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Türk blasts ‘politics of repression and division’, stresses freedom and development link

Addressing the opening of the Council’s 54th session, Mr. Türk strongly condemned the “old, blunt, brutal politics of repression” as exemplified by a rise in military coups and the crushing of dissent – “in short, the fist”.

Following military takeovers in Niger and Gabon, he insisted that the “unconstitutional changes in government” such as the ones seen recently in the Sahel are “not the solution”.

“We need instead an urgent reversal to civilian governance, and open spaces where people can participate, influence, accompany and criticise government actions – or lack of action,” he said.

Interlinked rights and development challenges

Mr. Türk said that the challenges faced by countries in the Sahel, which leave their populations “struggling for daily survival”, are interlinked.

The devastating impacts of climate change, lack of investment in essential services and weak governance “are the sources that violent extremism draws from”, he warned.

He also sounded the alarm over mass-produced “lies and disinformation” aided by new technologies and emphasized that “people everywhere want – and have the right to… objective information, not propaganda.”

‘Leave no one behind’

The UN rights chief underscored that over his years of service with the UN it had become clear to him that development issues “underlie almost every challenge we face”.

Leaving no-one behind is not an empty slogan. It is a human rights action plan that reaches across the whole spectrum of human rights”, he said.

He deplored the fact that the world was “betraying [its] promise” to end hunger and poverty by 2030.

‘Collective human rights failure’

Some 600 million people are projected to be chronically undernourished at the end of the decade according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) despite the massive financial and technological resources at our disposal, Mr. Türk said.

He also stressed that 1.2 billion people, nearly half of them children, now live in “acute multidimensional poverty” and risk being joined by millions more as a result of climate change, as projected by the World Bank.

“This is a terrible collective human rights failure,” he stated.

Fight against inequalities

The High Commissioner detailed steps to address the “abyss between rich and poor” and the inequalities preventing humanity from achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

He spoke about the need for a reform of the international financial architecture offering “fairer deals on debt relief”, urgent funding for developing countries in the form of an SDG Stimulus, a push towards international tax cooperation and a reinvigorated global fight against corruption and illicit financial flows.

Environmental accountability

Mr. Türk also called for “effectively financed human rights-based climate action” to help developing countries adapt to the effects of climate change, to which they contributed so little, and offset the damage done.

He stressed the need for a “rapid, equitable phase-out of fossil fuels” and welcomed the consideration of measures to ensure “accountability for environmental damage”, such as the proposed inclusion of the international crime of “ecocide” in the Rome Statute of the UN-backed International Criminal Court.

‘Politics of indifference’

In his address the UN rights chief highlighted a wide range of human rights crises around the world. He said that he was shocked by the “nonchalance” and the “politics of indifference” in the face of more than 2,300 people reported dead or missing in the Mediterranean this year, “including the loss of more than 600 lives in a single shipwreck off Greece in June”.

He strongly condemned the fact that many more migrants and refugees were dying “unnoticed” in Europe, in the Bay of Bengal, on the border between the United States and Mexico and beyond.

Russia’s warfare in Ukraine ‘horrific’

Mr. Türk also spoke about Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the “horrific warfare” which has ravaged the country.

“The Russian Federation’s withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative in July, and attacks on grain facilities in Odesa and elsewhere, have again forced prices sky-high in many developing countries – taking the right to food far out of reach for many people,” he said.

He reiterated his “deep concerns” regarding restrictions on fundamental rights in Russia and “particularly severe oppression” of the anti-war movement and human rights activists, as exemplified by the harsh prison sentences handed down to opponents Alexei Navalny and Vladimir Kara-Murza.

Palestine and Iran

The High Commissioner expressed his “profound shock” at the escalating violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory as well as concern over the “continuing civic space restrictions” by the Palestinian Authorities and de facto authorities in Gaza.

He also deplored the “inadequate” accountability for the death of Mahsa Amini in Iran one year on and reiterated his concerns over restriction on the rights of women and girls, as well as the renewed deployment of the morality police, a force “almost exclusively aimed” at controlling them.

‘Repugnant’ Quran burnings

The “fabrication of artificial disputes over gender” was part of what Mr. Türk called “the politics of division and distraction”. In this context he brought up the “repugnant” series of some 30 recent incidents of burning the Quran to “create divisions, both within societies, and between countries”.

He announced that he would discuss this topic in detail on 6 October, as mandated by a resolution adopted during an urgent debate at the Council’s previous session.

Minute of silence

Monday’s meeting opened with a minute of silence honouring the victims of the devastating earthquake in Morocco on 8 September, which has so far claimed at least 2,100 lives.

The Vice-President of the Council, Permanent Representative of the Gambia to the UN in Geneva Muhammadou M.O. Kah, urged solidarity with the victims, stressing to delegations present that they were “not just representatives of nations or organisations” but “part of a global community, humanity”. Morocco’s ambassador Omar Zniber thanked delegates for the gesture and the Geneva-based organisations for their support.

Marathon session

The Human Rights Council’s 54th session will run until 13 October at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. During the marathon five-week session, the Council will focus on the human rights situations in Afghanistan, Belarus, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Ukraine among others.

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