UN chief issues 7-point ‘call to action’ on human rights

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U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses his statement, during the opening of the High-Level Segment of the 43rd session of the Human Rights Council, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)

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GENEVA (AP) — The head of the United Nations issued a “call to action” on Monday to countries, businesses and all people to help renew and revive human rights across the globe, laying out a seven-point plan amid concerns about climate change, conflict and repression.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made the appeal at the start of the latest Human Rights Council session in Geneva, known as the council’s “high-level segment” because it hosts a parade of dignitaries — including Libya’s prime minister and foreign ministers from countries like Germany, Saudi Arabia and South Korea at the start of the four-week session.

“I have come to the Human Rights Council — the fulcrum for international dialogue and cooperation to advance all human rights — to launch a Call to Action,” Guterres said, speaking in broad terms and avoiding any reference to individual countries’ rights records.

The U.N. chief said he wanted to speak out now because “human rights are under assault.”

His seven-point plan involves linking human rights to issues like sustainable development, crisis prevention, gender equality, the development of the digital age, and freedom of expression and civil society, among other things.

“Success must be measured by the yardstick of meaningful change in people’s lives,” he said. “As a United Nations family, a culture of human rights must permeate all we do.”

In a veiled allusion to China’s Communist government, which has made economic and social development a key pillar of its approach to human rights, Guterres said: “It would be a mistake to diminish economic, social and cultural rights.

“But it would be equally misguided to think that those rights are sufficient to answer people’s yearning for freedom,” he sid.

Guterres also spoke out against rising racism, white supremacy and extremism, and lamented violence against women and girls “as the world’s most pervasive human rights abuse.”

In an allusion to what are popularly known as “killer robots,” he reiterated his stance that machines should never be given “lethal capacity outside human judgment or control.”

“People across the world want to know we are on their side,” Guterres said. “Whether robbed of their dignity by war, repression or poverty, or simply dreaming of a better future, they rely on their irreducible rights – and they look to us to help uphold them.”

“Human rights — civil, cultural, economic, political and social — are both the goal and the path,” he said.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, welcomed Guterres’ message but urged him to be more direct in his statements.

“By providing a strong voice advocating for victims and condemning abusers, the Secretary-General can stand tall against governments committing serious rights violations – whether it’s the mass arbitrary detention of Uyghurs in China, atrocities committed against Myanmar’s Rohingyas, indiscriminate Russian-Syrian bombing of civilians in Idlib, or the forced separation of children from their parents at the U.S. border,” Roth said. “But this initiative will succeed only if the Secretary-General provides robust and regular public commentary, and does not shy away from naming abusers.”

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