The 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council opened in Geneva today with Sri Lanka on the agenda.
UN Secretary General António Guterres and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet made statements on the opening day of the session.
The session, which began today concludes on 22 March and a report on Sri Lanka by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is set to be discussed on March 20.
In her statement on the opening day today, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called for “courage and vision” from State leaders to advance both the interests of humanity and the national interest of their own countries, stressing that human rights-based policies deliver better outcomes across the social and economic spectrum – and beyond borders.
Bachelet drew on the lessons she learned during her two terms as President of Chile, prior to taking up the post of UN Human Rights Chief.
“In my service as a Head of State and Head of Government I learned many things, but there are two lessons that I would like to share with you this morning,” said Bachelet.
“One was very simple: there was rarely a serious gap between the interest of humanity, and the national interest of my country. If a policy seems in the short term to advance a narrow interest, but hurts the future of humanity, that policy is surely counter-productive. Today, we sometimes hear human rights being dismissed as supposedly “globalist” – as opposed to the patriotic interest of a sovereign government. But how can any State’s interests be advanced by policies that damage the well-being of all humans?”
“The second lesson…in my capacity as a Head of State; as a government Minister, a member of non-governmental organisations; and a refugee myself, I saw many human rights measures being debated, enacted, updated and upheld. And I watched these measures work. It can be done. I have seen it done.”
Bachelet stressed that human rights-based policies prevent grievances, conflicts, inequalities, and suffering and discrimination of all kinds.
“Policies that build social justice also help to develop stronger economies. They drive more inclusive political systems, better frameworks for education, health-care, and other basic services. They build confidence and social harmony. They deepen trust. They build hope,” she said.
The High Commissioner emphasised that there “cannot be optimal, sustainable or inclusive development when the voices of civil society are absent”, calling on authorities to engage in respectful dialogue with civil society.
Bachelet acknowledged that in the current political landscape, the will is not always there, and that in some countries, important human rights advances are being dismantled, while in other countries, States drag their feet on crucial issues like climate change. (Colombo Gazette)