For information only – not an official document

28 February 2022

The Secretary-General

Remarks at the Opening of the 49th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council

Geneva, 28 February 2022

Distinguished President of the Human Rights Council,

Madam High Commissioner,


Ladies and gentlemen,

Human rights are under assault, everywhere.

Autocracies are in the ascendent.

Populism, nativism, racism and extremism are undermining societies.

The COVID-19 pandemic, inequalities, and the climate crisis are crushing the social and economic rights of entire continents and regions.

Divisions are deepening. Suspicion and self-interest are on the rise.

We are here today to talk about solutions.

Solutions that are anchored in our fundamental and enduring human rights and freedoms.

Solutions rooted in the indivisible and interlinked political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights that are inherent and intrinsic to being human.

Human rights cannot be confiscated by dictators or erased by poverty.   

Nor are they a luxury that can be left for later.  

They are inescapable – and powerful.

People everywhere know that intuitively.

And autocrats, especially, know that human rights pose the greatest threat to their rule.

That’s why they stop at nothing to deny, dismiss, and distract people, as they trample on basic rights and freedoms.

Closing down a celebrated human rights organization, with a proud history and global links, is not the sign of a strong state. It is the sign of a state that fears the power of human rights.

Abducting women’s rights activists and beating women on the street are the actions of a suffocating patriarchy that fears for its survival.

Oppressing and controlling minorities, denying them the freedom to speak in their own language and practice their religion in peace, demonstrates a state’s weakness, not its strength.

People are hard-wired to claim their rights and freedoms.

Every march against oppression, every liberation movement, every protest against injustice is an affirmation of human rights.

That’s why the United Nations works every day, everywhere, to uphold and promote human rights for all.


Last month, I presented my priorities to the General Assembly in the form of five alarms: COVID-19, global finance, climate action, lawlessness in cyber space, and peace and security.

The solutions to these crises are all rooted in human rights.

First, COVID-19.

The pandemic is a clear demonstration of the universality and indivisibility of all human rights: civil, political, social, economic and cultural.

The vulnerable and marginalized continue to suffer most.

High-income countries have administered 13 times more doses per person than low-income countries.

Vaccine inequality demonstrates an utter disregard for the human rights of entire countries and regions.

Healthcare rights are human rights.

Vaccines developed with public money must be used equitably for the public good

I urge all governments, pharmaceutical companies, and partners, to give urgent political and financial support to the World Health Organization’s global strategy to vaccinate 70 per cent of people in all countries. 

And I urge them to act now on patent waivers and technology transfers.

Meanwhile, the pandemic continues to undermine the economic and social rights of people everywhere, pushing hundreds of millions of people into hunger and poverty.

It has also been used as cover for a pandemic of civil and political rights violations, from mass surveillance to discrimination and curbs on freedom of expression.

We can best address these human-rights abuses by centring our response around rights themselves — an approach set out in my Call to Action on Human Rights, the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.

We need rights-based solutions, and inclusive, sustainable development, rooted in rights and opportunities for all.


Second, the unequal recovery from the pandemic has revealed the moral bankruptcy of our global financial system.

That system has failed to protect the rights of millions of people in the Global South.

The pandemic has squeezed developing economies dry. Many face debt defaults. Few will be able to invest in a strong and sustainable recovery.

Education is a crisis within a crisis. Years out of school could affect hundreds of millions of children for their entire lives.

The solutions to these self-defeating injustices lie in human rights.

A New Global Deal, that ensures power, wealth and opportunities are shared more broadly and fairly, is a human rights imperative.

This must include an overhaul of the global financial system, so that developing countries can invest in the SDGs.

A renewed social contract, based on rights and opportunities for all, is essential to tackle poverty and hunger, invest in education and lifelong learning, and rebuild trust and social cohesion.  

The rights of women and girls must be at the forefront

The recovery is an opportunity for targeted investments in women’s education, employment, training and decent work, to make up ground lost during the pandemic.


Third, the climate crisis is a human rights crisis.

The triple planetary emergency of climate change, pollution and nature loss poses a threat to all human rights.

Today’s report on adaptation from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is another death knell for the world we know.

Floods, droughts and rising sea levels will lead to even greater humanitarian catastrophes, food shortages, and migration.

Up to one-fifth of the planet could be too hot for humans to survive.

