Geneva, 9 September 2019
Distinguished President of the Council,
Colleagues and Friends,
A year has gone by since I began my mandate. I won´t lie to you, it has not been an easy task. We are facing difficult challenges. Not only must we tackle traditional human rights issues, but also an array of new ones, such as the new digital landscape, and privacy; or what I will be speaking about shortly: climate change, and its impact on the rights of every single one of us.
Throughout my professional life I have advocated interaction and cooperation, knowing full well that the best way to address these issues is through partnerships. The ongoing dialogue between my Office and all of you is the key for ensuring progress on human rights at the country and the global levels.
In this last year, I believe we have made some important gains for the cause of human rights and thus have strengthened our societies. There is much left to be done, and numerous issues and situations urgently call for the Council’s attention. I count on you to work with me on solid ideas, strategies and solutions addressing these challenges, including a rapidly growing and global threat to human rights: climate change.
Climate change is a reality that now affects every region of the world. The human implications of currently projected levels of global heating are catastrophic. Storms are rising and tides could submerge entire island nations and coastal cities. Fires rage through our forests, and the ice is melting. We are burning up our future – literally.
The climate emergency is already driving a sharp increase in global hunger, which according to FAO has increased this year for the first time in a decade. WHO expects climate change to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050 – from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress alone. In many nations, chaotic weather patterns and other manifestations of our environmental emergency are already reversing major development gains; exacerbating conflict, displacement and social tension; hampering economic growth; and shaping increasingly harsh inequalities.
The world has never seen a threat to human rights of this scope. This is not a situation where any country, any institution, any policy-maker can stand on the sidelines. The economies of all nations; the institutional, political, social and cultural fabric of every State; and the rights of all your people – and future generations – will be impacted.
The window of opportunity for action may be closing – but there is still time to act. We live in an era of tremendous innovation. More thoughtful approaches to our use of natural and renewable resources; policies which protect and empower marginalised communities, including various social protection initiatives; and better strategies by businesses across their supply chains can be good for the environment and promote greater human dignity and rights.
This Council has recognised that “human rights obligations, standards and principles have the potential to inform and strengthen international, regional and national policymaking in the area of climate change, promoting policy coherence, legitimacy and sustainable outcomes”.
We need to act on that powerful statement. We need strong national commitments for action, with an emphasis on participation by environmental human rights defenders, indigenous peoples, and civil society groups representing the communities that are most at risk – as well as support from business actors, cities and other active stakeholders.
The Secretary-General will convene a Climate Action Summit in two weeks’ time in New York to step up the pace of climate action by States and the international community.
As members of the world’s primary intergovernmental body for human rights, I ask each of your States to contribute the strongest possible action to prevent climate change, and to promote the resilience and rights of your people in dealing with environmental harm.
Effective action on climate requires bringing the uncommitted and unconvinced into a shared, just and truly international effort. Human rights can help galvanize that movement. Today, a very uneven mosaic of environmental and human rights standards stands between human beings and environmental harm – and many have no effective recourse for the harm they suffer.
I am encouraged by the increasing recognition of the right to a healthy and sustainable environment, in over 100 national and regional laws, which defines the relationship between the environment and human rights. To each of us, a healthy environment is no less important than the food we eat, the water we drink, or the freedom of thought we cherish; all people, everywhere, should be able to live in a healthy environment and hold accountable those who stand in the way of achieving it.
This Council has a critical role to play, with both existing and innovative means to contribute to climate action. There are five key points that I believe should guide our action on climate.
Point one: Climate change undermines rights, development and peace.
The Secretary-General has noted that over the past six decades, 40% of civil wars have been linked to environmental degradation. While there are many current examples of this, I want to look to the countries of the Sahel region. As the UN Special Adviser on the Sahel has noted, this is among the regions most vulnerable to climate change, with temperature increases projected to be 1.5 times higher than the global average.
Desertification has massive impact on people’s enjoyment of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights. The degradation of arable land across the Sahel region is intensifying competition for already scarce resources, leading to frequent clashes between herders and agriculturalists – which, in turn, exacerbate ethnic tensions. Slow development, and increasing poverty, are exposing youth to exploitation by extremist and terrorist groups, fuelling violence – including attacks on schools; displacement; and political instability.
In May this year, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinators for Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger warned that violent extremism, a serious increase in displacement in the past 12 months, and food shortages stemming from severe drought endanger the future of a “whole generation.” They also warned that growing instability risks spilling over into neighbouring countries.
