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Annual conference of ombudsmen and ombudswomen in Eurasia

Video message from by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

17 November 2020

Greetings to all of you. I welcome this meeting, which comes at a moment of urgency for human rights work.

The COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession are creating challenges that are diverse, complex and shared by the whole world – though they disproportionately affect the poor and marginalised.

It is already clear that a rights-based approach is essential to addressing and recovering from the harm that is being done.

If every country had fulfilled its commitments to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals – by ensuring universal healthcare and social protection, for example – our societies would have been more resilient to the pandemic.

Now, as our countries build back, we need to ensure the work is done right, with robust systems for participation, inclusion, transparency, integrity and accountability.

National Human Rights Institutions will play an essential role in this historic effort. With your help, our societies can use this terrible pandemic to advance better protection of your peoples.

This effort to rebuild, and build better, recalls in some ways the early days of the United Nations. As Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently pointed out, the women and men who created the UN 75 years ago had lived through "a pandemic, a global depression, genocide and world war".

The UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were their attempt to build better systems, so that future generations could prevent or mitigate similar atrocities, crises and shocks.

Now it is our turn. It is up to us to draw up and implement visionary and practical responses that can protect our fellow human beings today, and help our societies to face the many challenges of tomorrow.

Many of the NHRIs represented today are working in a difficult environment, made worse by excessive government restrictions on constructive criticism and civic freedoms.

I hope this gathering will be a space for you to share experiences and best practises – including in terms of institutional independence, efficiency and compliance with the Paris Principles.

The work of my Office, the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, and many other regional and intergovernmental institutions benefit from the work done by NHRIs that are compliant with Paris Principles.

My Office, UNDP and the GANHRI are committed to strengthening the capacity of NHRIs and enhancing their role as vital and relevant human rights actors.

Thank you for the contributions you are making to universal human rights at this critical time.