GENEVA (December 9, 2021) – “The last two years have demonstrated, too painfully, the intolerable cost of soaring inequalities. Inequalities that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly 73 years ago on December 10, 1948, sought to eliminate in its efforts to pave the way for a better world.

The decades that followed saw very significant progress – gradual and uneven progress, with frequent setbacks, but definite progress nonetheless. The world as a whole got richer and people lived longer. More children went to school and more women were able to gain more autonomy. More people in more countries have had more opportunities to break the chains of poverty, class, caste and gender.

However, over the past two decades, since 2001, a succession of global shocks have undermined this progress. And the onset of this devastating pandemic in 2020 exposed many of our failures to consolidate the progress we had made.

Inequalities have fueled the pandemic and continue to do so. In turn, the pandemic has fueled a frightening increase in inequalities, resulting in disproportionate transmission and death rates in the most marginalized communities, while also contributing to skyrocketing poverty levels, increasing hunger. and falling living standards. These in turn risk fueling grievances, social unrest and even full-fledged conflicts.

Women, low-income and informal workers, young and old, people with disabilities, as well as members of ethnic, racial and religious minorities and indigenous peoples are among the hardest hit, creating inequalities in the workplace. age, gender and race even more important.

Inequalities have widened both within and between countries, with most developed economies set to grow in 2022, while lower-income countries are expected to experience a continued recession, pushing their populations further back.

This discrepancy was compounded by shockingly uneven immunization coverage – as of December 1, just 8% of adults had received a dose of the vaccine in low-income families, compared to 65% in high-income countries – and by inadequate protections, which in the developed world kept many people afloat during the worst months of the crisis. In Europe, for example, according to the IMF, at least 54 million jobs were supported between March and October 2020, preventing people and businesses from collapsing. Such assistance was less available in other regions.

The environmental crisis further exacerbates discrimination, marginalization and inequalities. A total of 389 climate-related disasters were recorded in 2020, killing more than 15,000 people, affecting 98 million others and inflicting $ 171 billion in economic damage. Climate-related migration is also increasing. Actions to deal with these crises are not sufficient to avoid these devastating consequences on human rights, affected communities often being excluded from environmental decision-making processes where their contribution is essential.

A growing debt crisis is also weighing heavily on many countries. Globally, more than half of the least developed and low-income countries are now over-indebted or at high risk. In East and Southern Africa, debt servicing costs have increased, on average, from 60% of GDP in 2018 to almost 70% of GDP in 2021. This is in part due to the sharp contraction in economic activity and falling commodity prices. The need to repay loans has already led to fiscal austerity measures that will limit fiscal space for key investments in rights and sustainable recovery.

Austerity budgets often target health, education, infrastructure investments and poverty reduction efforts. They have a disproportionate impact on those in vulnerable situations – increasing the inequalities that were already glaring. It is a critical time in world affairs. Humanity is reeling from the setbacks caused by COVID-19 and struggling to make the radical changes needed to avert yet another environmental catastrophe.

Yet the measures needed to prevent catastrophic climate change are well known. And, even in resource-poor environments, we have the knowledge and the means to establish universal social protection measures and take action to end discrimination, advance the rule of law and defend rights. of man.

The Common Agenda defined by the Secretary General of the United Nations in September 2021 calls for a renewed solidarity between peoples and future generations; a new social contract anchored in human rights; better management of critical issues concerning peace, development, health and our planet; and revitalized multilateralism up to the challenges of our time.

It is an agenda for action – and a rights agenda.

This means moving from temporary pandemic measures to consolidate health care and income protection to long-term investments in universal social protections – including universal health coverage – as well as decent housing, decent work and health. ‘access to quality education. It also means investing to bridge the digital divide.

It means decisive action to defend climate justice and the universal human right to a healthy environment.

It means empowering people everywhere to express themselves freely and protecting civic space so that individuals can meaningfully participate in decisions that can have a dramatic impact on their lives.

Equality is at the heart of human rights, and at the heart of the solutions needed to get through this period of global crisis. This doesn’t mean that we all have to look alike, think the same, or act the same.

Rather the opposite.

This means that we embrace our diversity and demand that we are all treated without any form of discrimination.

Equality is a matter of empathy and solidarity and understanding that as a common humanity our only way forward is to work together for the common good. This was well understood during the years of reconstruction after WWII – the years which saw the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the subsequent elaboration of the comprehensive system of international human rights law. . However, our inability to rebuild better after the financial crisis of a decade ago, coupled with the social and economic turmoil caused by COVID-19 and the rapidly accelerating impacts of climate change, suggests that we have forgotten the clear remedies. and proven rooted in human rights. and the importance of tackling inequalities. Cures that we must bring back to the fore if we are to sustain progress – not just for those who suffer from the glaring inequalities that plague our planet, but for the good of all of us.

On this Human Rights Day, I invite everyone to unite their efforts to strengthen equality for all and everywhere, so that we can recover better, fairer and greener from this crisis and rebuild societies. more resilient and sustainable. “