The initiative by the G5 Sahel countries to create a joint force to combat terrorism, and their commitment to ensure that actions by the force are compliant with human rights, are commendable. However, addressing the root causes of the current situation will also require significant investment in redressing environmental threats; providing real opportunities for youth; and tackling inequalities.
The Sahel region has abundant natural resources, including potential for renewable energy sources, as well as a young and resilient population of men and women who have a right to live in dignity and at peace. This is a key area where the international community can – and should – implement solutions to help stem a growing crisis, and assist the countries of the region to forge a path to healthy and sustainable development.
My second point: Effective climate action requires broad and meaningful participation.
Effective climate adaptation measures will be those which empower women; indigenous peoples; and others who live in vulnerable areas, who are often members of marginalised and discriminated communities. This requires Governments to recognise the structural factors, which deepen these communities’ climate vulnerability; involve them in seeking solutions; and dedicate resources to upholding their rights, including equitable and improved access to social protection and a just transition towards greener jobs.
There is abundant evidence that women – in particular, women with disabilities – are disproportionately affected by natural disasters. The exclusion of half of society from effectively helping to shape environmental policies means those policies will be less responsive to the specific damage being caused; less effective in protecting communities; and may even intensify the harm being done.
Twelve years ago, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples1 recognised “the urgent need to respect and promote the inherent rights of indigenous peoples, which derive from their political, economic and social structures and from their cultures, spiritual traditions, histories and philosophies – especially their rights to their lands, territories and resources”.
But as the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP) will report to the Council this month2 , they are increasingly being driven off their lands by environmental destruction. And yet it is thanks to the ancestral knowledge and leadership of indigenous peoples that many of humanity’s forests, and other resources, still exist. That knowledge is even more vital now. Examples where indigenous peoples’ knowledge may prove essential for climate action include traditional fire management; weather early warning systems; rainwater harvesting; traditional agriculture techniques; and coastal marine management. It is essential that the rights of all indigenous peoples be protected, including their right to freely and fully participate in shaping policy decisions.
I commend Canada for its pledge to fund a UNFCCC Secretariat Indigenous Peoples Focal Point in support of the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform established by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Canada has also included indigenous peoples in its delegations to the Conferences of the Parties. While these are positive steps, I encourage all States to ensure the full, meaningful and effective participation of indigenous peoples in all environmental decision-making processes.
In Colombia, since 2014, my Office has been assisting indigenous peoples and Afro-descendant communities to set up protocols establishing requirements for consultation. In several cases, this has contributed to dialogue and agreements with the authorities. For example, the protocol of the Arhuaco indigenous people, completed in 2017, seeks to ensure sustainable and respectful management of the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta, a strategic ecosystem and water source. Today, a government decree preserves this ecosystem, and ensures that sacred sites are defined.
I am deeply concerned by the drastic acceleration of deforestation of the Amazon. The fires currently raging across the rainforest may have catastrophic impact on humanity as a whole, but their worst effects are suffered by the women, men and children who live in these areas – among them, many indigenous peoples. The full toll of death and harm done in the course of recent weeks in Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil may never be known. I call on the authorities of their countries to ensure the implementation of longstanding environmental policies and incentive systems for sustainable management, thus preventing future tragedies.
Across the world, my Office has also noted several cases where development projects, such as large hydroelectric dams and biofuel plantations, have been funded by international financial institutions in the name of climate action – but have harmed the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, including women. I urge all development and finance institutions – including mechanisms established under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement – to establish human rights safeguards, with participation, and access to information, justice and remedy at their core.
Point three: We must better protect those who defend the environment.
Environmental defenders – including those who defend indigenous peoples’ right to land – engage in great service to their countries, and indeed humanity. The Office and Special Rapporteurs have noted attacks on environmental human rights defenders in virtually every region, particularly in Latin America.
I am disheartened by this violence, and also by the verbal attacks on young activists such as Greta Thunberg and others, who galvanise support for prevention of the harm their generation may bear. The demands made by environmental defenders and activists are compelling, and we should respect, protect and fulfil their rights.
Last month, the Office signed a strengthened partnership with the UN Environment Programme. This will include stepping up our cooperation to protect environmental human rights defenders at headquarters and in specific country and regional presences. It will ensure that we work within the UN system to ensure consistency and coherence across environmental and human rights actions. It will increase our support for national implementation of human rights-based environmental policies, including through the work of national human rights institutions.
