Like never before in recent history, the unprecedented threat of the COVID-19 pandemic is prompting many countries to limit human rights. Some 90 countries worldwide have passed laws or taken actions to restrict freedom of expression during the pandemic, for instance. However, what we have learned is that human rights and principles like equality and non-discrimination need to be part of the solution. Crucially, affordable and non-discriminatory access to the vaccine is a global priority, yet it is still a long way off. As the Global Dashboard for Vaccine Equity shows, in high-income countries: one in two people have been vaccinated with at least one dose of the vaccine. In low-income countries, that figure is just one in 12. Taken as a whole, it is not a zero-sum game of fundamental freedoms versus health. The bottom line is that all countries need to ensure that human rights are the heartbeat of the socio-economic recovery.
The United Nations (UN) is at the forefront of global efforts to support countries to protect, respect and fulfil the human rights of all people. However, reprisals against human rights defenders continue to increase. 331 defenders were killed in 2020 -- with two-thirds of those killed working to protect environmental, land and Indigenous peoples’ rights. Across the world, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is assisting over 40 National Human Rights Institutions, which are also human rights defenders, to provide vital rights-based advice to governments. Indeed, the UN Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights draws attention to the increasing need to respect the rights of future generations. As part of this shift in thinking, we are now beginning to see citizens across the world invoking legal and constitutional rights to hold their governments accountable in key areas like climate change. And in 2021, the UN Human Rights Council recognised that having a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment is a global human right. Yet, remarkably, some 3.7 billion people remain “trapped” offline, limiting their ability to have their say on vital areas like climate change. Therefore, the UN is supporting efforts to roll-out affordable broadband internet. And it is helping to equip people with the digital skills they need to be actively involved in the policies and processes that affect their lives and livelihoods whilst also safeguarding their human rights. Indeed, many people are facing difficultly accessing basic services that are increasingly being digitized, negatively affecting their rights. Yet efforts like the Tech for Democracy initiative by UNDP and Denmark are helping to pinpoint new ways to leverage digital technology to advance democracy and human rights.
With over 90 per cent of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets corresponding to human rights obligations, UNDP is supporting countries to fulfil their human rights obligations -- not only because it is the right thing to do but also because it is fundamental to achieving the SDGs. Look, for instance to Latin America where UNDP is supporting the analysis of nearly 1,500 human rights recommendations, aiming to speed up progress on a host of SDG targets. To Pakistan, where UNDP and OHCHR are helping to digitally track the country’s progress towards its human rights and SDG commitments. Or to Botswana, where UNDP supported the Government to accede to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and fully integrate the rights of people with disabilities into the countries’ legal framework. UNDP is also supporting the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which helps states and companies to prevent, address and remedy human rights abuses committed in business operations.
Guided by our new Strategic Plan 2022-2025, UNDP will continue to answer the UN Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights and work with countries and communities to integrate human rights into every facet of our support. That means reaching the furthest behind first including women and girls, Indigenous peoples, people of African descent, LGBTI people, migrants, and people with disabilities -- supporting them to shape their own development pathway. Indeed, the entire UN system keenly recognises that a human rights-based approach to development based on equality, inclusion, and non-discrimination is the best way to reduce inequalities and make that high-speed connection towards the 2030 Agenda.
Achim Steiner, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
The 2021 Human Rights Day theme relates to “Equality” and Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights --“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.