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“Building forward better: Reaffirming the Sustainable Recovery Pledge and taking stock of commitments”

Online side event organised by the Danish Institute for Human Rights in conjunction with the Human Rights Council's fourth intersessional meeting for dialogue and cooperation on Human Rights and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

Opening remarks by Ilze Brands Kehris
Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, OHCHR NY

18 January 2022

Distinguished panellists,
Colleagues and Friends,

I am delighted to join this discussion held in conjunction with the Human Rights Council's fourth intersessional meeting for dialogue and cooperation on human rights and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. I wish to thank the Danish Institute for Human Rights and the co-sponsors for organizing this event.

As we seek to discuss ways to build forward better, it is vital that we remind ourselves of the challenges we face in the current state of play. Statistics indicate that, for the first time in decades, global poverty is increasing, with millions of people pushed into extreme poverty. People who were already in disadvantaged situations have suffered the most from the terrible health and socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Moreover, two years into the pandemic, we continue to see huge disparities in COVID-19 vaccination access and distribution. In January this year, just 11% of adults in low-income countries had received at least one dose of vaccine, compared to 68% in high-income countries. This has widened inequality gulfs within and between countries and maintained conditions conducive to viral mutations. Vaccine inequality constitutes a serious obstacle to ending the pandemic, and raises a red flag of solidarity shortage, which does not bode well for the realization of global goals, including the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and effectively addressing climate change.

The climate crisis, including climate change and other manifestations of environmental catastrophe, is also deepening existing inequalities and endangering the human rights of present and future generations, thus constituting one of the most pressing challenge to human rights in our era.

However, these realities should not deter us but rather spur us into taking bold action as set out by the UN Secretary-General in 'Our Common Agenda', where he calls for solidarity between peoples and generations; a gender-equal human rights-based renewed social contract; better handling of challenges around peace, development, global public health and environmental protection; and a new era of revitalised multilateralism able to solve the problems that matter most.

If we place human rights at its heart, the recovery from the pandemic presents an opportunity to choose a better, fairer and greener path.

It is evident that we need to change the economic approaches that have produced unacceptably high human rights costs and deepened mistrust towards institutions. The benefits of economic growth have not trickled down to marginalized and vulnerable people. The rights to health care, social protection, water, decent housing and a healthy, clean and sustainable environment are not realities for most of the world's population. The current level of inequalities is not sustainable. It erodes social cohesion, fuels grievances and social unrest.

We need an economy that invests in human rights and works for everyone.

A human rights-based approach to economic policy requires that States implement their legally binding commitment to maximise resources towards the realisation of economic and social rights; it requires fiscal transparency; it calls for progressive taxation, and addressing tax avoidance and corruption to generate resources and move from temporary pandemic response measures to long term investments; it means empowering people everywhere to speak up freely, it demands greater civic space as well as transparent, inclusive and accountable decision-making with the full participation of all stakeholders, including civil society; it requires not words, but leadership and renewed commitment to gender equality; and it requires a socially just and fair transition to a zero carbon economy. It also demands equitable distribution of vaccines and that low- and middle-income countries are supported in expanding the fiscal space to meet their human rights obligations, including through bold initiatives that address growing levels of debt distress.

What I have just described are all parts of our human rights build forward better toolbox. Concretely this is the only pathway to resume progress towards implementing the Sustainable Development Goals and pushing back against discrimination of all kinds -– for the benefit of everyone, everywhere.

As part of OHCHR's contribution to and support for efforts to build forward better and realize the 2030 Agenda, OHCHR has increased its focus on climate justice and under the High Commissioner's leadership has actively supported the ground-breaking recognition of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. This right will guide us as we build forward better and support the new Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change. We have placed combating inequalities at the core of our work, and we will further strengthen our support for system-wide action to place people subject to persistent and multiple forms of discrimination, including on racial grounds, at the centre of recovery plans from COVID-19. The office has stepped up its technical support to States to enhance human rights-based approaches to data and disaggregation to truly leave no one behind. Finally, we will continue working on the OHCHR's Surge Initiative that has helped us expand our support to States and UN country teams in bringing economic and social rights and the right to development to bear in the design and implementation of recovery plans and SDG country strategies.

In concluding, let me reiterate that human rights make us safer and stronger, and they provide an essential compass to navigate a clear way out of the complex COVID-19 crisis. The sustainable recovery pledge – that my Office supports - is more relevant than ever.

I wish you a productive discussion on these critical issues to build forward better. Thank you.