In the face of increasing questions about issues such as the military coup in Myanmar, the detention of opposition leader Alexey Navalny in Russia and the rights situations in countries like Ethiopia and Sri Lanka, the UN’s top human rights body has opened its first and highest-level meeting in 2021.
The Human Rights Council’s four-week session, which began on Monday, attracted a number of presidents and prime ministers for its high-level portion, with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro scheduled to speak.
After a two-and-a-half-year walkout during the tenure of former President Donald Trump, the United States is expected to renew its council membership.
During the session, questions about China’s treatment of the Uighur minority, the Ethiopian government’s squeeze on the Tigray area of the world and state-sponsored abuse in countries such as Nicaragua are likely to be scrutinized.
“Every corner of the globe is suffering from the sickness of violations of human rights,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
One of the most important issues on the council’s agenda has been the military coup and the brutal crackdown on demonstrators in Myanmar since early February.
“Today, I call on the Myanmar military to stop the repression immediately,” Guterres said, speaking in a pre-recorded video message at the opening of the Geneva-based council’s 46th session.
“Release the prisoners. End the violence. Respect human rights, and the will of the people expressed in recent elections,” he said, insisting that “coups have no place in our modern world.
“We see the undermining of democracy, the use of brutal force, arbitrary arrests, repression in all its manifestations. Restrictions of civic space. Attacks on civil society. Serious violations against minorities with no accountability, including what has rightly been called ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya population. The list goes on.”
The session, almost entirely online, comes as the battle against COVID-19 has become an excuse for some governments to curtail human rights, as the pandemic has exacerbated gender disparities and extreme poverty, even as vaccination campaigns have been overwhelmingly carried out in the richest countries of the world.
Guterres also denounced bigotry, racism, xenophobia, and the “transnational threat” of white supremacy and neo-Nazi groups, stating that such organisations are “engaged in a hate frenzy.”
“Far too often, these hate groups are cheered on by people in positions of responsibility in ways that were considered unimaginable not long ago,” he added, without elaborating.
Foreign ministers such as Germany’s Heiko Maas and Britain’s Dominic Raab were to join US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in addressing the session.
Trump had pulled the US out of the Human Rights Council because of what he cited as concerns that the council was “excessively focused” on Israel and had embraced governments that violate human rights on a regular basis, especially Venezuela.