“Intractable challenges, but solutions can still be found.” UN rights chief on Human Rights Day

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Just before Human Rights Day on Saturday, December 10, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights insisted that despite so many seemingly “intractable” crises around the world, solutions can still be found.

Speaking in Geneva after returning from a four-day tour of war-torn Ukraine this week, Volker Türk confirmed that he had been forced to take refuge in a bunker during a shelling raid.

His experience was what Ukrainians and UN colleagues encountered “regularly”, the High Commissioner said, before insisting that he had not read anything else about the incident, other than the fact that “it is a war that must be stopped”.

Citing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly 74 years ago to prevent a repeat of the horror of two world wars, Mr Türk insisted that it was the “disregard and disregard for human rights”. humans” which “have resulted in barbaric acts that have outraged the conscience of mankind.”

In a message of hope, he continued that “even when the challenges seem insurmountable, if political and social leaders focus their responses solely on human rights, the solutions will always be in sight.”

This was true in Sudan, the OHCHR chief said, “where civil society, led particularly by women and youth, has changed the equation on the ground, challenged society to move and evolve for the better, with more freedoms.”

Emphasizing the need to focus on crises other than those that dominate the headlines, Mr. Türk explained that the desperate situation in Haiti “cannot be ignored.”

Armed gangs, “supposedly supported by economic and political elites, control more than 60 percent of the capital,” said Port-au-Prince, the UN rights chief.

This catastrophic status quo has continued, despite 4.7 million facing acute hunger and 1,448 people killed, 1,145 injured and 1,005 kidnapped by gangs since the beginning of the year.

“Remember that behind each of these numbers there are families and entire communities that are torn apart by violence,” Türk said, adding that gangs also use sexual violence “to instill fear and exercise control over the population,” according to the report. Human Rights Service of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH).

“The root causes of the crisis must be addressed, especially social inequalities, rampant corruption, collusion between powerful elites and gang leaders, and endemic impunity,” he said, adding that it was “inconceivable” that people would benefit. the suffering of Haitians. .

For all those who would threaten the peace, security and stability of Haiti, the High Commissioner argued that the Security Council sanctions and arms embargo against Haitian “elites” who allegedly support their gangs “send them a very strong message” that such actions must stop. .

In Yemen, where violence between the government and Houthi-backed forces erupted more than seven years ago, Türk explained that while large-scale hostilities and airstrikes had “generally ceased,” reports of civilian casualties did not. they had done, “especially of children near the front lines due to land mines and other explosive remnants of war.”

On Afghanistan, the High Commissioner referred to the de facto authorities’ decision to carry out public whippings and executions, and the “systematic exclusion” of women and girls from virtually all aspects of life (which) is unparalleled in this world”.

Such actions were a “blatant violation” of Afghanistan’s international human rights obligations, Mr Türk continued, before urging the Taliban to place an immediate moratorium on further executions and abolish the death penalty.

In Mozambique, where civilians continue to be displaced, killed and subjected to sexual assault by extremist militias five years after the start of the conflict in Cabo Delgado, Mr Türk insisted that the conflict can only be resolved by addressing its root causes.

This will require “protecting economic and social rights, preserving civic space, ensuring access to justice, and prioritizing youth and women in socio-economic development and decision-making, including, and that is very important in this context, on the use of natural resources. that directly affect their lives,” said the UN rights chief.

The situation in Somalia was another dire human rights emergency that needed all the world’s attention, Mr. Türk continued.

After the worst drought in decades and extremist attacks, the country “faces a humanitarian catastrophe,” he said. At the same time, UN human rights officials have documented a sharp increase in civilian casualties, “76 percent of which are attributed to the extremist Al-Shabab militia,” the High Commissioner said.

According to data from the UN human rights office, 672 people have been killed in Somalia and 1,082 injured between January and November, a worrying 51% more than during the same period last year.

“Serious human rights concerns also include the arrest and detention of journalists, which hampers freedom of expression, encourages self-censorship and exacerbates pre-existing human rights vulnerabilities,” the UN human rights chief said. “The protection of human rights is a key component of humanitarian action.”

When asked about China, which rejected the conclusions of a hard-hitting report by the UN human rights office on the treatment of minorities in Xinjiang this summer, the High Commissioner insisted that he had highlighted “very serious concerns regarding of human rights”.

“My focus is to follow up on the recommendations that are contained in the report and for me it is also very key; of course we will, and I will personally continue to engage with the authorities,” Mr Türk said, adding “eternal hope for changes”.

To mark the 75th year of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Mr. Türk announced a year-long campaign “to remember the consensus envisioned in this Declaration”.

The initiative will be coordinated by the Office of the High Commissioner with partners and will involve activities, actions and “ways to renew people’s awareness and commitment to human rights, especially among young people.”

One of the goals is to “rekindle the spirit, momentum and vitality that forged the UDHR 75 years ago and rejuvenate a global consensus on human rights, one that unites us in the face of so many challenges,” Mr. Türk explained.

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