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UN human rights chief: Racism and xenophobia are ‘contagious killers’ too

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The coronavirus outbreak may have forced millions around the world already into “social distancing”, keeping a metre apart to prevent its spread, but it will not stop them from uniting to combat racism, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights declared in Geneva on Friday. 

Michelle Bachelet was addressing the Human Rights Council as members met to debate progress since the launch of the International Decade for People of African Descent in 2014. 

“Like COVID-19, racism and xenophobia are contagious killers”, she said.  “In the current context, we, at this Council, need to come together and work for the common good by maintaining physical distances between us. But our conviction, and our determination to advance human rights, are as forceful as they have ever been.” 

Stop discrimination, promote inclusion 

The UN General Assembly established the International Decade to promote and protect the human rights of people of African descent, who number around 200 million worldwide. 

Ms. Bachelet described it as “a unique platform” that emphasises their important contributions to society.  It also promotes measures to stop discrimination and support their full inclusion. 

“Indeed, throughout the world – and regardless of whether they are descendants of victims of enslavement, or recent migrants – people of African descent endure intolerable discrimination and constitute some of the poorest and most marginalized groups”, she said. 

The General Assembly will hold a midterm review of the International Decade when it meets later this year.  Countries will assess progress, share good practices and decide on further actions. 

Ms. Bachelet expressed hope that they will soon establish a Permanent Forum on people of African descent, and draft a related UN declaration on respecting their human rights:  the first step towards a treaty that would be legally binding. 

In the interim, the UN human rights office (OHCHR) has been working with countries, civil society and UN agencies in its role as Coordinator of the International Decade. 

This engagement has sparked numerous initiatives such as the adoption of national action plans against discrimination, the establishment of national monitoring and complaint mechanisms, and the creation of an annual fellowship programme that has benefited more than 80 people from 32 countries. 

Although she acknowledged these steps forward, the UN rights chief stressed the need for more action: “We need to tackle disproportionate police violence, racial profiling, mass incarceration, and structural racial discrimination in health, employment, education and housing”, she said. 

COVID-19 and the Human Rights Council 

While Ms. Bachelet said COVID-19 will not stop action to advance human rights, the disease had impacted this latest session of the Human Rights Council. 

On Thursday, the Council moved to suspend meetings from Friday onwards, taking into consideration measures adopted by the Swiss government to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. 

“The Council has never been suspended for a (pandemic). It has been suspended for technical reasons at various moments in time, so there is no real comparison, but it’s the only sensible and reasonable and responsible thing to do at this stage”, President Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger told UN News in Geneva that day. 

Prior to concluding, the Council appointed 19 human rights experts under its Special Procedures system and extended all mandates which would have expired this session. 

Special Procedures mandate holders research and gather information on a vast range of human rights violations worldwide.  They are independent of the UN and are not paid for what they do.   

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Human Rights

2021 Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy

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Each year, the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy assembles hundreds of courageous dissidents and human rights activists, diplomats, journalists and student leaders to shine a spotlight on urgent human rights issues.

The Geneva Summit is sponsored by 25 human rights NGOs from around the world. The Geneva Summit has been featured in media around the globe, including CNN, Agence France Presse, AP, The Australian, Radio Free Europe and ANSA.

This year, the 13th  Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy was held on June 7 and 8. The event was free to all the people who made online registration. This year the summit hosted different voices from different parts of the world.

In this year’s summit, the leading Turkish journalist Can Dündar who was arrested, jailed and forced into exile for his reporting on Erdogan’s government was one of the speakers addressing Human Rights and Democracy on the Fragility of Freedom and Democracy panel.

For the full text of the Fragility of Freedom and Democracy panel, click here.

The list of the other speakers is as follows:

Waad Al-Kateab, Syrian refugee and award-winning documentary filmmaker on the conflict in Syria

Rayhan Asat, Uyghur activist, sister of Ekpar Asat who was abducted by Chinese authorities

Nathan Law, Former member of Hong Kong Legislative Council who fled arrest & sudden leader of 2014 Umbrella Movement

András Simonyi, Academic & former Hungarian Ambassador to the U.S.

Prof. Irwin Cotler, Chair of Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, former Minister of Justice & Attorney General of Canada.

Gulalai Ismail, Pakistani women’s rights activist, former political prisoner who escaped the country

Tania Bruguera, Cuban political performance artist repeatedly arrested for her work

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Belarusian opposition presidential candidate forced to flee after rigged elections

Jihyun Park, Escapee and survivor of a North Korean forced labor camp

Daria Navalnaya, Daughter of poisoned and jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny

Kylie Moore-Gilbert, Australian-British academic just freed after two years in Iranian prison as a victim of hostage diplomacy

Evan Mawarire, Zimbabwean protest leader, arrested six times and tortured for his human rights work

Yang Jianli, Chinese dissident, former political prisoner, survivor of Tiananmen Square and President of Initiatives for China

Vladimir Kara-Murza, Leading dissident against Putin regime, Chairman of Boris Nemtsov Foundation, survivor of two poisoning attempts

For links to other speakers’ quotes, videos, livestream, and more, click here.

