UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet addressed the participants of the V International Conference “Human rights protection in Eurasia: exchange of best practices of ombudspersons”:
Greetings to all of you. I am pleased to address this meeting, which I trust is an excellent opportunity for participants to exchange lessons learned and best practices in promoting human rights in the region.
This is a challenging time.
COVID-19 has shown us a world immersed in human rights gaps – and it has made them deeper and wider. The pandemic has exposed the weaknesses of political, economic and health systems and laid bare systemic discrimination and deep structural inequalities everywhere, both within and between countries.
The work carried out by National Human Rights Institutions is extremely important to all efforts towards building more inclusive, peaceful and sustainable societies. In that regard, I welcome this year’s discussion on the role you can play in two extremely important topics: environmental human rights and the rights of persons with disabilities.
In the midst of COVID-19, our world continues to suffer from climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss. This triple planetary crisis created and sustained by human action – and inaction – is also directly and severely impacting a broad range of rights, including the rights to adequate food, water, education, housing, health, development, and even life itself.
Recent months have unleashed extreme and murderous climate events on people in every region. Meanwhile, pollution – which is fueled by the same patterns of unsustainable consumption and production as climate change – is generating an estimated 1 in 6 of all premature deaths, while the extinction crisis also creates devastating impacts on human rights and ways of life.
A safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is the foundation of human life. The interlinked crises of pollution, climate change and biodiversity act as threat multipliers – amplifying conflicts, tensions and structural inequalities, and forcing people into increasingly vulnerable situations. As these environmental threats intensify, they will likely constitute the single greatest challenge to human rights in our era. For that matter, it is increasingly clear that human rights must become part of the climate solution.
National Human Rights Institutions have an important role to play in these efforts. Under the Secretary General’s Call to Action for Human Rights, my Office and our partners are supporting NHRIs as key actors in the promotion of rights-based environmental action. That also includes the protection of environmental human rights defenders and support to the development of relevant national laws, plans and polices such as nationally determined contributions and national adaptation plans of action.
NHRIs can and should support States to take urgent steps to address climate change and other forms of environmental degradation before it is too late. And they can do so also by helping promote much more effective, informed and participatory climate action – action that can preserve our environment and protect people's rights, especially the most vulnerable.
Last year, for instance, the Human Rights Council held a panel discussion on the rights of persons with disabilities in the context of climate change. As with the COVID-19 crisis, those already marginalised due to discrimination are usually most affected, including the one billion persons with disabilities worldwide.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is one of the only human rights instruments that foresees national monitoring by an independent body. And this role is often taken up by the National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) and equality bodies, giving essential guidance to ensure implementation of CRPD principles and provisions.
National Human Rights Institutions and equality bodies have a significant role in bridging government with individuals and in ensuring that actions benefit all members of the community. That includes ensuring that people with disabilities can participate in decision-making, including the right to vote and stand for election; that their choices are equally respected and available to them: that they are no longer subject to arbitrary institutionalisation or deprivation based on disability; and that they enjoy and exercise legal capacity on an equal basis with others, including signing contracts, giving and refusing free and informed consent. In order to uphold these rights, community living and community support cannot be considered in the margins any longer. It should be an essential component of leaving no one behind.
All of these are vital tasks, which will protect people’s rights and strengthen entire societies to face the many challenges of today – and of tomorrow.
We are at a crucial moment. It’s time to recover better, to build the future we want. For people and planet.
I have been impressed by the valuable and important work being done by many NHRIs, even in the extraordinary circumstances of COVID-19.
The Office stands ready to support.
I wish you fruitful discussions and success in your endeavours.