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Bachelet calls for strong leadership at moment of "profound gravity"

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49th session of the Human Rights Council
Opening Statement to the High Level Segment by Michelle Bachelet,
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

28 February 2022

Distinguished President of the Council,
Distinguished President of the Swiss Confederation,
Colleagues and friends,

This Council session takes place at a time that calls for strong and visionary leadership.

Throughout history, there have been moments of profound gravity, that cut the course of events between a "before" – and a very different, more harmful, "after". We are at such a tipping point.

Remarkable progress that has been made over two decades in every region – in decreasing conflict, reducing poverty and expanding access to education and other rights – is in jeopardy.  

Depleted by the pandemic, divided by growing polarisation, undermined by growing environmental harm and corroded by digital disinformation, hatred and distortions of democracy, and disregard of the rule of law, many societies are evolving – or plunging – into increased repression and violence; rising poverty; anger; and conflict.

The military attack on Ukraine is putting at risk countless lives. Between Thursday morning and last night, our Office has recorded 406 civilian casualties, including 102 killed –including 7 children – and 304 injured. Most of these civilians were killed by explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multi-launch rocket systems, and air strikes. The real figures are, I fear, considerably higher.

Meanwhile, millions of civilians, including vulnerable and older people, are forced to huddle in different forms of bomb shelters, such as underground stations, to escape explosions. UNHCR reported that 422,000 people have fled the country – and many more are internally displaced. My thoughts go out to them and to all those across the world who suffer.

The calls for peace and human rights that are coming from individuals all over the world warn us that our future must not be a world that has become unmoored from the jointly agreed obligations of international human rights law, and from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

Over the next three days, an unprecedented number of dignitaries will participate in this high-level segment. This is a vital opportunity to come together and meet this grave and pivotal moment with action.  I ask that as we do so, all of us place, first and foremost, the world's people – their shared, and universal, aspirations and rights – at the centre of our deliberations.


It is precisely at a tipping point, or time of crisis, when investment in multilateral and human rights-based action brings swift and effective solutions – as well as laying out the path towards greater, more shared development and peace.

Our constant refrain has been that more needs to be done to prevent conflict and human rights crises. It is time, now, for strong preventive action that will match our words.

Action to end conflict, respect the UN Charter, and abide by international law.

Action to establish the fundamental justice, services, opportunities and rights that build development, resolve grievances and re-establish trust.

Action to eradicate discrimination, which impedes people's exercise of every kind of right, and is at the root of so much misery and despair.

Action to ensure that digital technology advances rights – rather than undermining them – everywhere.

Action to enable the full participation of the people in decision-making – so that they can believe in and trust their institutions.

Action to revive the health of our planet, whose destruction is at the root of growing poverty, displacement and harm.

We must also, with unprecedented vigor, fight corruption, which robs the public treasury for private gain – creating predatory élites whose interests may sharply diverge from the well-being of the people.

Tackling the root causes of grievances and instability, and investing in justice and human dignity is urgent to the task of guiding societies – in every region – away from reckless, and escalating, violence. It will help create deep and long-term solutions to the harm that has been done by the pandemic. This preventive work is also essential to meeting the challenge of climate change, and the scourges of extreme poverty and forced displacement.  


There are no winners and no losers here. We are all diminished by conflict.

Already, conflict is creating humanitarian need on a scale that far exceeds our capacity for assistance. It is shattering lives and economies, driving people from their homes and creating both bitter grievances, and despair.

We know that once violence begins to escalate, options for solutions become increasingly difficult. This is true both within societies, and between countries.

Decisions that are taken at this crucial time will have lasting impact.  We can, and we must, re-establish a trajectory that benefits all of us. One that will establish a sound and shared basis for development and stability, in line with fundamental principles of international law, and human rights.

This is a call that demands solidarity. There are no sidelines to sit on, and there is no room for mixed signals. The UN Charter, the Agenda for Sustainable Development, our shared environmental crisis, and the pandemic all require global responses that live up to the commitments we have made.

We need to celebrate and echo the courage of leaders who recognize our interconnectedness. From the call of India and South Africa for vaccine development without restrictions, to the demand by Kenya and others that commitments made to international peace, and international borders, be respected. Every day that passes while both conflict and the pandemic are allowed to inflict senseless deaths and despair is a day that moves us further away from creating the better world we have all committed to achieving.

The Secretary-General has set the path for that global effort –framing a new approach that is anchored in human rights, and supported by a strong human rights system, at the core of revitalised and strengthened multilateral organisations.

My Office stands ready to support this crucial work in every way we can.

I join you, Mr President, in calling for all Members to overcome polarisation, discuss our differences, and come together to advance the fundamental rights of all human beings.

Thank you