Let’s be clear:

A few countries are trampling on the rights of the rest of the world.

A few companies are reaping rich rewards, while ignoring the rights of the poorest and most vulnerable.

Young people, women and girls, small island states and indigenous communities are leading the fight back. We stand with them.

I welcome this Council’s recognition of the right to a healthy environment – an important tool for accountability and climate justice. 

Many of the proposals in my report on Our Common Agenda offer critical opportunities to advance this right.

The Paris Agreement is intrinsically linked to human rights.

Its limit of 1.5 degrees of warming is essential to preventing human suffering on a scale far greater than the worst crimes against humanity.


Fourth, digital technology is the Wild West for human rights.

From a yawning digital divide of 2.9 billion people, to internet shutdowns, disinformation campaigns and the proliferation of spyware, digital technology is often discriminatory and detrimental to human rights.

Censorship and online attacks have been normalized, particularly against ethnic and religious minorities, members of the LGBTIQ+ community, young people, indigenous communities and women’s rights activists.

Artificial Intelligence enables algorithms to discriminate and exclude.  

Science and reason are under siege as lies and conspiracy theories spread like wildfire.

Cyberwarfare and the development of AI-enabled weapons pose an unprecedented threat to human rights.

The internet must be treated as a global public good.

It should benefit everyone, everywhere.

We need a digital public square that is inclusive and safe for all; and social media platforms that support human rights and freedoms. 

While guardrails are essential, they must never be used to shut down legitimate debate.

That is why regulatory frameworks must be anchored in human rights, and agreed through inclusive consultations. This is the approach taken in my proposed global Code of Conduct to promote integrity in public information, and my proposed Global Digital Compact. 


Fifth, the expansion of violence and conflicts around the world denies the human rights of millions of people. 

The escalation of military operations by the Russian Federation in Ukraine is leading to escalating human rights violations.

We know the inevitable result of war: civilian casualties; women, children and men forced from their homes: hunger, poverty and huge economic disruption.  

Conflict is the utter negation of human rights across the board.

Freedom of expression is under attack with reports of journalists and activists arrested. 

I have consistently called for the end of the offensive and return to the path of dialogue and diplomacy. 

Meanwhile, our Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine is continuing its work, and our humanitarian agencies will step up their operations.

We must show all people in Ukraine that we stand by them in their time of need.


Civilians caught up in conflict suffer not only violations of their rights to safety and protection, but often their rights to food, clean water, healthcare, education and jobs.

The grim irony is that these conflicts are themselves frequently rooted in the denial of human rights, from discrimination against minorities to gaping inequalities and injustice. 

Protecting minorities and promoting their economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights are among the most important conflict prevention tools we have. 

Diversity defines the richness of human civilization.

Around the world, we need a much sharper and more sustained focus on minority rights.

I urge the authorities in countries from Myanmar to Afghanistan, Ethiopia and beyond to step up the protection of minorities and respect the equal rights of all their people, during and after war.  

Refugees and migrants are a group that need special protection.

More than 5,200 people died on migration routes in 2021.

Hostile asylum and migration policies, and the xenophobic rhetoric that often accompanies them, threaten the lives of migrants and refugees and make hypocrites of those who purport to lead by example on human rights. 

Effective migration policies must be based on cooperation between States, and on full respect for the rights and dignity of all.

I want once again to express my strong support for the work of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to protect and enhance human rights everywhere.

I recently returned from a visit to China, where I expressed my expectation that the current discussions will allow for a credible visit by the High Commissioner to China, including Xinjiang Autonomous Region.

Minorities everywhere must be able to retain and celebrate their cultural and religious identity, while contributing to society as a whole.


The human rights movement is an affirmation of our basic humanity.

I thank everyone working for the Human Rights Council – and my gratitude and respect extend far beyond this beautiful hall.

Most human rights work happens in cramped offices, courtrooms and newsrooms, detention centres and prisons.

It happens wherever people are working to promote access to healthcare, education, shelter, food security, water and sanitation, for the most vulnerable people in the world. 

Environmental campaigners, many of them women and young people, are on the frontlines of human rights work.

Through the daily grind of advocacy, monitoring, and investigation, human rights defenders, including journalists and lawyers, are standing up for our common humanity – often at great personal risk.

Together, they are helping to build a world of dignity and equality for all.

I salute them and honour their work. 

Thank you.

* *** *