Are We Witnessing the Worst ‘Cascade of Human Rights Setbacks’?

Democracy Jul 05, 2021

On June 21, United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, opened the 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council. The former President of Chile shed light on dire situations from around the world and called for collective action to be taken by policymakers. She stated that a life-changing vision is needed to ensure our recovery from the “most wide-reaching and severe cascade of human rights setbacks in our lifetimes”.

This session, which will go on until July 13, is set to feature the much-anticipated report by Bachelet about systemic racism along with draft resolutions on various concerning situations in places including Myanmar, Belarus, and the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia.

She expressed being deeply disturbed by reports of serious human rights violations as a result of the war in Tigray; pointing to extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and sexual violence against children and adults. She also brought to attention how there were alarming incidents of ethnic and inter-communal violence and displacement in other parts of Ethiopia. While calling for national dialogue, she said that the deployment of military forces was an unsustainable solution.

Bachelet also publicly denounced the recent jihadist violence that ravaged northern Mozambique resulting in food insecurity and forcing almost 800,000 people to flee their homes.

The High Commissioner then described how the National Security Law introduced in Hong Kong in July 2020 was a strategic move to crack down on Beijing's critics following widespread democracy protests in 2019. The law criminalized dissent and awarded China jurisdiction over some cases. It also gave authorities new investigative powers resulting in 57 people being formally charged and 107 being arrested.

She then turned to reports of violations in China's Xinjiang and hoped for Beijing to allow her to visit the region while giving her "meaningful access". This came after she faced diplomatic pressure to speak out more assertively about China’s policies in the northwestern region, where Beijing is allegedly committing genocide and crimes against the Uyghurs. Liu Yuyin, a Chinese mission spokesperson, responded that the High Commissioner should stop making erroneous remarks and refrain from interfering in China's sovereignty and judicial independence. He also invited Bachelet to visit Xinjiang and promote cooperation instead of carrying out “the so-called investigation under the presumption of guilt”.

Bachelet also criticised recent measures taken by the Kremlin to undermine critical voices. She gave an instance of how jailed opposition leader- Alexei Navalny’s organizations have been barred from functioning in the country. Navalny’s organizations have also been branded as extremists and she believes it is based on “vaguely defined allegations of attempting to change the foundations of constitutional order”. She asked Russia to uphold civil and political rights and urged authorities to stop labelling citizens, journalists, and NGOs as ‘extremists’, ‘foreign agents’ or ‘undesirable organisations’.

By putting forth many instances, Bachelet demonstrated how human rights are deteriorating globally. While she acknowledges that many developing countries are trapped in a dilemma between the economic and health crisis brought about due to Covid-19, and the development and human rights crisis, she also says that radical steps need to be taken to protect economic, social, and cultural rights, especially in low-income countries. Nations need to include more time-bound, transformative policies while allocating resources to marginalized and/or underprivileged groups to make sure that human rights aren't compromised.

This article has been written by Pravallika Manju for The Paradigm

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