachelet) December 10, 2021
“As many States join this week’s Summit for Democracy to address the deepening trends in democratic regression and rising authoritarianism, there is an opportunity to move from rhetoric into action,” said Mr. Voule referring to the two-day meeting hosted by United States President Joseph Biden.
The Summit for Democracy ended on Friday, Human Rights Day.
UN Special Rapporteurs like Mr. Voule serve in their individual capacity and are not UN staff neither are they paid by the Organization.
They receive their mandates from the UN Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva.
Freedoms, not just about words: Bachelet
Marking Human Rights Day in Geneva, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet held a live question-and-answer session on social media channels, to speak about the importance of reducing inequalities and advancing human rights – the twin themes of this year’s celebration.
Here’s a selection of questions she was asked, and the High Commissioner’s candid answers, on everything from mandatory COVID-19 vaccination to how everyone can get involved in pushing for a fairer and more sustainable rights-based future for all:
Question: How can you, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, fight against impunity and hold perpetrators of rights violations accountable?
Michelle Bachelet: It is the State’s obligation to hold those responsible [for human rights violations] accountable. Of course, we know many States don’t. The international community can also act. We assist Member States to develop their capability and help them in that process.
In case a Member State is not willing to hold anyone accountable, the international community can do that through special commissions of inquiry, monitor situations and publish findings in violations. We can also give such information to international courts, like the International Criminal Court or to national tribunals.
The Office of the High Commissioner is always following situations. There are a lot of mechanisms that can ensure that perpetrators can be held accountable.
Question: How is the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights working to protect the rights of ordinary people?
Michelle Bachelet: Human rights are about ordinary people – what happens to each individual in the workplace, school, street or community. We ensure ordinary people have the rights they deserve… access to education, access to a job, access to social benefits when in need, that children have access to play and enjoy a safe environment.
We work on all of that daily. Like Eleanor Roosevelt said, human rights are not an abstract concept, they are about what happens in the daily life of people. To ensure human rights, we must ensure that adequate laws and policies are in place. We also need to change the social, economic and cultural aspects if they are not allowing human rights to be protected and promoted.
Question: How can we make sure human rights are not only about words?
Michelle Bachelet: Human rights are not just words that can be read in a document; they are about being able to vote, being able to speak freely, being able to be critical without reprisals, to ensure journalists have freedom of press to inform people, to ensure people can access medical attention and go to school.
I understand the frustration of some people who see their leaders speak about human rights, but what is happening in their country is very different. Words matter; they are the first step to acknowledge that there is a violation of human rights, or that human rights are still not well protected.
To speak about gender equality, it means you have a goal to get to, even if you are not there yet. For example, we have not yet reached all the Sustainable Development Goals, but they give a guidance or roadmap to Member States to do what needs to be done. So that rights are not just words, people must be aware of their rights and demand them. That is why education in human rights is so important.
Question: Can we make vaccines mandatory?
Michelle Bachelet: I know this is very controversial. On one hand, vaccines need to be a universal public good so everyone can have access to them and they are affordable.
We see the terrible issue of inequity on vaccines. Rich countries have access to vaccines and up to 65 per cent of their populations are vaccinated, while African countries have only vaccinated two per cent.
As long as there are people who are not vaccinated, we will continue to have new variants and the pandemic will never end. On the other hand, people, because of fake information or lack of information, believe that vaccines can cause consequences, and that is not true. For people who want to be vaccinated but do not have access, this could be a sort of discrimination.