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Human Rights

We can’t wait 267 years to achieve equal economic participation for men and women

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Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has seen numerous industries stumble as the crisis has hit many sectors’ productivity and employment rates. And in this scenario, women have been the hardest hit. According to the International Labour Organization, 5% of all employed women lost their jobs, compared with 3.9% of working men. The crisis has exacerbated the existing gender inequality in the labour market, widening gaps even further across several sectors

A report from the World Economic Forum (WEF), released in March 2021, shows that at the current rate of progress it will take around 267 years to close the gender gap in economic participation and opportunity. It’s a striking number that is the result of two conflicting trends. First, even though at a slow pace, the proportion of skilled women professionals is increasing. On the other hand, there is still an overall income disparity and women in leadership positions are a minority – women represent only 27% of all managerial positions, according to the same report from the WEF.

Advocating for economic equality means also advocating for a more sustainable and greener economy, and the post-COVID recovery is an opportunity to build back greener and more inclusive societies and economies. Sustainability cannot exist when inequality runs rampant. According to ILO, women have the tools and networks to create tangible sustainable solutions and influence how we produce, consume and market sustainable products.

Supporting the European Union Green Deal can be the driver for the global transition to a green economy, and this will only be possible if women are also among the protagonists of such transformation. Ensuring that women have equal access to skills development programmes for green jobs can be the pathway for a more inclusive and sustainable future. Women are globally poorly represented in crucial sectors to the greening of the economy, such as construction (9% of female participation), engineering (12%), and manufacturing (24%). The lack of targeted training and supportive policies may exacerbate already existing gender inequalities when progressing towards the green economy.

Women are important actors to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and promoting women’s access to high-quality green skills training programmes in high-demand sectors leads to a better future for all.

Thandiwe Banda, a beneficiary of one of UNIDO’s programmes in Zambia, graduated from the course in heavy equipment repair and set the example on how women can successfully partake in male-dominated fields. “Some of my colleagues would think that because I am a female, I wouldn’t deliver according to my supervisors’ expectations. But, when I was told that I was the first female to ever work in the mechanical department, I became more confident and aware that if I worked very hard I would open more doors for other females,” says Banda.

Engaging in the discussion on how we can make Thandiwe Banda’s professional journey a reality for other females is an important step towards boosting progress in equal economic participation and potentially establishing a more encouraging timeline for such.

To participate and contribute to the cause, join UNIDO’s Lab Debate at the 14th edition of the European Development Days (EDD21), which will take place virtually on 15 June 2021 at 16:20 (CEST). The session will explore the effects of private-public partnerships in engaging champions in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), who represent and advocate for stronger female participation in male-dominated sectors. Our panel of experts will explore the question: can the TVET system be the change-maker in providing industrial skills equally for a more sustainable future?

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Human Rights

The pandemic has become a big challenge for the indigenous peoples of the North – Ambassador of Finland to Russia

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The coronavirus pandemic has become a big challenge for the indigenous peoples of the North, including due to the forced closure of national borders, said Finnish Ambassador to Russia Antti Helanterä.

“The pandemic, of course, is a challenge for all of us, but for the North … given that in our north and for its inhabitants, the state borders have hardly had any meaning over the past few decades. But all countries were forced to close their borders because of the pandemic, and peoples far from the capitals do not have an open border in the North. It means, the situation in the North has changed, “the ambassador said at the Russian business forum in St.Petersburg.

He also noted the importance of cross-border cooperation of the Arctic states and expressed hope for interesting projects within the framework of Russia’s chairmanship in the Arctic Council.

As Andrey Grachev, Vice President of Norilsk Nickel, noted in his speech, in 2020, in the year of the coronavirus pandemic, together with the communities of the indigenous peoples of the north, the company developed and launched a five-year program to support this population group, which includes measures to improve the quality life in settlements and the development of crafts of communities of small peoples.

“We conduct a constant dialogue and do our best to preserve the culture, way of life, traditions in Taimyr. We have pursued this policy before. We have concluded an agreement with the Association of Indigenous Small Peoples of the North of Russia. Negotiated with 36 largest communities in Taimyr. Their proposals became the basis for us – our program. Its budget is 2 billion rubles “, – said Grachev.

Earlier it was reported that representatives of the indigenous peoples of the extreme north of Taimyr signed a cooperation agreement with the world’s largest producer of palladium and nickel – Norilsk Nickel.

Dozens of members of the communities of the Nenets, Nganasans, Dolgans and Enets will receive financial support for the construction of schools, kindergartens and other necessary needs.

The indigenous peoples’ organizations that signed an agreement with Norilsk Nickel unite more than 90% of the indigenous population of the northern regions of Russia.

Indigenous peoples and Norilsk Nickel have developed a joint action plan worth 2 billion Russian rubles ($ 25.9 million). The support plan includes support for traditional activities, protection of habitats, and financing of housing, medical, infrastructure, tourism, social and cultural projects.

The new program is the result of an ethnological expedition that took place in the summer of 2020 in Taimyr.

The expedition members conducted over 100 interviews and surveys of representatives of indigenous peoples. Based on their proposals, priority tasks were identified, including the creation of seasonal jobs in areas such as tourism, reindeer husbandry, fishing and hunting. In particular, it is already planned to build workshops for the processing of reindeer and fish, purchase refrigeration units, build an ethnic complex with workshops for the production of fur products, subsidize helicopter transportation, targeted training in specialties in demand in the company, the publication of textbooks in native languages ​​and many other complex solutions.

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