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Human rights must be ‘front and centre’ of COVID-19 response

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UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called for human rights to be put “front and centre” of COVID-19 response and recovery globally in order to achieve a better future for people everywhere.  

The UN chief made the appeal in his message for Human Rights Day, observed on Thursday. 

“People and their rights must be front and centre of response and recovery. We need universal, rights-based frameworks like health coverage for all, to beat this pandemic and protect us for the future”, he said. 

Violations hurt us all 

The pandemic has reinforced two fundamental truths about human rights, said the Secretary-General, starting with the observation that violations harm us all. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on vulnerable groups including frontline workers, people with disabilities, older people, women and girls, and minorities. It has thrived because poverty, inequality, discrimination, the destruction of our natural environment and other human rights failures, have created enormous fragilities in our societies”, he said.   

“At the same time, the pandemic is undermining human rights, by providing a pretext for heavy-handed security responses and repressive measures that curtail civic space and media freedom.” 

Divisiveness doesn’t work 

The second truth is that human rights are universal and protect everyone, underscoring how effective pandemic response must be based on solidarity and cooperation.  

“Divisive approaches, authoritarianism and nationalism make no sense against a global threat”, he stressed. 

Just prior to the pandemic, the Secretary-General issued his Call to Action for Human Rights.  Described as a seven-point blueprint for positive change, it spells out the central role of human rights in areas such as crisis response, gender equality, public participation and sustainable development. 

 “On Human Rights Day and every day, let’s resolve to act collectively, with human rights front and centre, to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and build a better future for all”, he said. 

Rights Declaration ‘essential’ amid global chaos 

Human Rights Day commemorates the UN General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 1948. 

More than seven decades on, the milestone document provides an essential framework for the world to “recover better” from the pandemic, the UN’s more than 130 independent rights experts said in a statement, echoing the Secretary-General’s message. 

They underlined “the centrality of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the international human rights protection system” at a time when the world faces not only the pandemic, but also climate change, racism and discrimination. 

Stating that 2020 will be remembered for its “unique existential challenges”, the experts said commemoration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the closing days of the year serves as “an important and powerful message: the global threats to humanity demand global responses that rest on multilateralism, cooperation, and solidarity.” 

Independent voices 

The experts who issued the statement were appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor specific country situations or human rights issues in all regions of the world.  

They are independent of the UN,  and serve in their individual capacity, and do not receive a salary for their work.

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War games will take place off Durban between South Africa, China and Russia

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South Africa’s government has finally shown its colours by inviting Russia and China for war games next month, London’s ‘Daily Mail’ writes with indignation and indignation.

SA President Cyril Ramaphosa has ditched his supposed ‘neutrality’ to the war by hosting the naval drills off the country’s east coast near Durban and Richards Bay from February 17 to 27. The move is the strongest indication yet of the strengthening relationship between South Africa, and the anti-West authoritarian regimes of China and Russia.

The drills will take place around the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and bring more focus on the refusal of South Africa – a leading voice on its continent – to side with the West and condemn Russia’s actions. The South African government said last year it had adopted a neutral stance over Ukraine and called for dialogue and diplomacy.

But the upcoming naval drills have led the country’s main opposition party to accuse the government of effectively siding with Russia.

But the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), which incorporates all of its armed forces, said next month’s naval exercise would ‘strengthen the already flourishing relations between South Africa, Russia and China’. The aim of the drills was ‘sharing operational skills and knowledge’, the SANDF said.

The three countries also conducted a similar naval exercise in 2019 in Cape Town, while Russia and China held joint naval drills in the East China Sea last month.

The United States and European Union had hoped South Africa would support the international condemnation of Russia and act as a leader for other nations in Africa. But, South Africa appealed to be one of several African countries to ‘abstain’ in a United Nations vote last year condemning Russia’s special military operation.

South Africa and Russia share a long history, after the Soviet Union gave support to the ANC in its fight to bring down apartheid, the regime of repression against the country’s black majority, writes London newspaper. (And we should remember, how the British destroyed the Boers’ Transvaal and the Orange Republic of the at the beginning of the 20th century, and planted the apartheid regime here).

Apartheid ended in 1994 when the ANC won the first democratic elections in South Africa and Nelson Mandela became president.

South Africa is also a member of BRICS, a bloc of emerging economies, alongside Brazil, Russia, India and China.

South Africa’s obligations with respect to sanctions relate only to those that are specifically adopted by the United Nations. Currently, there are no UN-imposed sanctions on the particular individual, they say in Pretoria.

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Will South Korea build nuclear weapons?

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Washington’s attempt to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are at a dead end. The nation is a nuclear state. Its arsenal is growing in both size and sophistication. Although Pyongyang will never be capable of staging a preemptive strike against the United States, it soon may be able to retaliate against Washington for defending South Korea, writes “Foreign Policy”.

