High-Level Political Segment of 46th United Nations Human Rights Council

Statement by UNDP Administrator, Achim Steiner at High-Level Political Segment of 46th United Nations Human Rights Council

February 23, 2021

As prepared for delivery.

Mr. Secretary-General,

Distinguished President of the Human Rights Council,

Madame High Commissioner,


Dear Colleagues,

On behalf of the United Nations Development Programme, I would like to congratulate Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan on her election as President of the Human Rights Council for 2021.

It is a landmark moment, the FIRST TIME that the Presidency of the Human Rights Council is held by a representative of the Pacific Small Island States, and of Small Island Developing States.

This session takes place as the COVID-19 pandemic leaves a devastating trail of socio-economic effects in its wake.

Global human development is on course to decline for the first time since 1990.

And innovative research by UNDP and the Pardee Center for International Futures has found that over 1 billion people could be living in extreme poverty by the year 2030 -- a quarter as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the world has the opportunity to make a different choice and the United Nations family is working to ensure that we  charts a course towards a much brighter future.

At present, UNDP is serving as the UN system’s technical lead of the socio-economic response to the pandemic.

Thanks to the dedicated efforts of UN Country Teams with our Resident Coordinators and UNDP, 119 Socio-Economic Response Plans have been completed.

They provided recommendations for countries to address key areas-- from lost jobs and livelihoods to rising poverty, inequality, and strains in social cohesion.

Such analyses reveal how the pandemic has exacerbated the vulnerability of the least protected and most marginalized.

Others are identifying similar trends. For instance,  “International IDEA” found that over 60% of countries have REGRESSED on basic rights in 2020 as a result of measures to tackle the pandemic.

Some restrictions on the access to justice, for example, can create a “rule of law vacuum” that leads to an increase in gender-based violence.

Simply put, this MUST NOT become the “new normal” for countries and societies.  

Nor can we be driven by a “zero-sum” game of fundamental freedoms versus health, or economy versus rights.

Instead, we have a collective obligation to ensure that human rights are made an INTRINSIC PART of the socio-economic recovery.

And responses to the pandemic that respect human rights will result in BETTER OUTCOMES in beating COVID-19.

For instance, in Lao PDR, the Socio-Economic Response Plan seeks to expand  access to basic services and increase community participation in decision-making. Using a human rights-based approach, this engagement ultimately aims to address the ROOT CAUSES of inequalities.

When it comes to equity -- affordable, non-discriminatory access to the COVID-19 vaccine is a human right.

And ensuring that we have a “People’s Vaccine” is also the FASTEST WAY to END this pandemic.

As Dr. Tedros has put it, “NO-ONE IS SAFE until we are all safe”.

With this context in mind, UNDP is taking a human rights-based approach to the pandemic that puts PEOPLE at the centre of the recovery.

It includes everything from helping to reduce prison overcrowding in Mali -- to supporting media outlets in Cambodia to disseminate accurate information.

UNDP’s engagement includes support to National Human Rights Institutions. Over 90 of them across the globe have assisted  communities during the pandemic.

For instance, in The Gambia, UNDP and OHCHR teamed-up to help  its National Human Rights Institution to roll-out a digital case management system. It boosted the ability of services to citizens as the country went into lockdown.

Our work is based on the principle of national ownership. And it involves assisting Governments to meet their human rights commitments at this crucial moment.

It requires close cooperation with members of the UN family -- including and especially OHCHR -- to offer tailored support.

We are guided by the recommendations of key processes such as the Treaty Bodies and the Universal Periodic Review, which seek to enhance human rights in ALL COUNTRIES.

They provide  a clear roadmap to mainstream human rights into National Development Plans -- helping to accelerate progress on the Global Goals.

UNDP is also supporting governments and the private sector to implement the “UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights”.

For instance, in Thailand, we are supporting the first-ever National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights in the region. And we are identifying concrete measures to protect Human Rights and Environmental Rights Defenders.

Excellencies, Dear Colleagues,

On the 1st Anniversary of the launch of the UN Secretary-General’s “Call to Action on Human Rights”, UNDP continues to take a lead role in its implementation.

This includes working with our partners across the United Nations system to place human rights at the VERY HEART of sustainable development.  

And to “build forward better” from this pandemic, our efforts must accelerate climate action, advance climate justice, and boost  restoration of our natural world.

To this end, UNDP is helping governments to insert the “DNA” of a green, low-carbon economy into all recovery and stimulus measures -- for instance through our ambitious Climate Promise.

Our efforts are undertaken with an awareness that we must do more to respect the RIGHTS of FUTURE GENERATIONS.

Working closely with partners including UNEP and OHCHR -- UNDP is helping to drive forward a shift in thinking in this key area.

In a wider sense, UNDP will continue to pool vital resources and know-how with ALL of our partners to help communities to STAND-UP for human rights.

At this watershed moment in history, countries across the globe need to ensure that ALL RESPONSES to the pandemic are shaped by a fundamental respect for human rights.

Doing so will help us to beat this pandemic AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE.

Thank you for your kind attention.