The Latin American Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters – known as the Escazu Agreement – also offers hope for change. The Agreement aims to guarantee the rights of every person to a healthy environment and sustainable development. It includes specific, binding provisions for the protection3 of those who defend the environment, and also guarantees rights to environmental information, public participation in environmental decision-making, and access to justice in environmental matters. I urge all States in the region – including the 15 that have so far signed the agreement – to proceed swiftly to ratify and implement it. I also call for other regions and States to consider developing similar commitments.
We are also partnering with the University of the South Pacific, which has 14 campuses across the South Pacific islands, to promote better support to environmental human rights defenders who challenge businesses and governments to better prioritise environmental issues. We have assisted defenders across the region to establish a network for coordination and mutual support.
My fourth point: Those most affected are leading the way.
Small island nations are among those suffering the most catastrophic effects of climate change, although they contribute very little to fuelling the problem. Just this past week, yet another devastating hurricane hit the Bahamas, taking a terrible toll in human life and destroying precious development gains. The storm accelerated with unprecedented speed over an ocean warmed by climate shifts, becoming one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes ever to hit land.
Most of the population of the Caribbean lives within coastal zones – and several Caribbean countries, including the Bahamas and Dominica, have introduced policies aimed at building climate resilience and mitigation measures. But according to research by ECLAC in 2011, rising sea levels could submerge between 10 and 12 percent of the territory of the Bahamas by 2050: an inestimable loss for humanity. And the reality is that island States cannot act alone to solve a problem that is not of their own making.
South Pacific States have been leading the global call for climate action and climate justice. Our presences in the region receive evidence almost daily of impact on communities’ rights to water and sanitation, health, food, work, adequate housing – and the resulting displacement of people. I call on the international community to increase the provision of resources and technical support to South Pacific countries, and all Small Island States, for mitigation, adaptation and prevention.
In line with discussions at the regional meeting on human rights and climate change convened last month, we will continue working with Pacific Island governments to help them mainstream human rights throughout the climate change agenda.
This brings me to point five: Business will be crucial to climate action
To avert future climate harms and ensure climate justice, businesses must be part of the solution. The Caring for Climate Initiative, hosted by the UN Global Compact and UN Environment, brings together more than 400 companies from around the world that have committed to taking action to address the climate crisis. Their contributions to the green and blue economies are key to the achievement of sustainable development.
I also welcome commitments by several countries in the Americas to develop National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights, with emphasis on the need for the meaningful participation and consultation of indigenous peoples.
Businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights, in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. States have an affirmative obligation to effectively regulate business to prevent human rights harms. Yet in many countries, Government support and subsidies for the fossil fuel industry endangers climate goals. I remind all States of the need for policy coherence – nationally and internationally – in how they seek to address the human rights impact of climate change, including in relation to business activities.
Currently, the National Human Rights Institution of the Philippines is holding an inquiry into the human rights responsibilities of 47 companies accountable for the majority of historical greenhouse gas emissions at the global level. The inquiry has generated considerable attention regarding the responsibility of businesses for the adverse human rights effects of climate change, and will release its findings later this year. Increased monitoring of business’ human rights compliance by bodies such as the Ethics Council of the Norwegian Pension Fund is also leading to heightened awareness of shortcomings, and their responsibility to take urgent corrective action.
Furthermore, last month the Human Rights Committee issued a landmark decision in Portillo Caceres v. Paraguay – a case in which several people became ill, and one died, due to uncontrolled and unlimited use of pesticides. This was the first time a treaty body has so clearly found that a State’s failure to protect against environmental harm may violate its obligations regarding the rights to life, privacy, and family life. This important decision sets a precedent in establishing that States have obligations under international human rights law to conduct investigations into similar environmental harms; sanction those responsible; and provide reparations to victims.
I would like to draw this Council’s attention to a number of other human rights situations. There will be specific statements by the Office during this session regarding the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Gaza; Nicaragua; Ukraine; Venezuela; and Yemen, and I will not address those situations in this speech. However, I do want to note the breakthrough agreement of prisoner releases in Ukraine and the Russian Federation on Saturday, which freed many of the people whose release the Office has advocated. I strongly encourage all parties to build on this momentum, to put an end to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
I commend the parties in Sudan for signing a political agreement and Constitutional Declaration on 17 August, to enable a transition towards civilian rule and democracy. This is cause for great celebration. The Constitutional Declaration includes many human rights references, notably the Bill of Rights and its commitment to establish a national investigation committee. I also welcome its explicit commitment “to facilitate OHCHR’s mission to work in Sudan”. A representative from our Office is in Khartoum, and we hope discussions will advance for a fully mandated OHCHR office in the country. We stand ready to provide technical assistance to the new Government, including on the legal reforms outlined in the Constitutional Declaration, and transitional justice. It will be vital to address protection challenges, and to support civil society and the national human rights institutions in this effort, including in Darfur, as UNAMID withdraws from the area.