The shifting balance has sparked a serious debate within the United States and South Korea over nuclear policy. The first question is whether it makes sense to pursue denuclearization — the famed CVID (complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement) — when the North already has the bomb. Although official Washington policy resolutely refuses to acknowledge North Korea as a nuclear state, reality may eventually force a policy retreat.

Even more significant, the South’s establishment wants to get its hands on, or at least close to, American nuclear weapons. Or, suggested South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, Seoul might develop its own. He suggested in a press conference last week that South Korea might develop its own nuclear weapon.

There has been a rolling debate in South Korea for about a year on its potential nuclearization. But that has been mostly limited to extra-governmental voices in think-tanks and academia. So it is genuinely surprising that this has already reached the presidential office.

Indeed, it speaks to just how threatening North Korea’s nuclear weapons are perceived in South Korea – and how unhelpful China has been in restraining Pyongyang – that no less than its president is now discussing this.

The South Korean fear is similar: in a spiraling crisis with North Korea, would its nuclear ICBMs compel the US to ‘slow-roll’ assistance for fear of crossing some retaliation threshold with North Korea? The answer is almost certainly ‘yes’, the author of the military portal ‘19fortyfive.com’ is convinced.

It is inconceivable now, in a nuclearized environment, that the US alliance commitment to South Korea is as automatic as it was in a conventional environment. Any US president will flinch at a course of action which might realistically incur a nuclear strike on US cities.

This new reality, since North Korea’s successful 2017 ICBM test, is only just sinking in. For a few years, it looked like former US President Donald Trump and former South President Moon Jae In might strike a deal with North Korea. That was always pretty far-fetched, but once it definitely fell apart by 2020, a South Korean nuclear debate was likely inevitable.

The debate on nuclearization in South Korea itself is culminating. South Korea public opinion is supportive. Nongovernmental opinion is tilting toward it. The country’s main conservative party has said South Korea should withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty if North Korea tests another, seventh, nuclear weapon. And now the South Korean president has broached the issue too.

The big hurdle then is the Americans. The US is South Korea’s only treaty ally and its core foreign relationship. Without American defense guarantees, South Korea’s defense spending would double or triple. So South Korean governments have traditionally given American preferences wide berth.

And indeed, the American response was to play down Yoon’s comments.

In fact, the North Korean nuclear and missile threat will only worsen as the regime tests more and more, and they certainly are not going to stop. The more North Korea can threaten US cities with massive destruction, the less credible US alliance guarantees will be.

Luckily, this problem is not new. America’s European allies faced it during the Cold War because the USSR could strike the US homeland, and a variety of responses, including nuclear sharing and indigenous nuclearization, were tried with reasonable success. The US has also adapted to Israeli, Indian, and Pakistani nuclearization without a massive crisis.

So South Korean nuclearization need not lead to an alliance rupture unless the US insists on it.

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Jacinda Ardern resigned as New Zealand’s PM or was forcibly ousted from power?

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Jacinda Ardern (photo) has insisted her decision to resign as New Zealand’s Prime Minister is because she ‘doesn’t have enough in the tank’ – but there is speculation as to whether she is actually running scared of an election mauling following a public outcry over her draconian Covid lockdowns.

Ms Ardern, 42, choked back tears as she announced she will step down after just over five years in power. She insisted her decision to step down had nothing to do with the fact her Labour Party is trailing in the polls behind its conservative rivals from the National Party ahead of the upcoming election in October.

Her policies sparked nationwide protests – one protest against vaccine mandates that began on Parliament’s grounds last year lasted for more than three weeks and ended with protesters hurling rocks at police and setting fires to tents and mattresses as they were forced to leave.

As a result of the public anger over Ms Ardern’s response to Covid – which included a border closure that lasted more than two years – and her domestic policies, she was facing tough reelection prospects. This has prompted speculation that the real reason she decided to quit was because she didn’t want to face a humiliating defeat in the elections.

Ms Ardern continued: ‘I am not leaving because I believe we can’t win the election but because I believe we can and will. But we need a fresh set of shoulders for the challenges of both this year and the next three.’

Ms Ardern’s ratings have also dropped in recent months due to a worsening housing crisis, rising living costs and mortgage rates, and growing concerns about crime.

This has meant that the Labour Party, which has been in power since 2017, lost its consistent lead in the polls early last year.

Ms Ardern was elected just over five years ago on October 26, 2017, and at 37, was New Zealand’s youngest ever PM. Before that, she was the youngest sitting MP in 2008, elected aged 28.

During her resignation speech, Ms Ardern announced the next New Zealand general election will be held on October 14, 2023.

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