Diamond Light
Newsletter of the Aquarian Age Community
2021 No. 1
Index | Back Issues

Human Rights Are Our Lifeline

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres*


Excellencies, our Human Rights Call to Action is a comprehensive framework to advance our most important work — from sustainable development to climate action, from protecting fundamental freedoms to gender equality, the preservation of civic space and ensuring that digital technology is a force for good.  Today, I come before you with a sense of urgency to do even more to bring our Human Rights Call to Action to life.  I want to focus on two areas where the imperative for action is great — and the scale of the challenge looms large. First, the blight of racism, discrimination and xenophobia. And, second, the most pervasive human rights violation of all: gender inequality.  These evils are fed by two of the deepest wells of injustice in our world: the legacy of centuries of colonialism; and the persistence, across the millennia, of patriarchy.  The linkages between racism and gender inequality are also unmistakable. Some of the worst impacts of both are in the overlaps and intersections of discrimination suffered by women from racial and ethnic minority groups.

The Blight of Racism, Discrimination and Xenophobia:  Stoking the fires of racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim bigotry, violence against some minority Christian communities, homophobia, xenophobia and misogyny is nothing new.  It has just become more overt, easier to achieve, and globalized.  When we allow the denigration of any one of us, we set the precedent for the demonization of all of us.  Excellencies, the rot of racism eats away at institutions, social structures and everyday life — sometimes invisibly and insidiously.  I welcome the new awakening in the global fight for racial justice, a surge of resistance against being reduced or ignored — often led by women and young people.  As they have highlighted, we have a long way to go.

I commend the Human Rights Council decision to report on systemic racism, accountability and redress, and responses to peaceful anti-racism protests — and look forward to concrete action.  We must also step up the fight against resurgent neo-Nazism, white supremacy and racially and ethnically motivated terrorism.   The danger of these hate-driven movements is growing by the day.  Let us call them what they are:  White supremacy and neo-Nazi movements are more than domestic terror threats.  They are becoming a transnational threat…Today, these extremist movements represent the number one internal security threat in several countries.

We need global coordinated action to defeat this grave and growing danger.  Excellencies, we must also place a special focus on safeguarding the rights of minority communities, many of whom are under threat around the world.  Minority communities are part of the richness of our cultural and social fabric.  Just as biodiversity is fundamental to human well-being, the diversity of communities is fundamental to humanity.  Yet we see not only forms of discrimination but also policies of assimilation that seek to wipe out the cultural and religious identity of minority communities.  When a minority community’s culture, language or faith are under attack, all of us are diminished.  When authorities cast suspicion on entire groups under the guise of security, all of us are threatened.

Gender Inequality: Excellencies, No human rights scourge is more prevalent than gender inequality.  The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated entrenched discrimination against women and girls.  The crisis has a woman’s face.  Most essential frontline workers are women — many from racially and ethnically marginalized groups and at the bottom of the economic ladder.  Most of the increased burden of care in the home is taken on by women.  Violence against women and girls in all forms has skyrocketed, from online abuse to domestic violence, trafficking, sexual exploitation and child marriage.  Women have suffered higher job losses and been pushed into poverty in greater numbers.  This is on top of already fragile socio-economic conditions due to lower incomes, the wage gap, and a lifetime of less access to opportunities, resources and protections.   None of this happened by accident.  It is the result of generations of exclusion.   It comes down to a question of power.

A male-dominated world and a male-dominated culture will yield male-dominated results.  At the same time, the COVID-19 response has highlighted the power and effectiveness of women’s leadership.  The lives of women are perhaps one of the most accurate barometers of the health of society as a whole.  How a society treats half its own population is a significant indicator of how it will treat others.  Our rights are inextricably bound….Realizing this right will benefit all of us.  The opportunity of man-made problems – and I choose these words deliberately – is that they have human-led solutions.  But these solutions can only be found through shared leadership and decision-making and the right to equal participation.

Excellencies, every corner of the globe is suffering from the sickness of violations of human rights....With the pandemic shining a spotlight on human rights, recovery gives us an opportunity to generate momentum for transformation.  Now is the time to reset.  To reshape.  To rebuild.  To recover better, guided by human rights and human dignity for all. 

* Excerpted, from 2/22/21 message at opening of Human Rights Council.  Link to TEXT of Full Address and Webcast Video (15:42).