In Zimbabwe, I am deeply concerned by the impact of the economic crisis and crackdowns on protestors and civil society groups. Hyperinflation has resulted in soaring prices for fuel, food, transport and health services, with dramatic impact, particularly on marginalized and working-class people. I urge the Government to find constructive ways to engage with the population about their legitimate grievances related to the economic situation, and to put an end to its repression of peaceful protestors, particularly with its reported excessive use of force. I am also concerned at the increasing number of reports of attacks on, and arrests of, human rights defenders.
In Tanzania, I continue to be concerned about the shrinking of civic space, with the adoption of very restrictive legislation on NGOs in June. Thus, for example, the authorities can now monitor and evaluate each NGO’s activities every three months, with discretionary powers to suspend its operations pending a hearing. I am also disturbed by recent reports of arrests and detentions of journalists who had investigated matters such as political divisions within the ruling party, and the treatment of detainees in police custody. I note the Government’s stated commitment to reining in corruption, and to extend access to education and health. However, I remind the authorities that the rights to freedom of information and expression – including of criticism – as well as the right to peaceful assembly, are essential to good governance and sustainable development.
In Burundi, reports indicate that extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and ill-treatment, as well as severe restrictions of freedoms of expression and association continue to take place. During discussions that followed the Government’s decision in February to close our presence in the country, the authorities expressed openness to maintaining an alternative mode of cooperation with OHCHR. I repeat that we are ready to continue consultations with the Government to establish new channels of partnership, to address persistent human rights challenges.
I have been saddened by the terrible recent incidents of xenophobic violence in South Africa, where there have also been persistent and serious reports of gender-based killings. All people in South Africa – citizens and foreign nationals alike – are entitled to fundamental rights under the Constitution and international human rights law. I note with appreciation the President’s recent statement, and urge the authorities to act swiftly to ensure protection for the victims and accountability for the perpetrators, to stem the tide of these crimes.
My Office continues to engage in bilateral dialogue with the Government of China. In relation to Hong Kong, while many of the demonstrations have been conducted peacefully and according to the law, I have been disturbed by scenes of increasing violence associated with some recent protests. I appeal to those engaging in demonstrations to do so peacefully, and in accordance with the law. I also urge the authorities to continue to respond to any acts of violence with restraint, and without excessive force. I encourage the Chief Executive to pursue her initiative to establish dialogue with the people of Hong Kong, to address their grievances, and I would encourage the people of Hong Kong to take this opportunity to engage with the Government peacefully and constructively.
In relation to Kashmir, my Office continues to receive reports on the human rights situation on both sides of the line of control. I am deeply concerned about the impact of recent actions by the Government of India on the human rights of Kashmiris, including restrictions on internet communications and peaceful assembly, and the detention of local political leaders and activists. While I continue to urge the Governments of India and Pakistan to ensure that human rights are respected and protected, I have appealed particularly to India to ease the current lockdowns or curfews; to ensure people’s access to basic services; and that all due process rights are respected for those who have been detained. It is important that the people of Kashmir are consulted and engaged in any decision-making processes that have an impact on their future.
The recent National Register of Citizens verification process in the northeast Indian state of Assam has caused great uncertainty and anxiety, with some 1.9 million people excluded from the final list published on 31 August. I appeal to the Government to ensure due process during the appeals process, prevent deportation or detention, and ensure people are protected from statelessness.
In Myanmar, it is now two years since horrific violations by the Army, including killings and sexual violence, drove nearly a million Rohingya people out of the country. Now Rakhine State is experiencing another conflict between the so-called Arakan Army and the Tatmadaw, and another wave of human rights violations and displacement. This is affecting both ethnic Rakhine and Rohingya communities and will make it even harder for refugees and internally displaced people to return. The recent escalation of clashes in Shan State and long-standing conflicts in Kachin State also cause displacement and human suffering, and undermine the peace process.
This Council session will hear the final report of the Fact Finding Mission, and I commend it for giving the world a clear picture of the gravity and scale of the violations that have been committed across Myanmar. The need for accountability is compelling and urgent, and I am very pleased to note that the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, which was established by the Council in its historic resolution 39/2, was declared operational by the Secretary-General in August. Following my statement, the Head of the Mechanism will be briefing you on steps already taken to advance the powerful work of the Fact-Finding Mission, by compiling cases for criminal prosecution.
I urge the Government to cooperate with the international mechanisms that have been established both to ensure justice and consolidate Myanmar’s democratic transition. And I welcome Myanmar’s adoption in July of a landmark Child Law, which will bring the law substantially into compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and ILO Conventions.
In Cambodia, while recognising the authorities’ ongoing cooperation with my Office, I remain concerned about continued pressure on members and supporters of the former main opposition party, which was dissolved at the end of 2017. Since the start of this year, police or the courts have questioned over 130 people, and at least 22 opposition members or supporters are currently in detention, on a range of criminal charges, or convictions, either directly or indirectly related to their political opinion. The right to development needs to rest on participation by everyone in decision-making – including people who offer critical views; and I encourage the Government to take steps to ensure genuine dialogue and respect for fundamental freedoms.
We continue to monitor the human rights situation in Afghanistan, and the terrible toll that armed conflict inflicts on civilians, particularly as the country prepares for Presidential elections this month. In July, more than 1,500 civilian casualties were recorded by UNAMA – the highest monthly figure since it started tracking civilian casualties in 2009. I remain hopeful that peace talks will bring this brutal conflict to an end. For an enduring peace, it is essential that the respect and protection of human rights of all Afghans, especially women, be at the core of all political agreements.
In Syria, the ongoing military escalation continues to severely affect civilians, health services and schools, particularly in southern Idlib and northern Hama. Since the launch of the current campaign on 29 April, more than a thousand civilians have been killed, including at least 300 children – mainly due to airstrikes by Government forces and their allies, but also, to a lesser extent, attacks by non-state armed groups. Since the beginning of May, OCHA has recorded 600,000 more displacements. The Office has recorded damage or destruction of 51 hospitals, clinics and ambulance referral points so far this year, with two incidents in which the same facility was repeatedly hit, resulting in additional casualties among rescue teams and first responders.
In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the continued expansion of settlements across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is illegal under international law, and has severe impact on the human rights of Palestinians. I am particularly concerned by very high levels of settler violence, and Israel’s failure to adequately protect Palestinians from such attacks, or hold the perpetrators to account. Demolitions of homes have recently increased, under the Israeli zoning and planning framework which discriminates heavily against Palestinians. So far this year, at least 481 people have been displaced as a result of demolitions, already exceeding the 472 displaced in all of 2018. Settler violence, demolitions and forced evictions all contribute to an environment which coerces Palestinians to leave their homes. In this context, I also note with concern a number of recent calls by Israeli officials for annexation of all or part of the West Bank.
I continued to be alarmed by reports of unlawful killings and injuries of Palestinians by Israeli security forces across the entire occupied territory, accompanied by a lack of full accountability for instances of possible excessive use of force. Moreover, my Office remains concerned that the targeting of human rights defenders – including with travel bans, delegitimising statements and reports, interrogation, detention and ill-treatment – by Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the de facto authorities in Gaza – has increased, resulting in further shrinking of civil society space. I will be providing an update later this morning on the situation in Gaza, as requested in Council Resolution 40/13.
In Algeria, for the past six months, peaceful mass protests have continuously called for a new, more responsive, transparent and accountable government. I encourage officials to view these peaceful protestors as partners in building more participatory systems of decision-making, through a process of national dialogue which should include them and all sections of society.
I am concerned that policies currently being implemented in the US, Mexico and some Central American countries are putting migrants at heightened risk of human rights violations and abuses, and may violate the rights of vulnerable people. Notably, I am alarmed that migrant children continue to be detained in centres in both the US and Mexico – contravening the best interests of the child, which is a fundamental tenet of international law.
Families seeking to leave their places of origin are driven to do so by profound social and economic distress – including as a result of climate change, as well as insecurity, corruption and other far-reaching factors. Policies and practices which aim to physically prevent migrants from reaching and entering the destination State – or which return them without due process guarantees – are, to put it simply, push-backs. Neither they, nor so-called “Zero Tolerance” policies, will stem the forces which drive people to leave. But they will pressure desperate families to take more risky routes, where they may be exposed to physical violence, human trafficking, sexual violence and other crimes.
So far this year, at least 35,000 asylum seekers have been pushed back to Mexican border areas to wait for their hearings. Our country offices in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras have documented increases in detentions and deportations of migrants. We have also noted cases of family separation in the context of arbitrary deprivation of liberty; lack of individual assessment; denial of access to services and humanitarian assistance, and excessive use of force against migrants. Agreements to “return” people to these or other countries cannot be held to be lawful if international human rights and refugee law are not being upheld-– including the principle of non-refoulement; individualised assessment; the best interests of children; and due process guarantees.
In the United States, a nation built on its welcome to migrants, a series of recent measures have sharply reduced the protection for migrant families. I remain deeply disturbed by these policies, including, in particular, the continued separation of migrant children from their parents, and the prospect of a new rule which would enable children to be indefinitely detained, merely on the basis of their administrative status. Nothing can justify inflicting such profound trauma on any child.
In the Mediterranean, I urge more determined and effective action by the European Union, and by its Member States, to deploy search and rescue operations and to support the rescue work of NGOs. I also strongly recommend the EU adopt a common and human-rights based arrangement for the timely disembarkation of all people rescued at sea – a mechanism which is automatic, functions rapidly, is sustainable over the long-term, and reflects the international commitments and solidarity of all EU Member States.
In recent months, actions by several countries in Europe to criminalise, impede or halt the work of humanitarian rescue vessels and search planes – and the sharp decrease in the number of search and rescue vessels operated by European States – have had deadly consequences for adults and children seeking safety. By July UNHCR had reported the death by drowning of over 900 migrants in the Mediterranean, and many more deaths may have gone unrecorded. Numerous boats have floated at sea for weeks, seeking a port of refuge for the exhausted and traumatized migrants they have rescued. Countless other migrants have been intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard and forcibly returned to Libya – where their rights and, potentially, even their lives are under serious threat.
I am concerned by this lethal disregard for desperate people. I salute the organizations and human rights activists who continue to work to defend the rights of migrants in these difficult circumstances. I also express my support for the principled work of many courts and tribunals across the EU, which continue to uphold national and international laws regarding the necessary protection of people on the move, despite facing smear campaigns – and even threats by political figures, in some cases.
I also remind all policy-makers that the DNA of almost every human being includes contributions from people of other origins – and the same is true of our cultural heritages and our economic prosperity. States have a right to determine whether nationals may enter and remain on their territory. But all migration governance measures should be implemented with full respect for the human rights of the people concerned. They are no different – and in no way less valuable or less deserving of dignity – than you or I.
In Kazakhstan, a wave of peaceful protests since March has been met with the arrests of over 4,000 people. I note some positive signs of growing acceptance by officials of peaceful demonstrations, and I encourage the newly created National Council of Public Trust to include civil society groups which are calling for greater civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. The continued detention of prisoners deemed to be political, and the effective prohibition of opposition assemblies, are not conducive to genuine and open dialogue. I encourage the authorities to reform laws that are being used to stifle dissent, including the broad definition of hate speech and libel; criminalisation of libel; restrictive permits for peaceful assemblies; and restrictive regulations of NGOs, labour unions and religious organisations.
I also remain concerned by extensive arrests and police action in the Russian Federation, where yesterday’s local elections in Moscow were preceded by weeks of protests, resulting from the exclusion of several opposition candidates. More than 2,500 people were arrested at demonstrations in July and August; currently, five have been sentenced to prison terms, and others face criminal charges. I support calls by the Presidential Council on Human Rights for investigations into allegations of excessive use of force by the police, and I urge the authorities to uphold freedom of expression, the right to peaceful assembly and the right to participate in public affairs.
Our countries have demonstrated many times in recent decades that they can surmount tremendous human rights challenges. Some, my own among them, have turned their backs on dictatorship and established vibrant democracies. Many have enabled people previously discriminated and oppressed – including women – to make their own fundamental choices, in freedom. Others, in a very short space of time, have brought millions of people out of poverty, and promoted their access to critical economic and social rights.
Today we have many hard-won achievements to defend, and other, newer struggles that we must lead. But although these tasks will be difficult, I am convinced we can achieve them. We can end fossil fuel consumption, and take other steps to curtail climate change. We can undo structural discrimination, and uphold justice. We can help realise the right to development, by standing up for everyone’s right to participate in decisions. With sufficient determination, acting in partnership, we can take steps to advance human rights and fundamental freedoms – and in doing so, we will strengthen our societies, and build a better future for us all.
Thank you, Mr President.